They are the performance. They are singled out on-stage, the spotlight trained on them, their names written individually in the program. They are the vocal or instrumental leaders, with only the Cal Poly Symphony to back them up. On Sunday at 3 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center, five soloists and one trio will perform pieces they picked, practiced and auditioned over the past three months.
The annual Cal Poly Winter Concert is a product of competitive tryouts that occurred in late fall, said Scott Charvet, the president of the symphony, who is responsible for organizing, promoting and directing symphony events. He is also a percussion soloist in the performance.
“It’s only a crop of brave people that can handle this sort of limelight,” Charvet said. “This year in particular we have a sizeable amount of talent and people who are not afraid to be up in front of a crowd. We have strong players, strong personalities, and I think that’s what’s going to make an entertaining performance.”
This soloist concert format allows students to pick their own pieces with the matching accompaniment, from any number of genres. Once the students have a piece in mind they must audition for one of the six performance slots.
About 20 to 30 soloists, most of whom are music majors, auditioned for the six performance slots in the fall. The tryouts were nerve-wracking according to Karlie Saenz, a music graduate from last quarter and a vocal soloist.
“Everyone’s dressed up, and it’s a tense atmosphere,” Saenz said. “This is a big chance to sing with the symphony; I’m usually only accompanied by a piano. There were probably 30 people signed up for tryouts.”
Once the selections are posted in the music department, the symphony, made up of about 40 members playing instruments ranging from the tuba to the violin to the piccolo, begin to practice their parts. The soloists start practicing with the symphony about three or four weeks into winter quarter.
Charvet is performing a piece on the marimbas called “Concertino for Marimba and Orchestra (Vigorous)” composed by Paul Creston. He said the piece is a standard in marimba literature. Amy Beth Nickelson’s performance of “Art is Calling For Me (I Want to be a Prima Donna)” is a performance by one of his fellow music students that Charvet said he is particularly looking forward to.
“The song is perfect for her because she has just the type of aggressive personality for the piece. And the piece is all about how this girl wants to be a diva,” Charvet said. “I’m not saying she’s a diva, but she’s fun to watch and she has a bright and bubbly personality.”
The performances have a broad scope, said David Arrivee, the director of the symphony and a professor in the music department. The soloists’ musical picks range from Mozart’s operatic “Smanie Implacabile” to a piece from “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” a ‘60s musical.
Arrivee said he enjoys being involved in the “every note” of the process, because the format is somewhat unusual.
“There’s that cool dynamic of the soloist giving a performance they want to give, me trying to figure exactly out how the orchestra and then communicating to the orchestra,” he said. “It’s really interesting actually.”
Symphonies have shifted in the new millenium, trying new techniques to maintain or build audiences whose attention spans have shortened and changed, Arrivee said. For 150 years prior to this movement orchestra concerts usually followed a certain format: play a major orchestral piece, feature a renowned guest with the symphony and then possibly play another movement.
Now, Arrivee said, that has changed.
“(Symphonies) play video game music in concert and have the video game playing and it’s actually a really cool concert,” he said. “And then they do things like old silent film and with an orchestral accompaniment.”
The concert and its pieces are the second part of a year-long concept that Arrivee, the conductor, is trying.
“Our year-long theme is how America found its orchestral sound, because originally, it didn’t have one,” Arrivee said. “In early 20th century, it was basically European music. The music and conductors just all came over.”
The first concert of the season was all music composed by Antonin Dvorak, a Czech composer who was hired to create a unique musical sound for America.
“His symphony was the wave, the example,” Arrivee said. “This concert and our last one highlight what other people have done to find that American sound.”
The second half of Sunday’s show features a piece by William Grant Still unofficially titled “Afro-American,” and is a combination of orchestral music and the blues, which Arrivee said is very unusual.
The last concert, in the spring, will feature the music of Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein wrote music for “West Side Story,” and Copland wrote “Old American Songs.”
Sunday’s concert starts at 3 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $12 for general admission, $10 for seniors and $6 for students. Visit http://pacslo.org for more information.