For the first time in decades, the Florida State University College of Music’s University Symphony Orchestra (USO) embarked on a tour across Florida and into the Dominican Republic.
Seventy-eight undergraduate and graduate students and faculty violinist Shannon Thomas performed five concerts as part of the tour.
“In addition to the rigor of traveling and performing together in various venues, tours like this one offer a fantastic cultural and educational experience and create cultural and academic bridges between countries,” said Alexander Jiménez, professor of conducting and director of the University Orchestral activities. “The students in the USO will never forget this experience.”
Featured works for the tour included Richard Strauss’s “Don Juan,” Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” and “Violin Concerto No. 2” by Florence Price, which featured Thomas. Price was the first African American woman to have a work performed by a major American symphony orchestra. Also on the program was a work for strings by Colombian composer Fabian Roa titled “Embrujao” and conducted by graduate conducting student Sebastián Jiménez.
“The Price 2nd Violin Concerto is a major American composition, and it featured one of our faculty colleagues, Shannon Thomas,” Alexander Jiménez said. “We wanted to bring a piece of Americana to the Dominican Republic.”
The USO kicked off its tour with a performance at the Riverview High School Performing Arts Center in Sarasota. The group then headed to the Steinmetz Hall at the Dr. Phillips Center of the Performing Arts in Orlando, Fla, where they performed at one of the finest performance venues in the U.S.
“Steinmetz Hall in Orlando is one of the most acoustically perfect concert halls on the planet,” Alexander Jiménez said. “I’ve been in this business for 40 years and been around the world. I’ve never seen a concert hall that sounds like that.”
Following their Florida performances, the USO boarded a chartered plane to the Dominican Republic for the group’s first international tour. The USO’s first chair players began their tour with a visit to the National Conservatory of Music in Santo Domingo, where the graduate student-led Burgin String Quartet performed a brief concert, and USO members provided master classes to Dominican music students.
“The Trumpet section made great connections with the students in the Dominican National Youth Orchestra,” said Jeremy Perkins, a trumpet graduate teaching assistant. “The inspiration and positivity amongst these students was truly humbling and provided perspective about things we may take for granted in our day-to-day lives.”
Day two of the tour began with a children’s concert held in the morning at the Gran Teatro del Cibao, one of the two national theaters in the Dominican Republic. Schoolchildren traveled from across Santiago to watch the USO perform. Following the children’s concert, the USO returned to the stage at the Gran Teatro later that night to perform. Both performances were free and open to the public.
“We had school kids from all over Santiago come to their beautiful concert hall, which was a real treat for our students because the kids are so appreciative,” Alexander Jiménez said. “And then that evening, we gave a concert to a full house of people who were just crazy about the group; the response was great. They were active, they were loud, it was awesome.”
On the final day of the tour, the USO performed a side-by-side concert with the Appassionato Youth Orchestra in Santo Domingo. There, Alexander Jiménez joined Appasionato’s music director, Antonio Rincón, to conduct various works, including some by Dominican composers.
The USO tour was an experience that Alexander Jiménez says had a profound impact on the students involved and is something he hopes to continue.
“I think the trip gave our students a sense of meaning and reminded them that what we do actually matters,” Alexander Jiménez said. “I would love to do this again in the future.”
For more information, visit music.fsu.edu.