St. Olaf Orchestra
92-member St. Olaf Orchestra is one of the premier
ensembles at St. Olaf College, a four-year college
of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America known
for its excellence in music. Recognized both nationally
and internationally, the St. Olaf Orchestra strives
for the highest professional standards.
Richard Ostling of Time magazine said, Ive
always known about the great St. Olaf Choir,
but when I tuned into the St. Olaf Christmas
Festival (on National Public Television) I was astonished
by the music of the St. Olaf Orchestra. It has
to be one of the best college orchestras in the nation.
St. Olaf Orchestra dates back before 1906, when
it was guided by F. Melius Christiansen, the well-known
founding conductor of the St. Olaf Choir. A European-trained
violinist, he once remarked that you cannot
make a symphony orchestra on a college campus,
as very few string players came to college with much
formal instruction. Times have changed! Many students
now have years of private lessons and performing experience.
good deal of credit for the unusual depth of St. Olafs
orchestra program belongs to two talented faculty
members whose combined careers at St. Olaf spanned
77 years. Violin professor Beatrix Lien, a St. Olaf
alumna, began teaching at St. Olaf in 1934 with
seven upper strings students. In 1946, Donald Berglund
was called upon to lead the modest-sized orchestra.
In 1949, with no financial assistance from the college,
the ensemble undertook its first tour. Through persistence,
patience, hard work, and a caring attitude, Berglund
and Lien lifted the orchestra to remarkable heights
by the time they retired in the late 1970s.
A second orchestra was started in 1976 to accommodate
the colleges growing numbers of string players.
The St. Olaf
Philharmonia now has 80 members, and more than
120 string players currently take private lessons
at St. Olaf.
In addition to its annual tours of the United States,
and notably as Garrison Keillor's guest on a broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion, the St. Olaf Orchestra has performed throughout Scandinavia
and Europe and recently toured China in 2012. Led for three decades by Conductor Steven Amundson, the orchestra has appeared in
some of Europes finest concert halls and performed
with some of the worlds most noted conductors
and artists. It has also been featured
at national, regional, and statewide conventions, and participates each year in the St. Olaf Christmas Festival, which is broadcast on PBS
and public radio stations nationwide.
1985, Robert Shaw conducted the St. Olaf Orchestra
and choirs in a performance of J.S. Bachs Passion
According to St. Matthew. In 1987, the St. Olaf
Orchestra joined renowned pianist Leon Fleisher in
a performance of Ravels Concerto for the
Left Hand. Reviewing that performance for the
Twin Cities Star Tribune, Michael Anthony
wrote: Amundson led a superbly-trained college
orchestra... The brasses play with bright, fully-rounded
tone, never forcing the climazes; the woodwinds are
clear and precise, and the strings... are flexible,
evenly-balanced, and warm-toned.
British composer-conductor Sir David Willcocks conducted
the orchestra during a visit in the fall of 1991.
Afterwards he wrote: I was struck by the excellent
playing of the orchestra, whose members were not only
technically assured but were exceptionally musical
1996, the St. Olaf Orchestra was awarded the
Meritorious Orchestra Program by the Minnesota
chapter of the American String Teachers Association.
Under Amundsons direction, the St. Olaf
Orchestra has successfully performed demanding scores
seldom attempted by amateur groups, including Mahlers
Symphony No. 2, Stravinskys Petrouschka
and Rite of Spring, Ravels La Valse,
and tone poems by Richard Strauss. The orchestra has
also premiered several new compositions in recent