Symphony debuts local compositions

Danielle De Luna 
Staff Writer 

The La Verne Symphony Orchestra highlighted local musicians and performed a member’s debut arrangement last Sunday in Morgan Auditorium.

Students, faculty and community members from La Verne and the surrounding cities gathered to listen to classical and contemporary pieces performed by the 39-piece community orchestra, which covered every square inch of the Morgan Auditorium stage.

The concert consisted of five pieces, two of which were composed locally; Leslie L. La Barre’s “Echo” and excerpts from “Songs from the Synagogue” arranged by viola and alto saxophone player Malcolm McGee. 

“I really wanted to feature the strengths of the group and highlight composers from our community,” Conductor Rachel Huang said. “So I was excited to help Malcolm arrange, since he’s from our own orchestra.”

McGee’s arrangement, “The Shofar” and “K’dusha,” featured an echoing reverent, ceremonial harmony from the brass and wind section. 

The composition mimics the rich tones of the shofar, a ram’s horn used as an instrument in synagogue services, McGee said.

A surprising intermingling of piano with high sweet notes from the strings section brought full-bodied variety to the piece, reflecting its joyous ceremonial nature. 

“This is my first time having a piece played by a full orchestra,” McGee said. 

“I was inspired by synagogue music after Dr. Rentz at Chaffey College invited me to attend down the street. The only other piece I have had performed was by a string quartet here last semester.”

Jazz was an essential influence in McGee’s arrangement, McGee’s girlfriend, Carissa Waite, said. 

“He started playing piano three years ago and viola after that; he’s self taught,” Waite said. “He applied his knowledge of music theory to compose, and he’s been particularly fascinated by jazz and incorporates those chords into what he writes and plays.”

McGee is currently a student at UCI, and said he might join its orchestra soon, though he added that he is reluctant to leave La Verne’s orchestra. 

“The neat thing is that there’s money here to do some amazing things; we just need the people,” McGee said. 

The orchestra’s musicians come together to play outside of their professional lives and share their passion for music.

Concertmaster and senior economics major Jonathan Rios said his time in the orchestra has directed his career.

“I started out playing with the orchestra my freshman year,” Rios said. “I plan on becoming an orchestra director. My involvement has lead me to become involved with arts patrons and arts nonprofits, and this is the work I truly enjoy.” 

Other concert pieces featured individual sections of the orchestra to demonstrate their strengths. Joachim Raff’s “Sinfonietta, Op. 188” harnessed the high pitches of the winds and brass.

Bassy notes filled the room with a firm foundation as the higher lilting notes of the flutes, clarinets and oboe danced above. The varied tones separated, then returned to meet each other with competing intensity, until they settled into a teasing dance. 

The playful romantic melodies were broken up by warring, regal crescendos in Georges Bizet’s “L’Arlesienne Suite No. 2.”

La Barre’s “Echo” provided a contemporary break from the courtesan charm of the classical selections. Instruments produced the controlled chaos of nature’s rhythms, mimicking the sounds of wind, water and animals.

The La Verne Symphony Orchestra is offered as a class as well as to the public, and gives musicians the opportunity to collaborate in the community as well, Rios added.

The La Verne Symphony Orchestra will play at Morgan Auditorium once again in May. 

Danielle De Luna can be reached at

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