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UNC Symphony Orchestra conductor prepares for 24th final concert

For the 24th time, Tonu Kalam will lead the UNC Symphony Orchestra in its final concert of the year.

Kalam, who joined UNC’s music faculty as music director and conductor of the orchestra in 1988, said Wednesday’s performance in Memorial Hall will demonstrate both short- and long-term improvement.

“The concert is the culmination of the year,” he said.

When Kalam arrived, the orchestra was not at the level it is now, he said.

“It was a real building process when I first came here,” he said.

“But the level of the players has gone up a lot and we are playing pieces now that we could have never played 10 years ago, even less 20 years.”

Kalam said he became involved with music at an early age.

“My father was a professional musician — he played the viola and conducted,” he said.

“So I got into conducting very early in life.”

Senior Emily Bruestle, the orchestra committee chairwoman, has played violin in the orchestra for four years.

She said that during his time here, Kalam has helped the orchestra present the most professional band on campus.

“He is aware of what it is like in the professional world — we are getting really prepared to be professional musicians,” she said.

“He expects a lot from us but at the same time works well to make sure that we present something as a group.”

Though the orchestra usually puts on programs with a particular theme, this year’s final concert will feature three very different pieces, Kalam said.

“I wrote a nicely varied program — 21st, 20th and 19th century,” he said. Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 5 is the big piece of the evening, along with works by Jennifer Higdon and Alan Hovhaness.

Kalam said the variation will make the concert particularly interesting for all audiences.

“We’re in a setting where everyone likes to learn something new,” he said.

“It is really important to expose students to the rich variety that is out there.”

Kalam also said the final concert will be special because the musicians in the orchestra have been working together the entire academic year.

“About one-third of the orchestra is new and my challenge every fall is to build it up,” he said.

“We can work more on technique as the year goes on, and (the group) does become closer.”

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Vann Mitchell, student general manager of the orchestra, said she likes the pieces featured in the final performance.

“It has been really fun working with the shorter pieces,” she said.
“They are kind of unknown but I like that you get a mixed program.”

Mitchell also said that Kalam’s expertise has made the orchestra better on all levels.

“He has much knowledge on both the overall orchestra and individual parts,” she said.

“He can pick out a singular part, tweak it a bit and change the whole dynamic of the orchestra.”

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