Sustainable Symphony gives classical music a modern tone

(2.12) Symphony
‘SONG’ SONGS: The Sustainable Symphony, a nonprofit and student-run group, performed at the ASU SkySong Farmers Market on Thursday. (Photo by Nikolai de Vera)
Published On:
Friday, February 12, 2010
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A new chord has struck ASU in the form of the Sustainable Symphony, which is aiming to transform classical music into a new, fresh and vibrant sound.

Brian Viliunas, conductor and creator of the symphony, is a doctoral student of musical arts specializing in performance. He developed the idea for the symphony in October because he wanted to create a new outlet for classical music, one that would appeal to an entire community, he said.

“I really wanted to transform the perception of the orchestra from something stodgy to something new that would inspire passion in our group members and in our audience,” he said.

There also seemed to be a demand for another symphony at ASU, Viliunas said.

“At least with 38 clarinet players and only four spots in the orchestra, obviously they aren’t getting enough time,” he said.

Earlier this month, the symphony became a nonprofit organization and partnered with the W. P. Carey School of Business. Business management students in a step program at the school worked with Viliunas to develop a business plan for the symphony.

Viliunas initially used Facebook as a networking tool to gather interested candidates.

“I went online and started a group called the Sustainable Symphony and invited 20 friends,” he said. “Within two weeks there were over 100 members of the group.”

Viliunas said the arts are the most sustainable endeavors in the humanities, as they typically last thousands of years.

The symphony is seen as a “people’s orchestra.” The members want to create more interest in the new generation of audiences by experimenting with new ideas and really addressing the issue of changing times, he said.

In order to accomplish this, the orchestra needs to go to places where there are already audiences and play what people want to hear, Viliunas said.

Rebecca Benitez, a music education junior, said it was fun to get involved in a student-run group where a bunch of people could offer opinions.

“One of the coolest things is that it is a good mix of current ASU students of all different majors, but also of older people who just play for fun,” she said. “It is a good combination of the two.”

Benitez has been playing the violin for more than 13 years, and said the symphony is welcoming to all degrees, not just performance majors. Education, therapy and composition music majors have found this a great opportunity to branch out and perform, she said.

David Norris, 63, a retired band director, said playing trumpet in the symphony has been very therapeutic.

“I came from Texas where it is highly competitive,” he said. “It is good to see an ensemble that’s not competitive but plays for the sheer enjoyment of it.”

The symphony generally has about 35 performers for each event, Viliunas said. Members in the group range from 18 years old to almost 70.

Since it is all volunteer, musicians or anyone interested in helping with the business side of the orchestra are encouraged to join.

Viliunas’ goal for the group is to do six concerts each year, with two chamber music groups. He also has ideas for different symphony days that will encourage community participation.

“We want to play what people want to hear, we want to play in the places they want to go, we want to be here for them,” he said.

Reach the reporter at amoswalt@asu.edu