CSUF Symphony Orchestra and Rob Kapilow


For over 20 years, Rob Kapilow has brought the joy and wonder of classical music – and unraveled some of its mysteries – to audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Characterized by his unique ability to create an “aha” moment for his audiences and collaborators, whatever their level of musical sophistication or naiveté, Kapilow’s work brings music into people’s lives: opening new ears to musical experiences and helping people to listen actively rather than just hear. As the Boston Globe said, “It’s a cheering thought that this kind of missionary enterprise did not pass from this earth with Leonard Bernstein. Rob Kapilow is awfully good at what he does. We need him.”

Kapilow’s “What Makes It Great?” (WMIG) made its auspicious debut on NPR’s Performance Today over 20 years ago, and with its accessible ten-minute format it quickly attracted a wide base of fans and followers. Snowballing in popularity, it developed into a full-length concert evening and was soon snapped up by presenters looking to build new audiences. What Makes It Great?® has sold out regular subscription series in places as diverse as Kansas City, MO, Cerritos, CA, as well as at New York’s Lincoln Center, the Celebrity Series of Boston, and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC and the National Gallery of Canada.

Since Spring 2013, our School of Music’s University Symphony Orchestra has worked with Kapilow in his “What Makes It Great?” program to present Ludwig von Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with violinist, Bella Hristova, Franz Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony No. 8, and Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World.” This Wednesday, they join him for the fourth time for George Gershwin’s “American in Paris.”

Unlike normal orchestral concerts, the “What Makes It Great?” program focuses on one piece. The first part of the presentation features Kapilow breaking the piece down for the audience using examples from the score with the orchestra playing and his own compositions answering his question “What if the composer wrote it this way?” “He does a great job of breaking down pieces to the smallest motives so that the audience can understand and connect with the music,” explains senior cello performance major, Emily Balderrama, “He also will involve the audience by having them sing with him or clap a rhythm.” The second part of the program features a full run through of the piece with a question and answer session with the audience that both Kapilow and the orchestra members answer. Unlike any other orchestra concert at CSUF, the orchestra is trained to be flexible to try whatever Kapilow asks them to do.

The unique experience of the concert/presentation allows for a broad audience of children and adults seeking enrichment in classical music. Emily Balderrama explains that “Kapilow does a great job breaking the fourth wall and welcoming everyone to learn and participate in the world of classical music. It’s great for the performers as well since we learn more and look at our pieces in a new light.” Many of our students use Kapilow’s teaching style and model for their own presentations on music!

For more information on our School of Music’s Symphony Orchestra with Rob Kapilow, check out the link here!


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