Gunn Chamber Orchestra performs at Midwest Conference in Chicago


On Dec. 18, the Gunn Chamber Orchestra flew to Chicago, Illinois to perform at the 76th annual Midwest Clinic International Band and Orchestra Conference. Chamber orchestra is an audition-based honors class taught by Sandra Lewis and Tiffany Ou-Ponticelli. The Midwest Clinic is the world’s largest instrumental music education conference and attracts thousands of participants across the U.S. and internationally, according to the clinic’s website. 

To be considered to perform at the clinic, ensembles from across the nation must submit recordings of a slow tempo work and a fast piece. For their application, the chamber orchestra recorded the first movement of “Serenade for Strings in D major” by Robert Fuchs and “Triptych for Strings” by Yasushi Akutagawa, respectively. “When we send a tape to Midwest, we’re trying to showcase different styles and sometimes different time period differences,” Lewis said. “So the committee, when they’re listening to you, can see if  you’re versatile or not.”

It took time and research to decide the program repertoire in order to fulfill the specific Midwest performance requirements. “40% of the repertoire must be published within the last two calendar years,”  Ou-Ponticelli said. “For every grade 4, 5 or 6 piece—which means a challenging piece for the high school level—you have to have the same number of grade 1, 2 or 3 pieces. [There is also a] diversity requirement that one piece of your set has to be written by a historically marginalized composing group, which could mean a racial minority or a female.”

 Ou-Ponticelli and Lewis exceeded the diversity requirement this year, with eight of 11 pieces by a minority composer. “We wanted to make sure that our program covers California’s population—America’s population,” Ou-Ponticelli said. “We spent a lot of time researching, especially on lower level pieces, lower grade pieces, just to make sure that we could find things that would fit Midwest requirements.”

After performing at the conference, ensembles must wait four years to re-audition. “You can spread the wealth so other people have a chance, [and] one particular program and group that has a cadre of people that are super high level will not get in every single year,” Lewis said. 


Chamber orchestra student musicians received music parts to practice over the summer in order to extensively prepare for the performance. Additionally, Ou-Ponticelli and Lewis reached out to the composers of the pieces, teachers and musicians to gain insight and improve the chamber orchestra’s performance. 

Over the course of the first semester, the chamber orchestra performed three concerts to help prepare for their Midwest Clinic concert: at the Midwest Joint Preview Concert with Monta Vista High School (who also traveled to Chicago), the Fall Orchestra Concert and the Bon Voyage Concert, which was a complete display of the Midwest performance set. “I’m so proud of where we are,” Ou-Ponticelli said. “This group has gone above and beyond making sure that they have their own parts prepared; it’s a very high level ensemble. There’s a lot of innate musicality that is fun to work with.”

Performance Set

Chamber orchestra’s Midwest repertoire consists of new and unique styles. “We have a voice solo, electronics for a backtrack—we’re trying to showcase how exciting and diverse string playing can be,” Ou-Ponticelli said. “In the grand scheme of ensemble playing, people tend to think of string orchestra as one specific sound, and we’re excited to bring many different types to the table.”

Tiffany Ou-Ponticelli conducts at Midwest

The chamber orchestra commissioned a piece, Soul Dance, to be composed for Midwest by Armond Wimberly and was performed with an electronic back track. Other pieces included Medieval Carol (which musicians played memorized and marching around the performance room), Vivaldi’s “Winter” played with Gunn alumn William Copeland, “Voodoo Dolls” by Jessie Montgomery (featuring four improvisation soloists within the orchestra), and Silvestre Revueltas’s “Música de Feria”.

Gunn chamber orchestra’s performance is available for purchase at as an mp3 or CD. 

Midwest Clinic Experience

The trip lasted from Sunday morning till Thursday evening. Though there were some concerns of potential return flight cancellations due to the incoming snow blizzard, the chamber orchestra was able to fly back safely at night.

Upon arrival, the chamber orchestra had lunch at Pinstripes Restaurant and played at the bowling venue. The chamber orchestra had a dress rehearsal and free time to purchase lunch and explore the conference’s exhibit hall the next morning. There were booths for various colleges, universities and music organizations with their exhibits, merchandise and more. Everyone watched Monta Vista High School’s orchestra performance, then departed for the 360 Chicago Observation deck. Chamber orchestra was able to view the city in the upper floors of the building. 

William Copeland peforms “Winter” with the Gunn Chamber Orchestra

Sophomore and violist Andrew Hwang felt proud of the chamber orchestra’s performance on Tuesday morning. “I thought we pulled off the best performance we could have, and I felt satisfied by the quality of our playing,” Hwang said. 

Senior and violinist Avery Yun treasured the experience. “There were a lot of people in attendance, but getting to perform pieces with various soloists and composers alongside us was a lot of fun,” Yun said. “It was kind of a bittersweet ending because, on one hand, I was sad that it would be our last time performing the music with each other, but also extremely proud of everyone”

Hwang also enjoyed the orchestra’s winter tradition of White Elephant Gift Exchange (as well as a performance called the 12 Days of Orchestra by the seniors) after the concert. “I loved participating in the white elephant gift exchange,” he said. “It was a great opportunity to bond with my classmates, and I got an awesome gift: a puzzle and a watch.” The chamber orchestra watched Chicago Sinfonietta in the evening, a professional group invited to perform at Midwest, conducted by Mei-Ann Chen. 

The group also traveled to Northwestern University to perform and receive feedback from Dr. Robert G. Hasty, the Associate Director of Orchestras, the conductor of the Chamber Orchestra and Philharmonia of Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music at Northwestern. The same day, the chamber orchestra watched a Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Chorus holiday concert at the Symphony Center. 

Thursday, the chamber orchestra visited the Bean and Millennium Park after moving out of the hotel. In the afternoon, the group visited the shopping mall near the airport. Originally, the chamber orchestra was supposed to visit the Chicago Art Institute, but due to the potential snow blizzard, they spent the rest of the day at the airport to wait for the plane. “I was honestly surprised at how quickly snow began falling on our last day in Chicago, but thankfully Ms.O-P and Ms.Lewis planned other activities that day which turned out to be extremely fun and memorable,” Yun said. “Even though I was worried, we still got to see the Bean and visit Magnificent Mile so I would say the excitement got us through.”