Stanford Philharmonia serenades flight passengers

April 5, 2022, 9:01 p.m.

Roger Xia ’24 settled into his seat on flight DL710 to watch “The King’s Man.” It was Mar. 27 at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and the pilot had just announced that additional fueling would delay the flight to San Francisco by 30-45 minutes. A few minutes into his movie, Xia was snapped out of the action by the voice of Richard Cheung ’24. Paul Phillips, director of orchestral studies, had an idea for them. 

“I was kind of falling asleep,” said Xia, “and all of a sudden I hear Richard call my name and say ‘Let’s play.’”

“I was sitting behind our conductor Paul and the flight attendant was half-joking and half-serious that we should play something,” Cheung added. “When I called Roger he unplugged his headphones and was like, ‘what?’”

At 10:20 PM, heads turned as the two passengers removed violins from the overhead bins and Phillips announced the upcoming serenade. Airpods were removed from ears. Passengers stood up from their seats or kneeled on them, fishing their phones out to record the spectacle unfolding in front of them. Everyone’s wandering attention landed on the two violinists facing each other from opposite aisles — Xia and Cheung began to perform an excerpt of the Symphonie Concertante in G major. The drama of sounds cut through the whirr of airplane white noise, freezing all sound and movement. When the two violinists concluded their duet, the plane erupted in a cheer of applause and whoops. Xia and Cheung bowed. 

This unplanned performance, viewable on TikTok, Instagram and Facebook, wrapped up the Stanford Philharmonia’s (SP) trip to the Bermuda Music Festival, where the group of 44 members performed three concerts. One of the violinists in SP posted the video on his Twitter account, and within 2 days it received over fifty three thousand views. SP consists of undergrads of all years, graduate students, alumni and community members. 


On @delta flight DL710 ATL to SFO. Skip to end for audience reaction 🙂

♬ original sound – stanfordorchestras

SP — accompanied by Paul Phillips, Kathryne Jennings (senior lecturer and director of vocal studies at Stanford) and Adriana Ramirez Mirabal (orchestral studies program administrator)  — had been preparing for the trip all year. SP normally prepares one program of music per quarter, but for this trip they prepared three full programs as well as music for a side-by-side performance with 31 string students from Bermuda. 

“The plan to bring SP to Bermuda dates back to April 2020, when it was announced that Cindy Campbell had been appointed as the new executive director of the Bermuda Festival. When I read about her new position, I suggested that the Festival bring one of the Stanford orchestras to Bermuda. She enthusiastically agreed, but that was just a few weeks after the lockdown began in March 2020,” Phillips wrote. 

This was the first trip by one of Stanford’s orchestras since 2017 and the first trip by any large Stanford music ensemble since 2019, when the Chamber Chorale went on its last tour, according to Phillips. 

They prepared all of the pieces played at their Winter Concert and several from their Fall Concert, in addition to some works performed by SP and the Stanford Summer Symphony Orchestra (SSO) back in 2021. Additionally, the group learned 9 arrangements that they performed with violin soloist Caroline Campbell ’04, as well as the Grieg Piano Concerto, which SSO performed back in November. 

After their Winter Concert in February, SP devoted the last two rehearsals of the quarter to learning their new music, and then spent two whole days the weekend before they left rehearsing pieces for the trip. 

“Those were two long days, but utterly vital to ensuring that we’d be ready for our performances in Bermuda,” wrote Phillips. “There was a tremendous amount of joy both on our end, as the performers, and from the audiences in Bermuda, who hadn’t been able to attend any live musical performances in over two years prior to our concerts.”

SP will perform its Spring Concert on May 21. The program will consist of music by Cherubini, Reinecke, Schubert and Hailstork. It will also be the California premiere of “Tulsa 1921: Pity These Ashes, Pity This Dust,” a recent work by Adolphus Hailstork that commemorates the Tulsa massacre. It features mezzo soprano singing a text by Herbert Martin, accompanied by strings, harp and percussion. Later in spring quarter, on May 25, SP will perform in the Music Department’s Black Lives Matter Benefit Concert.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all of us! I certainly did not expect one of the highlights of our trip to happen during a flight delay,” wrote President of Stanford Orchestras Lina Fowler ’22.

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