The newly formed New Jersey Chamber Orchestra (NJCO), composed of accomplished musicians in the Mid-Atlantic region, includes several distinguished members of the Cairn University School of Music: maestro Thomas Hong, pianist Benjamin Harding, violinist Natalia Rudoi DaSilva, and violist Rachel Ku. Alumni Hannah Pak and Emilie Park as well as current students Caleb Thompson and Brinson Moore are also taking part in the orchestra.
Thomas Hong ’95 leads the NJCO as music director. He has served as the artistic director and conductor of the University of Pennsylvania Orchestras since 2015 and director of the Cairn University Symphony Orchestra since 2018. Hong has a history of titled positions in orchestras across the United States and internationally, including orchestras in Dallas, Seattle, Ohio, and the Orchestre National de France. At Cairn, Hong learned under the tutelage of respected instructor Samuel Hsu ’69. He then went on to earn a master’s degree in choral conducting at Temple University and an artist diploma in orchestral conducting from the Curtis Institute of Music, finishing his education at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music.
Alongside other exceptional musicians from the greater Philadelphia area and beyond, Dr. Benjamin Harding ’02, dean of the School of Music, will play piano for the orchestra. Dr. Harding has served at the University since 2012. After earning his BMus and BS in Bible at Cairn, he received a MMus and Professional Studies Certificate from the Manhattan School of Music and a DMA from the University of Maryland, College Park. Dr. Harding also serves as the director of worship at Riverstone Church in Yardley, PA.
Music faculty Natalie Rudoi DaSilva will also perform with the group. DaSilva has served at the University with her expertise in applied violin and symphony orchestra since 2009. Her musical pedigree includes instruction under distinguished music educators and her enrollment in Temple University Music Prep’s Center for Gifted Young Musicians. She has also appeared as soloist with the Kennett Symphony Orchestra, the Manalapan Battleground Symphony Orchestra, and the Cleveland Institute of Music Symphony Orchestra—the institute where she earned her BMus and MMus.
The orchestra also includes Cairn music professor and member of the Philadelphia Orchestra Rachel Ku. Ku began instructing at Cairn in 2013, though she made her musical debut much earlier in Taipei in 1995. In 2004, Ku became the youngest member of the Philadelphia Orchestra at only 19. This renowned and several-award-winning violist holds a BMus from the Curtis Institute of Music and a MMus from the New England Conservatory.
The orchestra also welcomed Cairn alumni Hannah Pak and Emilie Park alongside current music students Caleb Thompson and Brinson Moore.
NJCO held their first performance at The Music Barn, an outdoor venue in Mullica Hill, NJ, on July 9, 2021. Robin Leigh Massie, vocal faculty in the School of Music, participated as a guest performer in this inaugural concert. Drawing on the current cultural ethos of reopenings and fresh starts, the inaugural concert was titled “An American Dream: Music of Aaron Copland.” The ensemble sought to make their performance of Copland’s works “encapsulate the hope, optimism and earnestness of the American spirit present in Copland’s Appalachian Spring and Tender Land Suite.”