Berkshire Symphony Soloist Competition

Each year, the music department holds a competition to see which students will perform as soloists with the Berkshire Symphony. This regional orchestra, in residence at Williams, is conducted by Ronald Feldman and includes Williams students, faculty members, and professionals from the region.

This year, 15  students competed for the honor of performing their concertos in April with the Berkshire Symphony. (Follow the story of one participant, Matthew Crimp ‘ 12, here.)

The four students who were selected as soloists are English major Noah Fields ’11, viola; theater major Holly Fischer ’13, soprano; biology major Jingyi Liu ’14, flute; and economics major Madura Watanagase ’12, piano.

Here is what they have to say about their experience in the music department and with the Berkshire Symphony at Williams.

Madura Watanagase '12
Madura Watanagase '12

How long have you been playing?
Fields: I’ve been playing the violin since 1st grade, and viola since 8th.
Fischer: I’ve been singing in choirs and musicals for twelve years, but I started taking private voice lessons four years ago.
Liu: I’ve been playing for nine years. But, I can tell you that my freshman year has confirmed that Williams is indubitably a more perfect fit than I could ever ask for.
Watanagase: I’ve been playing piano for 16 years.

Holly Fisher '13
Holly Fisher '13

Do you love your instrument? Why?
: Viola players are often the undeserving butt of orchestra jokes, which tends to make violists very kind to one another. I like the friendly excitement that you get in any violist community, whether it’s in a lesson or at orchestra rehearsal.
Fischer: I find it exciting that singing is a form of musical expression that comes from within the human body. It also has the unique feature of being the only form of music that employs text, so it combines my loves for the sound of the voice and theater, allowing me to communicate in a way that is more powerful . . . than music or speech alone.
Liu: Come to the performance, if by the end you can’t tell that I love playing flute, then I probably don’t deserve to be a musician.
Watanagase: I love my instrument because it is so versatile. So many different colors can be created from this one instrument. Having played the piano for so long, I’ve developed an attachment to it. It’s like a second nature; I can’t really imagine what it would be like not knowing how to play.

Noah Fields '11
Noah Fields '11

What is going to be like playing with the Berkshire Symphony?
: Probably the biggest perk to playing with Berkshire is the chance to play with internationally renowned soloists, such as Peter Serkin.
Fischer: This will be my first time performing with Berkshire, but I’m excited to have the experience of singing with an orchestra. It’s completely different from anything I’ve done so far, so I’m not really sure what to expect, but I’m sure it’ll be a great experience.
Liu: I’ve been in three performances with the Berkshire Symphony … I enjoy the opportunity to play alongside my teacher, Mr. Hebert. In all of the orchestras that I have played in before, the woodwind section usually receives little feedback unless sectionals are held. But in Berkshire, I receive advice in full context and in real time.
Watanagase: I think it would be an amazing and unforgettable experience being able to play with the Berkshire Symphony. Playing a concerto with a piano accompaniment is one thing; having an entire orchestra playing with you is unimaginable.

Jingyi Liu '14
Jingyi Liu '14

Why did you audition for soloist?
: Viola isn’t often represented as a solo instrument, so it is a great opportunity to play it in front of an orchestra instead of buried inside.
Fischer: Because I enjoy performing, but I’m more accustomed to singing in choirs than solo performance, so it seemed like a good challenge. The competition also gave me a goal to work towards with the help of my voice teacher, Marlene Walt, which motivated me to focus on a specific direction for my singing in my lessons and practice this semester. The processes of learning the piece and auditioning for the competition have really helped me improve as a singer.
Liu: Because the Khachaturian Violin Concerto in D minor is a piece that I have wanted to learn and perform for a long time. I attempted to play it a couple of years ago and at that time, my love for the piece obviously greatly exceeded my skills. It has always been in the back of my mind since then, and last fall I decided to try again.
Watanagase: Being able to perform with the Berkshire Symphony is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I didn’t know what the odds of winning were but it was definitely worth a try. I gained so much just from the learning process, the relentless practicing; trying to get to know the piece really well, and the experience of competing.

What is the music department like at Williams?
: While the building (award-winning!) is undeniably a bit drab, the people inside are sparks of life and energy. The faculty and staff don’t try to make the department feel like a large family—that’s what they are.
Fischer: As a non-music major, I think it’s wonderful that musical opportunities are so readily available to the average Williams student. There are so many multitalented people at Williams, and I think that the music department does a great job of accommodating everybody’s different interests and levels of experience.
Liu: They’re all rockstars, every one of them.
Watanagase: The Williams music department is like a family. I know almost all the professors and everyone is so encouraging. There seems to be less of a separation between students and faculty, classes are more intimate, creating a very healthy learning environment. The department is also very inclusive, with a wide variety of activities for even non-music majors to participate in, such as concert and chamber choirs, symphonic winds, student symphony, chamber groups, etc.

For more information on the Berkshire Symphony and concert details, visit the music department’s website.

Photography by Roman Iwasiwka.