New collaboration between UCCS and Pikes Peak Philharmonic

A concert on April 7, 2024.

A collaboration between the UCCS Music Program and the Pikes Peak Philharmonic (PPP) is creating a new musical experience for the UCCS campus and the Pikes Peak region. The UCCS orchestra, also called Symphony 21, and the PPP combined forces in January 2024 to form a larger community orchestra that includes about a dozen UCCS students, chosen by audition.

On Sunday, April 7th, under the direction of conductor Luciano Silvestri, the orchestra gave its first concert as a combined ensemble. The collaboration is bringing fresh music to the orchestra and unique opportunities for UCCS students. Jadon Cruzan, a composer, tuba player, and junior music major at UCCS, had three movements of his orchestra work “Perfecting the Moon,” included on the program. A day before the solar eclipse, Dr. Silvestri called the occasion “auspicious.”

Cruzan is grateful for the opportunity. “I just am lucky enough to be one the first students to get the chance to work directly with this group. Overall, this experience has been incredible at showing me the intricacies of a full orchestra, and the heart-filling pleasure of working up a piece of your own with one of the most genial groups of performers.”

Yvonne Wu, Assistant Professor of Music who leads the Music composition program at UCCS, sees unique learning experiences for students. “We are thrilled for Jadon and future composition students to have their orchestral works performed by the newly augmented Pikes Peak Philharmonic.” The sheer size of orchestras means such opportunities are rare. “Orchestras involve many people, each bringing their expertise, hours of preparation, and great collective effort. It’s a distinct honor for any composer to have their large ensemble pieces performed. Jadon is one of our star composers, and his work was beautifully rendered by the orchestra.”

Alongside Cruzan’s music, the program also featured works by Johannes Brahms, Gioachino Rossini, and Henryk Wieniawski. The 2024 Concerto Competition Winner, Joshua Wu, a student at Discovery Canyon High School in Colorado Springs, wowed the audience with his performance of the finale of Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto No. 2.

The collaboration brings significant new opportunities for UCCS student performers as well. Glen Whitehead, Professor of Music and chair of the Visual and Performing Arts, founded Symphony 21 during the pandemic. Reflecting on its modest beginnings, with scarcely more than a dozen students, each spaced six feet apart, Whitehead is “thrilled beyond measure” about the experiences that are now possible for students. Performing in similar orchestras during his undergrad and graduate years was formative to his development as a musician. “These experiences never go away.”

Collaborative programming integrates the missions of both organizations including the innovative approaches of the music program alongside the traditional orchestral ethos of the Philharmonic. Concerts across each season will feature masterworks of orchestra literature, works by diverse contemporary composers, student and faculty compositions, faculty soloists, dynamic guest artists, student concerto competitions, and more. The orchestra rehearses in the music program facilities and performs in the Ent Center for the Arts.

Tom Fleecs, President of the Board of the Pikes Peak Philharmonic, remarks that this kind of “creative relationship” is a “win for all involved” especially as the ensemble connects those who may not otherwise have the chance to work together. “Our community orchestra is made up of individuals from very diverse backgrounds that range in age from early teens to eighties.” He notes that “friendships, professional relationships, and mentorships” have been cultivated throughout the semester. “The musical possibilities for UCCS students and staff and our members are endless.”

As opportunities for learning and growth emerge for students and orchestra members alike, the combined ensemble aims to reach wider audiences and deepen the region’s artistic vitality.

Whitehead is hopeful that this positive impact will spark interest in prospective students.

“The UCCS Music Program and Pikes Peak Philharmonic coming together is the best of what can be accomplished with community and campus collaborations,” he said. “This orchestra will create a whole new opportunity for future UCCS student instrumentalists to consider UCCS for their college experience.”