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Archive for August, 2013

The Technion hosted the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra June 5, 2013, for an afternoon of lively discussions culminating in a concert performed with Conductor Federico Cortese. Gabe Walker, who plays the viola for the collegiate orchestra and just graduated from Harvard as a biology major, shared his thoughts about the visit. 

Summer break had just begun, and I was already back at school.

Gabe Walker

Gabe Walker

Along with nearly 70 friends from the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra (HRO), I was visiting the Technion for a day to explore, discuss, and perform. The HRO has been touring internationally for years, but never before had a group traveled in the Middle East. This hot day in June was the halfway point of a 12-day, whirlwind trip that took us through Tel Aviv, Nazareth, Haifa, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Wadi Rum, and Amman. HRO tours are planned to be not only musically vibrant, but socially conscious and culturally aware; this tour was more than a string of concerts with tourist sites connecting the dots. Our itinerary included a diverse selection of locations, round-table discussions and presentations from musicians and educators, and musical collaborations with local performers. The Technion was a natural choice for a meaningful visit. By connecting with one of the most renowned universities in Israel, we hoped to learn from and interact with fellow college students, and to perform for a welcoming, appreciative audience.

Technionorchestra1

The Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra performs at the Technion

Our day began with a campus tour. My guide was a chipper architecture student, happily poking fun at the stereotypes associated with different majors while weaving in dates and facts about the university. As we ourselves wove through circles of gregarious students lounging on the grass with coffee and cigarettes, a shimmering view of Haifa bay in the distance, we came upon a familiar sight. The main boulevard was abuzz with a job fair, students rushing from tent to tent engaged in lively chatter, filling out information cards and scrambling for free popsicle vouchers.

After the tour, we reconvened for the discussion portion of the afternoon. Mr. Daniel Shapiro, the Head of Public Affairs and a fellow American, gave us a hearty welcome and brief introduction to the Technion’s prominence in Israel and the world. A presentation by the group “Stand With Us” followed, chronicling Israeli history and its culture of innovation. Finally, we broke into small groups led by two Technion students, and concluded the session with a fascinating chat. During more than 45 minutes of question-and-answer, we learned that the average Technion student is in his or her mid-twenties as a freshman—already decided on a major and serious about a specific course of study. Maybe that focus, I thought, accounted for the academic stereotypes that my guide had joked about earlier. From my experience, American students tend to dabble in different disciplines, settling on a major only after a year or two of college. Our group leaders also mentioned the incredible rigor of Technion classes: we were surprised that it wasn’t unusual for a Technion student to retake a class in order to master the material and obtain credit. A few of the HRO members in my session also plied our presenters with tough questions about how race, identity and politics played out in the classroom. It was refreshing to hear that learning eclipsed all else; Technion students’ pursuit of knowledge supersedes the distracting vicissitudes of regional affairs.

Finally, it was our turn to share. Our concert program consisted of two Beethoven works: his dramatic Leonore Overture No. 3 and monumental Violin Concerto, with one of our own as soloist. The packed Churchill Auditorium had a diverse audience, from Technion students and administrators to members of the surrounding community. Rumor has it that a former HRO concertmistress (from the 1950s!) was in attendance, now in her eighties and living in Haifa. It was a privilege to perform at the Technion, where the arts have an important place alongside scholarly pursuits. The friendly, candid and intelligent dialogue in which we participated was also a testament to the importance of open academic institutions. In the international market of cultural exchange, music and knowledge are universal currencies. At the Technion we had the lucky opportunity to trade with both.

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