The WESTERN MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA was named “Best Classical University Symphony Orchestra” in Downbeat magazine’s 2005 nationally recognized student music awards competition. In 2003, the Kalamazoo Gazette’s classical music reviewer picked the orchestra’s WMU centennial celebration concert as the most memorable performance of the year. Orchestra alumni now perform in symphony orchestras across the nation.
Under conductor and Professor of Cello, Bruce Uchimura, the University Symphony performs orchestral masterworks, features internationally recognized and WMU faculty soloists, and collaborates with the WMU Grand Chorus and Department of Dance to present a six-concert season in Miller Auditorium and the Dalton Center Recital Hall. Orchestra members perform with WMU opera and musical theatre productions, and the orchestra has performed at high schools, colleges, and various performance venues throughout Michigan. Master works performed by the orchestra include the major symphonies of Beethoven, Brahms, Dvorák, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky in addition to Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 (“The Titan”), Elgar’s Enigma Variations, and Richard Strauss’ tone poems Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegel, and Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration). Highlights from the 2006–07 season include Mussorgsky/Ravel’s Pictures at an Exhibition, an all-Tchaikovsky program, and the Brahms Violin Concerto with soloist Steven Copes, concertmaster of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Other recent guest soloists include Susan B. Anthony, internationally acclaimed operatic soprano and WMU alumna; Ivan Chan, first violin in the Miami String Quartet; Jun-Ching Lin, assistant concertmaster of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra; Anthony Ross, principal cello of the Minnesota Orchestra; and Scott St. John, acclaimed violin/viola soloist and violinist in the St. Lawrence String Quartet.
The University Symphony Orchestra includes undergraduate and graduate music majors who take pride in the professional level of the ensemble’s rehearsals and performances. Competitive auditions are held each semester, sectional rehearsals include skilled coaches and teachers, and both individual practice and score study is expected outside of scheduled rehearsals. Orchestra members are also involved in an annual chamber music project where numerous small ensembles are assigned specific repertoire, coached by School of Music faculty members, and then featured in performance during a chamber music festival all in recognition of the significant benefits chamber music performance brings to large ensemble playing.
The University Symphony Orchestra began in 1945 and has had seven conductors: Julius Stulberg (1945–68), Herbert Butler (1968–83), Anthony Elliott (1983–87), Richard Suddendorf (1987–90), Robert Whaley (1990–95), Eric Shumsky (1995–98), and Bruce Uchimura (1998–present).