Orchestrating Stanfordian Sound

Almost immediately after Stanford University opened its doors, the Stanford Symphony Orchestra became an official campus arts organization. Originally constituting an 11-member ensemble, SSO membership gradually increased to 90 musicians. SSO remains the most full-bodied music group on campus, and is co-sponsored by the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) and the Stanford University Music Department. The SSO attracts students and community members with diverse academic and professional backgrounds. Jindong Cai, the Music Department’s Director of Orchestral Studies, presently directs the SSO, as well as the Stanford Philharmonic Orchestra.

Orchestra in the 1895 Stanford Quad


The SSO musicians engage in two rehearsals per week and approximately six concerts per year, including tours to Australia and New Zealand (2005) and China (2008, as part of the Beijing Olympic Cultural Festival). SSO’s diverse repertoire highlights major symphonic works of the classical canon, non-western music, and Stanford composers, and partakes in joint concerts with campus-based choral groups and the Stanford Wind Ensemble. During the Pan-Asian Music Festival, a tradition that began in 2004, the SSO promotes an appreciation of music in contemporary Asia through a series of concerts and academic activities, in which Stanford students, faculty, and international guest artists contribute. The cross-cultural value of the Pan-Asian Music Festival is, according to Maestro Cai, a unique opportunity for understanding the relationships between tradition and innovation: “in today’s information age, we are always searching for the future of music and the future of art in general. But I think it is equally important to look back and see how traditional arts have been transformed. By understanding the past, we can better perceive the future.”

The Bing Concert Hall, which opens in 2013, will become the SSO’s new headquarters. In conjunction with this shift, SSO will launch the Beethoven Project, for which the SSO and the SPO will perform all of Beethoven’s symphonies and his five piano concertos (the latter featuring Stanford alumnus Jon Nakamatsu as piano soloist). Moreover, the Beethoven Project will offer a master class series with Nakamatsu, a new freshmen seminar entitled “The Beethoven Project,” a Continuing Studies course called “Beethoven: An Introduction through Performance,” educational concerts hosted by the Department of Music, a “Reactions to the Record” symposium focusing on the earliest recordings of Beethoven’s works, public displays of Stanford Libraries’ Beethoven collections, and a 2013 SSO summer tour across Europe embracing the theme “In Beethoven’s Footsteps.” Maestro Cai expounds upon the impact the new concert hall space will have on the musical life at Stanford: “The opening of the Bing Concert Hall will change the landscape of music-making on the Stanford campus. In keeping with the magnitude of this change, The Beethoven Project will represent a signature endeavor for the Department of Music and the perfect series of events with which to begin our residency in the hall.”

Bio: Jindong Cai joined the Stanford Music Department Faculty in 2004 as the Gretchen B. Kimball Director of Orchestral Studies. Currently he directs the Stanford Symphony Orchestra.

Yigou Zhou’s Lament of a Rainbow Cloud Stanford Symphony Orchestra and Sha Yuan, Pan-Asian Music Festival on February 4, 2012. Edited by Mark Dalrymple "Yigou Zhou’s Lament of a Rainbow Cloud"

 Featured image: Maestro Cai conducts the Stanford Symphony Orchestra in the Memorial Church