Photography by Connor Hartzell

Nick Johnson, Sophomore Geography and Sustainability Studies Double Major

Thanksgiving: a timeless American tradition. What better way to celebrate before the holiday than to listen to some classic American pieces? The UF Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Dr. Raymond Chobaz put together a wonderful concert prior to Thanksgiving that celebrated the craftsmanship of American composers from Copland to Gershwin.

The concert began with the orchestral suite of the famous Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical Oklahoma!. The students in the orchestra gave a spirited performance, and the upbeat tempo of the entrance was entertaining. Many even danced a little in their seats. The Symphony Orchestra did a fantastic job emulating a professional pit orchestra.

Next was a set of traditional American songs, arranged by the famous composer Aaron Copland. There were four parts in this piece with the masterful two-time Metropolitan Opera regional finalist baritone singer Dr. Anthony Offerle. Offerle’s voice was pure and strong, and fit well with the sound of the orchestra. According to Dr. Chobaz, the conductor, accompanying a professional singer was the “most demanding” portion of the concert. Still, as the conductor said in an interview, the orchestra “did fantastically well” and by all accounts produced a “lush and warm” sound.

The next part was a great arrangement of “Old MacDonald,” followed by the second set of Copland’s “Old American Songs”. Finally, the orchestra played the symphonic suite of Catfish Row from the classic and world-renowned opera Porgy and Bess. Composed by George Gershwin, this opera suite was only recently rediscovered from Gershwin’s personal record and arranged into a complete orchestral suite by Robert Russell Bennett, a man who also arranged Oklahoma!. The American folk opera deals with folk tales in Catfish Row, a tenement community in Charleston, South Carolina. It addresses the plight of black southerners and the challenges they encountered in the American South. The performance was wonderful, capturing the spirit of the original opera with a precise and balanced performance. The performance featured Professor Kevin Sharpe on the piano. He played his solos with virtuosity and poise like no other.

The Symphony Orchestra did a fabulous job of creating an Americana extravaganza. Dr. Chobaz is “proud of all the musicians,” as they “are willing to tackle the most difficult and challenging music” while balancing “a heavy load of many other diverse courses and disciplines across campus.” As Dr. Chobaz so eloquently puts it, performances like these are so rewarding because all the students and audience members “have the reassurance that what we do matters because it does send good vibrations into the world.” I look forward to hearing more concerts from this group as Dr. Chobaz has succeeded in cultivating a superb ensemble of professional-sounding musicians from all across the Gator Nation.