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Cole Orchestra Returns From Europe

Published: June 5, 2017

Cole Conservatory
CSULB’s string orchestra during its recent trip to Europe.

Bob Cole Conservatory of Music Director Johannes Müller Stosch led 29 members of the string orchestra—violins, violas, cellos and basses—to Germany and the Czech Republic in March to play four concerts.

The orchestra last traveled to South Korea in 2013 and since has received numerous international invitations. Venues on its most recent trip included Berlin, Leipzig, Wittenberg and Prague in the Czech Republic. Accompanying the group during the eight-day trip was director of string studies Moni Simeonov.

“At least half of our students have never traveled to Europe. They were excited to share their artistry and achievements with the German and Czech audiences. An itinerary of extensive traveling and sightseeing kept everyone busy,” Stosch explained.

“We try to make travel a priority for the conservatory,” he added. “It falls in line with President Conoley’s global initiative. We get many more invitations than we can accept so we rotate the large ensembles, orchestra, band and choir. Every three years, we take turns just to make it affordable. Jazz ensembles, because they are smaller in size, travel annually.”

Performances on this trip began in Berlin with a well-attended concert in a packed church. Next, the students moved on to Stosch’s home town of Wittenberg where they entertained a sold-out audience of 300 in a local theater. After a day of rest and recuperation, they moved on to Leipzig’s St. Nicholas church.

“It was really amazing for us to play a work by JS Bach in a church where we knew he provided music,” he said. Their final concert was in the Czech Republic’s Prague.

Stosch believes the trip taught the students several professional skills needed in their careers such as being on the road.

“I wanted our students to learn how to rehearse a program and prepare it well,” he said. “I wanted them to learn how to perform consecutively and even get better without extensive rehearsal time in-between. Our first Berlin performance was in a church with lots of reverberation and the students had to learn to adjust quickly. In Wittenberg, we performed in a theater with no ‘ring’ at all but our students adjusted. In Leipzig, we performed in a very large church with the opposite challenge of much reverberation. That was one skill. The other was dealing with jet lag.”

There are special challenges for string players when it comes to long-distance performances.

“The humidity can be a big concern. Then there was the matter of dealing with rental instruments,” he said. “Students carried their own violins and violas but the larger cellos and bases had to be rented. We lucked out with the weather but not having your own instrument feels like wearing someone else’s shoes and one has to learn to walk in them very quickly.”

The students represented what CSULB does best, Stosch believes. A balance of lighter well-known repertoire with incredibly hard but satisfying pieces was the key.

They began with Bach’s double violin concerto featuring Simeonov and student soloists rotated between the three movements and then performed Arnold Schoenberg’s “Transfigured Night.”

“The piece is intricate and one of the hardest in the string chamber repertoire,” said Stosch. “I wanted the audience to hear the quality we can produce. Our selections clearly showed the level of work that goes into preparing for a concert as complex as this. We also featured a romantic piece by Arthur Foote, one of the first purely American trained composers, and Grieg’s famous ‘Holberg Suite.’ In addition, we also played encores for our performance. The audience just kept on clapping.”

Stosch enjoyed serving as an ambassador of a different America than the one the evening news depicts in Europe these days.

“I took the opportunity to highlight CSULB’s diversity,” he explained. “Many of us come from different places such as Germany, Bulgaria, South Korea, China, Paraguay and Mexico. We come together, study, play music and make our home in California. I told our audiences that we represent a different America, an open and tolerant one, which is welcoming and cherishes diversity.”

The European tour represents the Bob Cole Conservatory’s commitment to outreach.

“We became a conservatory nine years ago but not many people know we exist so my number one priority was to get the word out,” he said. “When audience members asked about the CSU and the Long Beach campus in particular, I explained it is the largest university system in the state. The Bob Cole Conservatory has 550 majors. It is a large and a very comprehensive music school. My goal is to increase the name recognition of CSULB and the Bob Cole Conservatory. The tour was an amazing experience for the students. The next time they perform Bach, they will remember the acoustics of the Leipzig church where Bach himself premiered many of his works. It will enrich their performances.”

Stosch believes concert successes like this make it easier for CSULB to recruit music majors.

“Touring is incredibly exciting for our students,” he said. “When there are auditions and current CSULB students talk to prospective students, the new students ask what they will get out of the program. Our students point to excellence in instruction, performing opportunities and travel. Their musical instruction presents a package that not only prepares students for their future careers but helps to make them global citizens.”