Small orchestra, big sound

The Mount Holyoke Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ng Tian Hui

By Sasha Nyary

Under the leadership of Ng Tian Hui, the Mount Holyoke Symphony Orchestra is steadily gaining national attention.

This winter, Ng, director of orchestra and assistant professor of music–conducting at Mount Holyoke College, will present his latest work at the 2017 Mary Lyon Concert: Of Hope and Courage. The event is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 24, at 8 p.m. in the Abbey Memorial Chapel and is free and open to the public.

“In addition to paying homage to the great music of the Western classical canon, which is largely dead white men, I’ve worked to ensure that the orchestra’s repertoire also reflects the diversity of the College," Ng said. "As a new tradition for the orchestra, the Mary Lyon Concert Series allows us to be one of the leading exponents of music by women.”

Ng was awarded a performance grant from Women's Philharmonic Advocacy this fall in recognition of his efforts to promote the work of women composers.

The grant supports this latest event, which includes Nigerian-American Nkeiru Okoye's acclaimed “Songs of Harriet Tubman.” The four arias are from her opera “Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom.” Also included is the world premiere of Okoye’s evocative piece, “An Invitation to a Die-In,” in which a black man describes being shot by police.

“Okoye is one of the most exciting new voices in new opera in the country,” Ng said. “I'm very honored that the orchestra has the opportunity to premiere what is likely to be an important new work.”

Also set to premiere are “Ivan’s Song,” which composer Karen LeFrak ’69 dedicated to her grandson. The contributions of the third composer, Louise Farrenc, to the French Romantic period are often overlooked, Ng said.

“This is just the fourth performance of Farrenc’s music, which contemporary authors felt was comparable to Beethoven's symphonic achievements,” he said. The acclaimed soloists performing at the Mary Lyon Concert are Synthia Pullum, soprano, and Damian Norfleet, baritone.

The Mount Holyoke Symphony Orchestra is one of the largest of the College’s many musical groups. It includes students of every year with a wide variety of majors, faculty members, members of the surrounding community and Five College Consortium students.

For his work, Ng received the 2015 American Prize in Orchestral Programming, a tremendous honor for a small liberal arts college with a single orchestra.

As part of the new annual tradition that is the Mary Lyon Concert Series, the orchestra also travels to one of the College’s alumnae clubs. This year’s visit is to the Mount Holyoke Club of Chicago. The concert will be performed on Saturday, Jan. 21, at 4 p.m. at the Unitarian Church of Evanston, Ill. Tickets are required.

Why a women’s college? Learn more.