damp strings morning glories hang their ancient faces. The
dry and exalted noise of the locusts from all the air at once
enchants my eardrums."
Knoxville: Summer of 1915
Summer of 1915, James Agee's prose poem scored for soprano and
orchestra in 1947 by Samuel Barber, is a sensuous, musical painting
of a languorous summer night. It is, in a word, cinematic. It was
a most appropriate choice to showcase in an Oberlin Orchestra concert
conducted by one of the most distinguished film composers in the United
States John Williams.
The orchestra traveled west in October to perform under Williams'
baton at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. Associate Professor of Conducting
Timothy Weiss led the ensemble in Mozart's Symphony No. 35;
Williams commanded it through the program's remainder, including the
Barber work, Johannes Brahms' Academic Festival Overture, and
some of Williams' film scores (selections from Schindler's List,
E.T., and Raiders of the Lost Ark). By all accounts, the
event was an exalted and enchanted experience.
Laurie Rubin, a fourth-year student of Wheeler Professor of Music
Richard Miller and a Los Angeles native, brought Agee's words to shimmering,
rhapsodic life. "It's a beautiful piece," she says. "It
captures that incredible feeling of relaxation, of abandon, in summer,
when your entire body takes in every emotion with all its senses.
Singing it was like following a path the piece had already made. The
places (in the song) for me to use different colors in my voice to
show different emotions or paint different scenes were easy to find.
I enjoyed every note . . . It was definitely a huge, musical milestone,
a highlight of my life," says Rubin, describing her collaboration
with the orchestra and Williams. "Mr. Williams made me feel right
at home, as if I had known him and had been working with him for years."
also has high praise for Weiss, with whom she rehearsed and who directed
a performance of the work at Oberlin. "He was so interested in
the pure musicality and artistry of the piece, in the warmth and nuance
in it," she says. "He was also very interested in the collaboration
between the orchestra and me, always making sure that I felt comfortable
and that there was a balance especially in the thickly orchestrated
The students were surprised to find Williams unassuming and casual,
says Weiss. "They liked that he was very much himself and comfortable
with the players. The music-making was very much from the heart."
Rubin was escorted offstage by Williams following her Getty performance.
When he returned to the podium, he spoke to the audience of Oberlin
College trustees, faculty, administrators, parents, alumni, and friends.
"I'm very proud of my association with Oberlin," said Williams,
who received an honorary doctor of music degree from Oberlin in 1995.
"It's a marvelous place." "It's a thrill for me to
share this evening with these wonderful musicians. The orchestra is
fantastic; we've had a wonderful two days together. I congratulate
all of them on their great accomplishments and artistic levels and
skills, attained in so few years. And bravo to the parents, teachers,
and all of you who have brought this to fruition."
Russian-born sophomore violinist Julia Sakharova was featured soloist
for selections from Schindler's List. Working with Williams,
she says, was her first experience performing with a renowned conductor.
Sakharova, who is part Jewish, first saw the film Schindler's List
"His music really touches people's hearts and minds including
mine. It was like a dream and I told him that," she says. "I
didn't think I would ever meet the person who composed this music
that I love."
Leigh Miller, a senior bassoon performance major from Reston, Virginia,
the best part of the experience aside from working with John
Williams was visiting the Getty Center. "It is one of
the most beautiful places I have ever been," she says. "I
could have spent a week there easily and not have gotten bored."
Miller also has high praise for Oberlin staff and volunteers: "They
treated us like professionals the entire trip and made sure that we
thoroughly enjoyed every minute. It was also great to see alumni come
back (to organize the event) and try to do something for their alma
mater. It's nice to know that they still care."
Scott Schillin '68, associate producer of From the Top, a weekly
radio series broadcast on WGBH Boston showcasing outstanding precollegeage
classical musicians, was one alumni who worked overtime to make the
event a success. He coordinated all aspects of the trip, traveling
to Oberlin several times from Boston during preproduction planning
and accompanying the orchestra to Los Angeles.
Oberlin obtained the Getty Center as its venue for the concert with
the help of Oberlin College Trustee Stephen D. Rountree, executive
vice president and chief operating officer of the J. Paul Getty Trust.