Frequently-asked questions

How big is the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra?

HRO is the biggest orchestra on campus—it has over 80 members!

What is the time commitment?

HRO rehearses every Monday evening from 7:00 to 9:00pm and every Friday afternoon from 3:00 to 5:30pm throughout the academic year (excluding finals periods) in preparation for four concerts. Musicians are expected to be in the hall by 6:45 and tuned and ready to play by 6:55. Although HRO is a sizable time commitment, plenty of our members still manage to be very active with numerous other organizations on campus: members of HRO write for the Crimson, compete on the ballroom dance team, lead public service organizations, and participate in hundreds of other groups as well. Many even participate in other orchestras and musical organizations on campus.

Where does HRO rehearse and perform?

HRO is fortunate to be able to perform all four of our annual concerts in the beautiful and historic Sanders Theatre in Memorial Hall. Most of our rehearsals are in Sanders Theatre as well, although we occasionally rehearse in Lowell Lecture Hall.

Does HRO tour?

Yes, indeed! HRO has had a long-standing tradition of touring. In 2017, HRO embarked on a tour to the South American country of Argentina! Over the past four decades, the ensemble has successfully toured Korea, Mexico, Canada, the former Soviet Union, East Asia, Central Europe, Italy, and various other locations here in the US. Our most recent trips have been to the Philippines and South Korea in 2015, the Middle East in 2013, and Cuba in the summer of 2011. Generally, tours occur once every two to three years, usually in June following commencement exercises.

What does HRO play?

Pretty much everything in the symphonic repertoire. You can check out this year's program on our Events page. Highlights from recent seasons have included Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, Mahler's Symphony No. 5, Brahms' Symphony No. 3, Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, and lots more! We sometimes invite guest soloists as well; in the past, we've have had the privilege of collaborating with such renowned musicians as pianist Robert Levin, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Lynn Chang. HRO also holds the annual James Yannatos Concerto Competition, which is open to all undergraduate musicians and gives the winner the chance to perform with the HRO. We also generally play 1 or 2 modern pieces every year; members of HRO often comment how grateful they are for the exposure to these modern works that they would not have otherwise gotten to know.

How hard is it to get in?

This is a difficult question... a lot depends on what instrument you play and how many other applicants there are for each section. Every year we accept a large number of new members to the orchestra. That said, don't be intimidated about auditioning! Our auditions are actually pretty low-key, and you’ll never know unless you try... we want everyone who has considered playing for HRO to audition with us! This year, we accepted around 40 new members.

How do I audition?

Auditions are held once a year, a few days before classes begin in the fall. Details will be posted on our website near the end of the summer, so keep an eye out! You can also always e-mail us for more information. Auditions are 6 minutes long (although you should prepare at least 10 minutes of music) and you should prepare two contrasting works from your instrument's standard repertoire. Our conductor, Maestro Federico Cortese, holds all the auditions and likes to hear different elements of playing, so it's usually best to choose pieces with fast, technical spots as well as slow, lyrical sections. And relax: no scales or sight-reading.

Are there opportunities to play chamber music?

Yes! Chamber music is a huge part of HRO – many HRO members are enrolled in Music 189r, a credit-bearing course designed to give HRO members and other chamber musicians an opportunity to play and perform chamber music. Chamber groups receive an hour-long coaching every week from members of the Parker Quartet and also rehearse separately on their own, all in preparation for the performance of a work in its entirety at the end of the semester. Students may form their own groups and select their own repertoire or be assigned a group by the coaches. All are welcome to participate – you'll just have to audition for Music 189 separately from HRO (Music 10). And beyond Music 189r, plenty of HRO members are ready and willing to sight-read chamber music at any time, just for the fun of it.

Is there more to HRO than just music-making?

Definitely! HRO is much more than just an orchestra, and there are lots of things that go on besides music. Our social committee (Pieria) regularly organizes events for orchestra members: parties after every concert, outings to nearby restaurants and concerts, and special trips like ice skating. We also have a "family" program within the orchestra to help new and returning members alike get to know each other. There is also a weekend retreat at the beginning of the year for all members of HRO, where we work on repertoire for the coming year, play chamber music, play sports and games, and party!

The Pieria are just one part of our larger Board of Directors, which helps to keep the orchestra running smoothly. HRO is a large group and is completely student-run, so there are plenty of ways to get involved – we produce our own programs, subscription brochures, and posters, we do our own publicity, and even plan our own tours among many other things. There are over 20 members of the orchestra who are part of the Board. Musicians in HRO usually say that the more involved in the orchestra you are, the more you get out of and appreciate the experience. If you're interested in learning more about any of these positions, email us and we'll put you in touch with the appropriate person.

What makes HRO different from other orchestras at Harvard?

There are many musical opportunities at Harvard, so this is an important question to address. First, HRO is the biggest and oldest orchestra on campus – as Harvard's biggest symphony orchestra and the oldest symphony orchestra in the country, the repertoire is often different from that of the other orchestras' on campus. We are well-suited for playing Beethoven and Mahler symphonies but only sometimes play Mozart, Bach, and Vivaldi. Our large size also means that there are always more students to meet, with a wide variety of interests and concentrations. Lastly, we have a professional conductor, while most other groups on campus have student conductors.

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