In his fourth year as conductor and director for the orchestra, Artist-in-Residence George Lopez decided to put a new spin on the group’s repertoire. After years of the standard high classical European composers, Lopez decided it was time to showcase some of the American greats.

“At first I wanted to do a series of light classical, what they call pops-style repertoire. And little by little it began to dawn on me that there were some great American composers that wrote pieces at the right level for the orchestra,” Lopez said.

Lopez began the process of transitioning the orchestra into an American composer-based repertoire this year when he found an arrangement of “West Side Story” by composer Leonard Bernstein. From there, he added a “Star Wars” arrangement composed by John Williams, who also composed the soundtracks for other iconic American films such as “Jaws,” “E.T.” and “Indiana Jones.” 

In addition to Bernstein and Williams, this year’s line up includes two other American composers, Pulitzer Prize for Music winner Samuel Barber and Aaron Copland, who was well-known for composing ballets. 

Lopez said he tried to build a portfolio of contrasting pieces that would fit well into a single program. Both Williams’ arrangement and Barber’s adagio lean toward a more classical style. Barber’s adagio in particular, Lopez notes, is considered a serious and tragic work. He hopes these pieces will offset the light-hearted jazziness of Bernstein and the old Americana style of Copland. 

“I thought it would add some gravitas to the program as well,” Lopez said. 
The orchestra faces a challenge in learning a new style of music that differs from its typical classical pieces.

“‘West Side Story’ has everything from waltz to ballad to swing to Latin. So there are a lot of different styles that the orchestra has to learn,” said Lopez. 

Even with such a drastic change in the orchestra’s repertoire, Lopez said the reactions from students have all been generally positive.

Jehwoo Ahn ’16, who has been a member of the Orchestra since his first year, said he was surprised by Lopez’s picks for this semester’s.

“We’ve definitely played a lot of classical music,” he said. “That’s all I’ve been playing so far, so it’s really refreshing to play like ‘Star Wars’ and a little of ‘West Side Story.’ It’s still music that everyone knows and loves but it’s not just your same old Mozart or Beethoven.”

August Posch ’18 echoed Ahn, also professing enthusiasm for a balancedprogram with a fun repertoire. 

“Playing these familiar songs is good because people can connect with them more easily, and really what we want with the orchestra is for everyone to play as musically as possible,” Posch said. 

While the orchestra will not hold a concert until December 4, they will play one movement of an Aaron Copland piece as the recessional for the inauguration of President Clayton Rose on October 17.

“It’s a real honor for the orchestra to have gotten to the point where they’ve been asked to perform for such an important event,” said Lopez. “The orchestra’s very excited to be a part of such an important moment in the history of the College.”