Started in the 1950s, the Eastman Studio Orchestra is a performance group that combines the personnel of the Eastman Jazz Ensemble with trumpets, trombones, saxophones, pianos, drums, percussions, strings and woodwinds from Eastman’s two main symphony orchestras, the Eastman Philharmonia and the Eastman School Symphony Orchestra.
Each year, ESO puts on one concert at Eastman. The musicians who perform are selected from the two symphony orchestras and combine film music, world music, contemporary pop, jazz and classical and perform one upbeat and distinct show. Incorporating the two orchestras is a key component of the group’s diversity and professionalism.
Bill Dobbins came to Eastman in 1973 and is now the director of ESO.
“Having one show a year really gets people interested,” Dobbins said. “We take the opposite features of jazz and classical and really bring them together for one outstanding show. What’s nice is that we have juniors and seniors coming from Eastman’s Philharmonia and freshmen and sophomores in ESSO, so we attract students and musicians of all ages.”
The group plays music both from known composers and shows – Leonard Bernstein and Nancy Wilson, for example – yet they also play the music from Eastman film scoring projects. It is common for works written by current Eastman students to be recorded and performed. ESO encourages music writing majors to write compositions for their performances.
“When we have students writing, we get unique instrumentation, and it continues to demonstrate the importance of the student talent, both graduate and undergraduate, in our performances,” Dobbins said.
Throughout many of ESO’s performances, a number of well-known artists and composers have been featured. Some examples of these include Keith Jarett, Stan Getz, Michel LeGrand and Bill Holman.
“We really are a blending of colors of one big symphony orchestra,” Dobbins said. “We perform some wonderful pieces from the past and include many of today’s contemporary music as well.”
Both Dobbins and ESO are anticipating their upcoming performance this weekend. Richard Scarborough, recipient of the Billy Joel Scholarship, intended to benefit talented music genres, has written a piece for the performance incorperating classical and jazz idioms which will create something entirely new.
Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.