Symphony Notes: A season re-imagined for fun and flexibility | ETC


If variety is the spice of life, then this return season for the Traverse Symphony Orchestra is one of the hottest we’ve ever had!

A few weeks ago the TSO organization formed a new ensemble called the Traverse Symphony Jazz Orchestra in a series of performances at the City Opera House, which also marked our first return to live indoor performances since winter 2020.

On the one hand, making our first live performances literally a debut concert of something new may seem counterintuitive, but Executive Director Kedrik Merwin and I along with our board of directors felt that returning with something new was the right tone for everything that comes indicates ahead for the TSO organization.

At the time of the shutdown, we were faced with the task of designing and selling a subscription season, with the incredible uncertainty that we had at the time (and probably still have, if I’m honest) winter 2020-2021.

Looking ahead to a somewhat unclear future, many factors left the idea that we would just open the doors again and that everything would be like autumn 2019, an unrealistic goal. That meant we often had to reinvent the elements that would make up a season.

One of the key factors behind this concept of reinterpretation was the uncertainty of having a suitable space to rehearse and perform with 75 musicians. Since schools and churches had to put in place their own fully understandable lockdown procedures to protect their populations, it also meant we had to plan concerts that could be moved to another location as much as possible if necessary. It also meant that our access to the largest facilities was severely restricted.

We decided to take this opportunity along with the fact that I had moved to Traverse City during the pandemic and would have more opportunities to be here at various events to start some new programs besides the traditional symphony and the first of them was the jazz orchestra.

Would people come to a live performance in October 2021, we asked ourselves? Well, our forecasts were exceeded by almost 30 percent!

In other words, we practically sold out the City Opera House for our two performances. We had an audience full of people enjoying music as pure entertainment in a light and casual atmosphere and I think I can safely say we all had a great time. I can’t wait for this ensemble to return and for the exciting performances we’ll be announcing from 2022. We’re going in so many musical directions you won’t believe it!

What’s next? We will now take the completely opposite path by transforming the incredible Cathedral Barn in Historic Barns Park into our new concert space with a kind of blue chip recital series. We knew we didn’t have enough orchestral concerts to be able to invite soloists to play with the orchestra as usual. Why not show them up close and personal in a unique setting that really focuses on them and their personal art?

We go from night club and lounge dining with a fairly large ensemble to just two performers and their instruments playing highly complex chamber music by the great masters of this classical form. The only thing the two events have in common is the launch. We have set this up in all of our venues “outside” this season.

After rolling the idea around a bit, I phoned four of my favorite music colleagues from around the world and sorted out dates when they should play for our audience.

The first of them is the extraordinary violinist Will Hagen, who will perform on November 13 at 7:30 p.m. and on November 14 at 3 p.m. These two concerts will be Will’s first Traverse City appearances.

The Sunday performance has long been sold out and the Saturday evening performance still has a few good places available. Will and I play violin and piano sonatas by Beethoven (No. 7 in C minor) and the British composer William Walton, with smaller works by Bach and Bartok. I cannot praise Mr. Hagan’s violin playing and craftsmanship highly enough. I’m very excited to introduce him to our audience this way, and look forward to bringing him back for a concert performance with the orchestra as soon as we can make an appointment.

In December we have the Home for the Holidays concert under the baton of Tom Riccobono, one of our leading musicians as the solo trombone for decades and conductor of the Benzie Area Symphony Orchestra. Our wonderful choirs under the direction of Jeffery Cobb will join this relatively small orchestra for these first performances in the Corson Auditorium on the campus of the Interlochen Arts Academy and then finally return the full symphony in January with a super blockbuster concert.

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