"From damp strings morning glories hang their ancient faces. The dry and exalted noise of the locusts from all the air at once enchants my eardrums."
        James Agee, Knoxville: Summer of 1915

Knoxville: Summer of 1915, James Agee's prose poem scored for soprano and orchestra in 1947 by Samuel Barber, is a sensuous, musical painting of a languorous summer night. It is, in a word, cinematic. It was a most appropriate choice to showcase in an Oberlin Orchestra concert conducted by one of the most distinguished film composers in the United States – John Williams.

The orchestra traveled west in October to perform under Williams' baton at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. Associate Professor of Conducting Timothy Weiss led the ensemble in Mozart's Symphony No. 35; Williams commanded it through the program's remainder, including the Barber work, Johannes Brahms' Academic Festival Overture, and some of Williams' film scores (selections from Schindler's List, E.T., and Raiders of the Lost Ark). By all accounts, the event was an exalted and enchanted experience.

Mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin, a fourth-year student of Wheeler Professor of Music Richard Miller and a Los Angeles native, brought Agee's words to shimmering, rhapsodic life. "It's a beautiful piece," she says. "It captures that incredible feeling of relaxation, of abandon, in summer, when your entire body takes in every emotion with all its senses. Singing it was like following a path the piece had already made. The places (in the song) for me to use different colors in my voice to show different emotions or paint different scenes were easy to find. I enjoyed every note . . . It was definitely a huge, musical milestone, a highlight of my life," says Rubin, describing her collaboration with the orchestra and Williams. "Mr. Williams made me feel right at home, as if I had known him and had been working with him for years."

Rubin also has high praise for Weiss, with whom she rehearsed and who directed a performance of the work at Oberlin. "He was so interested in the pure musicality and artistry of the piece, in the warmth and nuance in it," she says. "He was also very interested in the collaboration between the orchestra and me, always making sure that I felt comfortable and that there was a balance – especially in the thickly orchestrated sections."

The students were surprised to find Williams unassuming and casual, says Weiss. "They liked that he was very much himself and comfortable with the players. The music-making was very much from the heart."

Rubin was escorted offstage by Williams following her Getty performance. When he returned to the podium, he spoke to the audience of Oberlin College trustees, faculty, administrators, parents, alumni, and friends.

"I'm very proud of my association with Oberlin," said Williams, who received an honorary doctor of music degree from Oberlin in 1995. "It's a marvelous place." "It's a thrill for me to share this evening with these wonderful musicians. The orchestra is fantastic; we've had a wonderful two days together. I congratulate all of them on their great accomplishments and artistic levels and skills, attained in so few years. And bravo to the parents, teachers, and all of you who have brought this to fruition."

Russian-born sophomore violinist Julia Sakharova was featured soloist for selections from Schindler's List. Working with Williams, she says, was her first experience performing with a renowned conductor. Sakharova, who is part Jewish, first saw the film Schindler's List in Russia.

"His music really touches people's hearts and minds – including mine. It was like a dream and I told him that," she says. "I didn't think I would ever meet the person who composed this music that I love."

For Leigh Miller, a senior bassoon performance major from Reston, Virginia, the best part of the experience – aside from working with John Williams – was visiting the Getty Center. "It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been," she says. "I could have spent a week there easily and not have gotten bored."

Miller also has high praise for Oberlin staff and volunteers: "They treated us like professionals the entire trip and made sure that we thoroughly enjoyed every minute. It was also great to see alumni come back (to organize the event) and try to do something for their alma mater. It's nice to know that they still care."

Scott Schillin '68, associate producer of From the Top, a weekly radio series broadcast on WGBH Boston showcasing outstanding precollegeage classical musicians, was one alumni who worked overtime to make the event a success. He coordinated all aspects of the trip, traveling to Oberlin several times from Boston during preproduction planning and accompanying the orchestra to Los Angeles.

Oberlin obtained the Getty Center as its venue for the concert with the help of Oberlin College Trustee Stephen D. Rountree, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the J. Paul Getty Trust. «