The Tivoli Theater stage was set with curved rows of black chairs and metal music stands. One by one, musicians of the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera meandered through the chairs to their own, carrying black cases and folders stuffed with sheet music. When they found their chairs, they started to assemble their instruments, run a few scales and review their music.
Backstage, other musicians–mostly those with larger instruments and cases–unpacked on folding tables or against the back wall. The concert’s guest pianist practiced on a black Steinway & Sons piano.
Several minutes later, all of the chairs were filled and the stage is bustling. Music director Kayoko Dan stepped onto her platform, and everyone quieted their instruments and looked to her. That meant it was time for rehearsal to start.
But this wasn’t any rehearsal. This was the final dress rehearsal for the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera’s Opening Night concert of the 2016-2017 season.
Kayoko said a few words to her orchestra before concert mistress Holly Mulcahy lead them in tuning. Then they go into the first run-through of Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman, No. 2. It was a short piece, so it went quickly, and they moved on to Strauss’s Don Juan, and later to Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2.
That night, I stood backstage and watched the rehearsal unfold. I thought back to my violin-playing days and the many symphony concerts I played in, in those 12 years. I remembered my own process for unpacking my instrument, cleaning the rosin dust off, reapplying the rosin on my bow and reviewing troublesome passages in the music before rehearsal or a concert began. I always loved the buzz of excitement right before a performance.
What made the night even more exciting was that a reporter from a local news station was there, too, filming for a segment on that Friday’s 6:00 news. They interviewed Kayoko and several other musicians throughout the evening. I loved listening in and hearing their sides of the story, the sides that we don’t see or hear as the audience. I listened to Kayoko talk about the preparation that goes into every concert, and the principal percussionist talk about how this is his first season with the Chattanooga Symphony.
You can watch that news feature here.
As I listened to the interviews and rehearsal, I thought about how amazing it is that so many different people and pieces can create and produce a work so magnificent. Sure, I knew it was possible because I did it for years myself, but it was different to witness it as an outsider, especially as an outsider with the musical background. I was a student; these were professionals. I dedicated my free time to the violin for 12 years; they dedicated their lives to their instruments. I remembered the side-by-side concert back in the spring, when the CSO Youth Orchestra played alongside the CSO. How cool that must have been, for both orchestras.
The night of the concert, the buzz of excitement and anticipation was ten times stronger. The scene was similar: the musicians filed in backstage and unpacked their instruments in the same ways they did the night before. But this time, they were dressed in all black and took a little extra time preparing their instruments. I knew what that was like. I always took a few extra minutes to run through certain passages in the music.
When the lights dimmed several minutes later, the crowd hushed almost immediately; we all knew what that meant. The executive director made her welcoming remarks and thank-yous, and then welcomed Kayoko Dan to the stage for the first piece. First came the Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 2, followed by Don Juan, “the whole piece, not just the part they ask for at auditions,” as Kayoko put it. The highlight of the concert, though, was guest pianist Ning An playing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the orchestra. I’d watched him practicing backstage at dress rehearsal and was amazed at the way he played then. Watching and listening to him perform the piano concerto was a whole different experience. His talent was unbelievable.
The Chattanooga Symphony & Opera’s season has just begun. There are many, many more incredible concerts planned for this season, and there’s sure to be at least one that fits your tastes. From Beethoven and Mozart to big band and swing, the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera has it all.
Have you ever been to a symphony concert? Which CSO concert are you looking forward to the most this season?