Participation in the Brown University Orchestra is open to all members of the Brown community: undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff.
Faculty, staff and members of the Brown and RISD communities may also be allowed to participate depending upon what openings are available after every effort has been made to place Brown and RISD students in ensembles. All prospective and returning participants are required to audition each September.
Participation in the Brown University Orchestra is open to all members of the Brown community: undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff. Members of the RISD community are also eligible to participate. Musicians from the local community are welcome to audition and may be invited to join if openings exist.
Each fall, all musicians interested in joining the orchestra are required to audition, including returning members. Individuals who are abroad or away during the fall should audition at the start of the spring semester.
The audition will take approximately 10 minutes and consist of the following parts (no sight reading or scales will be required):
A two-minute excerpt of a work of your choice. This piece should display your best playing, and demonstrate your technical and expressive capabilities. You may bring a second contrasting selection, but it is not required and might not be requested because of time constraints.
Anyone who plays a secondary instrument, like piccolo, English horn, bass clarinet, etc., is encouraged to bring it to the audition and prepare the associated excerpt, if possible. If you plan to audition on more than one instrument and think you will need more than 10 minutes, sign up for two audition times (preferably back-to-back).
Rosters and seating assignments will be announced once all auditions have been completed. Rotating seating is used in the string sections, with new assignments for each concert. Principal string players are selected from the pool of principals determined by the auditions. Seating in the rest of the orchestra rotates to varying degrees according to each section. No distinction is made between music and non-music concentrators when determining seating; our philosophy is to judge chair placement based on the fall audition and subsequent performance in rehearsals and concerts.
For Prospective Members
Incoming students are encouraged to visit the Orchestra Open House (held every September in Alumnae Hall), where they can meet conductor Mark Seto as well as upperclassmen in the orchestra. Please audition! We accept large numbers of new members every year, and chair placement is not determined by class year. First-year students have the same shot as everyone else who auditions. Although orchestra is a time commitment, students taking the most difficult course loads at Brown still find the time to perform.
Music for an audition can be obtained at Orwig Music Library, located on the south side of campus next to Perkins Hall. Instruments to use or practice on for an orchestra audition (especially large instruments such as the marimba, harp, tuba, etc.) can be arranged by emailing the conductor, Mark Seto. If you have any questions or concerns about auditions, don’t hesitate to contact him.
A practical study of the orchestral repertoire from Bach to the present, offered through rehearsals and performances. Enrollment is by audition and written permission. Restricted to skilled instrumentalists. May be repeated once for credit. Written permission required. S/NC.
Guidelines for Participation
All prospective and returning members are required to audition each September. To get an audition time, go to the Music Department homepage and click on the appropriate link for audition sign-ups.
Once auditions have been completed, the roster of Brown University Orchestra will be announced by the date of the first rehearsal. If selected as a member of the orchestra, you should register for MUSC 0610. Registration for MUSC 0610/0611 is not required for membership in the orchestra, but is strongly encouraged. The Music Department staff in Orwig 101 will have a copy of the roster and be able to sign your permission slip.
One half-credit will be awarded for each semester of participation in the Brown University Orchestra with registration for MUSC 0610 or 0611. Students who do not register for credit are encouraged to register as an Audit.
Rules of the Course
Attend all rehearsals, which take place Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 7:15-9:45 p.m. Come 30 minutes prior to the beginning of rehearse to assist with the set-up and help strike the equipment at the end of each rehearsal. Most rehearsals take place in Alumnae Hall; most dress rehearsals and performances are in Sayles Hall.
Practice your music diligently in order to come to rehearsals as prepared as possible, and strive to achieve the highest level of music-making of which you and the orchestra are capable.
Participate in all concerts.
Notify the personnel manager and conductor as early as possible in advance if unable to attend a rehearsal, or part of a rehearsal.
Grades for MUSC 0610 and 0611 (S/NC only) are based on musical achievement, personal effort and attendance.
Each member of the orchestra will be given a folder and music for each piece in which they have a part to play.
Rehearsal schedules are sent out by email prior to each rehearsal.
Seatings are determined by the September audition and subsequent achievement in rehearsals and concerts. Rotating seating is used in the string sections, with new seatings for each concert. Principal string players are selected from the pool of principals determined by the auditions. Seating in the rest of the orchestra rotates to varying degrees according to each section.
String principals will meet with the conductor to determine bowings for each concert and are responsible for making sure that bowings are distributed to all members of their sections.
Music is returned by leaving all parts on your stand following the final performance of each program. Folders are returned at the end of the year following the final concert.
Sectional rehearsals are held periodically throughout the year.
Scores and recordings of most works played by the orchestra are placed on reserve for MUSC0610/611 in the Orwig Music Library. All members of the orchestra are strongly encouraged to use these materials in order to learn the music as thoroughly as possible.
Digital recordings are made of all Brown University Orchestra concerts and are available for downloading shortly after each concert take place.
Grades for MUSC0680 and 0681 (S/NC only) are based on musical progress, personal effort, punctuality/attendance and the ability to work well with the other members of the ensemble to fulfill the group’s potential. Students in groups that meet these requirements and have registered for MUSC 0680 or 0681 will one half-credit for each semester of Chamber Music Performance. Performing a piece of chamber music is the goal of the course. Members of groups that do not perform during the semester will not receive credit.
Occasionally paid opportunities arise for string quartets and other chamber groups to play at social events on and off campus. If your ensemble would like to play for such events, notify the director of your interest.
Brown dance ensembles welcome the opportunity to perform to live chamber music. If your group would like to explore this possibility, please notify the director and contact Professor Julie Strandberg or Michelle Bach-Coulibaly in the Department of Theatre, Speech and Dance.
Mark Seto leads a wide-ranging musical life as a conductor, musicologist, teacher, and violinist. In addition to his duties as Director of the Brown University Orchestra, he is the Artistic Director and Conductor of The Chelsea Symphony in New York City.
At Connecticut College, Seto directed the faculty ensemble and the Connecticut College Orchestra, and taught music history, theory, conducting, and orchestration. During Seto’s tenure at Connecticut, he helped double student enrollment in the orchestra. Furthermore, the ensemble assumed a greater role in the College’s cultural and intellectual life. Seto aimed to connect the learning he and his ensembles undertook in rehearsal to themes that resonate with them as engaged global and local citizens. For example, Seto programmed Tchaikovsky’s “Little Russian” Symphony and used the opportunity to convene a discussion about Russian-Ukrainian relations with Connecticut College’s Slavic Studies Department; and he served as music director for a staged production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, partnering with the New London organization Safe Futures to offer programming about domestic violence.
Since Seto’s tenure with The Chelsea Symphony began in 2011, the ensemble has programmed more than three dozen world premieres and has had debut performances at David Geffen Hall, Alice Tully Hall, the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, Merkin Concert Hall, and Symphony Space. Under his leadership, the orchestra launched an annual composition contest for early-career composers in partnership with Gerard Schwarz, Conductor Laureate of the Seattle Symphony and Music Director of the All-Star Orchestra; and established an outreach program to bring music to Rikers Island Correctional Facility. Seto’s recent engagements with The Chelsea Symphony include a popup performance in Times Square to promote the BBC America series Blue Planet 2, and an Earth Day collaboration at the American Museum of Natural History featuring Become Ocean, the Pulitzer Prize-winning work by John Luther Adams.
Seto’s research as a musicologist explores issues of influence, nationalism, and cultural identity in fin-de-siècle Paris. Seto’s articles and reviews have been published in 19th-Century Music (University of California Press), Nineteenth-Century Choral Music (Routledge, 2013), Nineteenth-Century Music Review (Cambridge University Press), Current Musicology, and Nineteenth-Century French Studies. Working from manuscript sources in Paris, Seto prepared performance materials and conducted the western hemisphere premiere of La Nuit et l’amour by Augusta Holmès, one of the most significant women composers of the French Third Republic.
Seto was the founding music director of Morningside Opera in New York City, a company acclaimed by The New York Times for its “bold imagination and musical diligence.” In 2009, he conducted the western hemisphere premiere of J.A. Hasse’s Alcide al bivio in a production praised by Opera News as a “lively, well calibrated performance.” He has also served as Assistant Conductor of the New York Youth Symphony, Yale Symphony Orchestra, and Columbia University Orchestra.
Mark Seto studied at the Pierre Monteux School for Conductors in Maine, where he served as an assistant to music director Michael Jinbo for two seasons. His conducting teachers include Lawrence Leighton Smith and Shinik Hahm, and he has participated in workshops with Kenneth Kiesler, Daniel Lewis, Donald Portnoy, Donald Thulean, and Paul Vermel. He was the 2003 recipient of the Yale Friends of Music Prize and has been honored with an ASCAP Morton Gould award.
Guests of the Orchestra
Guest conductors and composers are brought in every academic year to enrich the orchestra's perspective and exposure to living musicians. Past guest performers have included, Joseph Kalichstein, Christopher O'Riley, Itzhak Perlman, Navah Perlman '92, Mstislav Rostropovich, Isaac Stern, Eugenia Zukerman, Pinchas Zukerman, and most recently pianist Jeffrey Biegel (at Carnegie Hall). Guest Conductors have included Dr. Walter Damrosch (orchestra conductor of the New York Symphony Orchestra) in 1891, in Daniel Barenboim in 2006 during his residency with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, and a surprise run through of Mahler's First Symphony in 2014 with David Harrington, leader and founder of the Kronos Quartet following a panel with the quartet. Composers-in-residence hosted by the Brown Orchestra include Samuel Adler, Peter Boyer, Lukas Foss, Steve Reich, Joseph Schwantner, Steven Stucky, Michael Torke, Nico Muhly, Bill Harley, and most recently Philip Glass in February of 2015.
History of the Orchestra
Not much is known about the status of a student orchestra during this period. Brown's first music group, The Harmonic Society (a singing club), was formed in 1775 - only 11 years after the University was established. The first reference to a student orchestra appeared in a poster for a concert at Seekonk Town Hall on April 19th, 1858 (see photo below). From 1858 to 1886, brief mentions of the occasional class orchestra appeared in various newspapers, including the Brown Daily Herald.
In 1886, a new group called the "Symphonic Society" began performing winter concerts annually. This group of musicians (all men), consisted of no more than about 20 players and would perform "out of doors" evening concerts for the students. The Society attracted the attention of Dr. Walter Damrosch, leader of the New York Orchestra, who came to give lecture on December 11th, 1891 and conducted the orchestra in a concert that evening. In 1895, the Brown Music Department was established, allowing for a more professional atmosphere and coaching of the music on campus. As the popularity for orchestral music on the Brown campus grew, the Society began performing more an more shows - culminating in concerts every Tuesday evening during the Fall semester of 1901. From 1901 onward, the society began to disband, performing scattered concerts with no consistent rehearsal schedule. Another group of students attempted to create an orchetra in 1912, but never had enough members to sustain competition against the symphonic society.
Finally in the winter 1919, the precursor group that would come to be The Brown University Orchestra was born. This group of undergraduates, known as ahe College Orchestra, would have a clearly defined leadership structure as well as a rehearsal plan (rehearsals were publicly announced in the Brown Daily Herald for the few years of their existence). In the early 1920's the orchestra performed around 20 concerts a year to enthusiastic audiences. The orchestra was student conducted under the coaching of Leonard Smith. As the popularity of radio grew, the number of orchestra concerts reduced to a low of 8 concerts for the 1924-1925 academic year. The first major performance of this orchestra outside of the Brown Campus was on April 26th, 1926 at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. As the prevalence of jazz orchestras grew on campus, not enough members or interest was available to sustain an orchestra. The orchestra disbanded for the 1928-1929 academic year.
Leading up to 1940, the popularity of the College Orchestra began to grow again, attracting the attention of the Brown Daily Herald, which began to give concert reviews for the orchestra. Starting in 1940, the College Orchestra was renamed to the Brown-Pembroke orchestra and became a combined effort of men from Brown College, and women from Pembroke College, just up the hill. The orchestra integrated men and women performers over 30 years before Brown and Pembroke college became fully integrated in to Brown University. The new combined orchestra would be the first orchestra to perform at the New York World's Fair on May 12, 1940.
In 1953, the Brown-Pembroke Orchestra officially changed its name to the familiar title of the "Brown University Orchestra", signifying both the acceptance of graduate performers into the orchestra, as well as a step towards full Brown-Pembroke integration into a larger university (18 years before the full merge in 1971). The popularity of student jazz orchestras outside of the Brown University continued into 1958, when a group known as the Brunotes spent a grand total of 50 days in Europe playing a series of concerts in night-clubs in Europe, and a performance at the World's Fair in Brussels, Belgium. In 1987, the Brown University Orchestra made a premiere on the Carnegie Hall stage in New York City, performing Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony and Symphony of Psalms by Stravinsky with the Brown University Chorus, raising money for the department. By that point orchestra had grown to a size of 120 (roughly the size it is today).
Paul Phillips, a former pupil of Leonard Bernstein, became musical director and conductor of the Brown University Orchestra in the Fall of 1989. He helped put Brown's name on the musical map on a global scale. In December 2006, the Brown Orchestra became one of the first US collegiate orchestras to tour China, performing a two-week New Year’s concert tour of Beijing, Shanghai, Dalian, Suzhou, Changzhou and Ningbo produced by the Dalian Yilong Performance Company. The Brown Orchestra also completed a 10 day tour of Ireland, including performances with the Limerick Choral Union and a performance in the famous Wexford Opera Hall. A documentary about this trip can be found in the media section of this website, located here.
Itzhak Perlman, Navah Perlman ’92, Pinchas Zukerman, Eugenia Zukerman, Isaac Stern, Sergiu Luca, Mstislav Rostropovich, Laurence Lesser, Masuko Ushioda and Joseph Kalichstein are among the many renowned musicians who have appeared as soloists with the Brown University Orchestra during this period in its history. Actors Barry Bostwick and Brown alumna Kate Burton ’79 performed Peter Boyer's multimedia composition Ellis Island: The Dream of America with the orchestra in 2004 at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence. Composers-in-residence hosted by the Brown Orchestra include Steve Reich, Steven Stucky, Michael Torke, Lukas Foss and Samuel Adler. Notable events in the orchestra’s history include trips to New York for concerts in Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall and to Montreal for a concert and recording sessions with choruses from McGill University; a 2006 concert in Boston’s Faneuil Hall; and concert exchanges and collaborations with orchestras and choruses from MIT, Tufts and Wellesley.
The Brown University Orchestra, a member of the American Symphony Orchestra League, has won the prestigious ASCAP Award for "Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music" seven times since 1994, including 1st Prize in 2005 in the Collegiate Orchestra Division. The BUO sponsors orchestra retreats (usually held at Brown’s Haffenreffer Grant in Bristol, RI, or at Camp Canonicus in Exeter, RI) and its annual Concerto Competition, whose winners perform full concertos with the orchestra. In addition to student soloists, numerous student conductors and composers have performed with (or had their works performed by) the Brown Orchestra. The Orchestra’s alumni include current and former members of the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, New World Symphony and other outstanding orchestras.
Following Paul Phillips' departure from the Orchestra, Daniel Harp served as Acting Conductor for the 2017-2018 season. Mark Seto began his appointment as Director of the BUO on July 1, 2018.
"Music." Encyclopedia Brunonia. 1 ed. 1993. Encyclopedia Brunonia. Web . 20 Aug. 2014.
"Pembroke College." Encyclopedia Brunonia. 1 ed. 1993. Encyclopedia Brunonia. Web . 20 Aug. 2014.
"BROWN STUDENTS' CONCERT." New York Times (1923-Current file): 29. Apr 06 1926. ProQuest. Web. 20 Aug. 2014.
Harvery, William. "Symphony Concerts." Brown Daily Herald 6 May 1901, Volume 10 No. 162 ed. 1. Print.
Eiseman, Robert. "The Concert Hall." Brown Daily Herald 18 February 1953, Volume 62 No. 85 ed. 2. Print.
The Brown University Orchestra sponsors its annual concerto competition each fall semester to give its most highly talents members the opportunity to perform as soloists with the orchestra. This privilege is also extended to musicians at Brown whose specialties do not generally allow membership in an orchestra: pianists, vocalists, and players of guitar, saxophone, and other non-orchestra instruments. Contact the BUO if you have questions about the Competition.