A Fellow’s Reflection: February

The month of February was perhaps one of the busiest periods of the 2016/17 season. The Chicago Youth in Music Festival was in full swing, Civic had a concert with Jay Friedman featuring the monumental third symphony by Rheingold Glière, and the Institute’s school and community partnership program sent numerous CSO and Civic ensembles into neighborhoods across the city. All of this activity occured alongside a wild schedule of auditions for professional orchestras, schools, and summer festivals.

A highlight of the month was the Chicago Youth in Music Festival Orchestra open rehearsal led by Riccardo Muti. Comprised of the most advanced students grades 7-12 from eight partner community music schools and youth orchestras from across greater Chicago, with Civic string fellows sitting principal, the Festival Orchestra convenes for a weekend of rehearsals with conductor and CSO Principal Trombone Jay Friedman and sectionals with CSO musicians as preparation for the big event with Riccardo Muti.  I will never forget the beginning of the rehearsal. When Maestro Muti first took the stage, the orchestra, a little shy and nervous about working with the legendary conductor, did not stand.  Muti described the tradition of standing that originated decades ago, when the conductor was usually a guest in a city where the orchestra resided. The audience’s applause was meant for the conductor, but conductors would invite the orchestra to stand up in order to acknowledge the musicians and to show her or his appreciation for them.

Open rehearsals with Maestro Muti are highly educational and entertaining. When he started to work on the music (Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4, mvts. 1 and 2), it was serious business.  He focused on helping us to make round and connected sounds.  In the second movement, he helped the orchestra to play with a more singing quality. The ensemble sounded great with so much youthful energy and focus. It was exciting to witness some of the young wind musicians play the famous solos under the luminary maestro.

Throughout the month of February, the Civic Fellows were in residence at three community youth orchestra programs that are housed in Chicago Public Schools: The People’s Music School at Hibbard Elementary, Chicago Metamorphosis Orchestra Project at Mary Lyon Elementary, and Sistema Ravinia at Catalyst Circle Rock. At each site, we worked with elementary and middle school musicians in sectionals, private lessons, and side-by-side rehearsals. On February 25th, students from the three programs came to Symphony Center for a finale event. After a brief welcome performance by the Civic Orchestra, everyone split into sectionals led by Civic Fellows.  Then, we all came back together in Orchestra Hall for a full rehearsal and a performance led by conductor Edwin Outwater. Edwin did a beautiful job of engaging the students and bringing the pieces to life.  Before the performance, he welcomed ideas from the students on what our orchestra should be called. “The United Civic Rockets Orchestra” won by a landslide vote.

The final performance went very well and parents, students and Civic musicians alike were happy and proud. Working with so many young musicians from across the city has been such a joy. We are fortunate to live in a city with such a vibrant and diverse musical community.

By Kenji Sasaki

Photo by Todd Rosenberg