Old World Wisdom and Contagious Energy at Orchestra Hall

As I look forward to this evening’s concert led by Principal Conductor Cliff Colnot, I’m reflecting on the busy season we’ve had – in particular, a great pair of concerts last fall that, to me, illustrated the excitement of playing in and hearing the Civic Orchestra.

Every concert that an orchestra plays is a unique experience, not only because there are different pieces being performed as well as different conductors on the podium, but also because of the setting. Orchestras perform various styles of programs: educational concerts, Halloween concerts, holiday concerts, classics, subscription, pops, movies and more. As you would expect, the energy of the orchestra can change for each occasion. For instance, playing “kids” shows (as orchestral musicians often refer to them) is a fun experience. The kid’s emotive response is contagious and that energizes the musician.   Then, during “classical weeks” (also referred to by some musicians as subscription weeks, or just “classic weeks”) orchestras perform more traditional repertoire, usually complete symphonic works, in a more formal setting that demands even greater focus and attention to detail.

After missing the first Civic concert of the season due to an injury, I was happy to join the orchestra for the Halloween concerts and a for a classical concert with works by Elgar and Mozart featuring soloist from the Ryan Opera Center and the Chicago Chorale under the direction of British Maestro Nicholas Kraemer.   These experiences were extremely different but I found them to be equally rewarding.

The Halloween Concerts  (also known as Hallowed Haunts) occurred, as you would expect, at the end of October. The orchestra had a very busy schedule that weekend. We had a rehearsal Wednesday night and then double rehearsal on Thursday and Friday with another show Saturday. Regardless of the busy schedule, the orchestra had a positive attitude and the concerts were fun. I believe this was due to a combination of factors: the pieces programmed were challenging and interesting for the musicians, the conductor was outstanding, and the audience of mostly the kids loved the show. We performed pieces like Stravinsky’s the Firebird Suite, Dukas’ Sorcerer’s Apprentice, excerpts from Holst’s The Planets and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, and John William’s Harry Potter Suite. Many of these pieces are often programmed for a classics concert. They are staples of the repertoire and they are challenging and interesting. It was also fun to be dressed up and to see the musicians’ fantastic costumes, and I was impressed by the presentations and acting of my colleagues in the orchestra. There were fairies, giants, firebirds, trolls, magicians, witches and Harry Potters on the stage. Special lighting helped create a spookier mood and at times this environment took the spotlight away from the orchestra, an aspect that allowed the musicians to relax and play more freely.

After Hallowed Haunts, Civic began rehearsals for its second “classical concert” of the season with Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor as the highlight. The title of the piece and the concert already had connotations of a more profound experience. The work is meant to be a Missa Solemnis, which is apparent once you become acquainted with the music; Mozart presents an array of minor tonalities throughout the mass and the use of up to two choruses makes the piece especially elaborate.  The main goal for the musicians when playing a masterpiece like this is to present all the thematic ideas, harmonies and melodies musically and in a pristine way, very classical in style (not overly dramatic) and elegant.

We could not have asked for a better leader at the helm. Nicholas Kraemer brought his experience and wealth of knowledge, and masterfully managed the energy of a young orchestra like Civic. He created a mature, detailed performance, allowing the audience to hear the chorus and the wonderful soloists, but he also fed off our energy and encouraged us to move and to show physically our enjoyment. Before the performance, he told the orchestra how much he loved our energy, and how much of a difference moving and the visual aspect of a performance make; this is something that I agree with and not a lot of professional groups demonstrate to the audience.

Even the critics liked it!

It was a busy fall for Civic, one filled with diverse and enriching experiences. We are looking forward to our concert this evening, and to all that lies ahead as we continue growing and learning as musicians and as an orchestra.

By Simón Gómez.

Photo by Todd Rosenberg ©.