SSO musicians to play without pay |

SSO musicians to play without pay

Flute player Mary Beth Norris practices for the Steamboat Springs Orchestra season finale, featuring Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. The concert will take place at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Steamboat Christian Center.
John F. Russell

— The outlook for holding a Steamboat Springs Orchestra season finale concert was grim.

Performing arts grants weren’t coming in the way they would during a better economic year, and the ensemble could never meet its budget on ticket sales alone. Every orchestra concert loses money by its nature, said SSO executive director John Fairlie, and the April finale was looking to lose a lot.

“We felt that we could not lose $18,000, which is what we had projected given what had happened so far in the year,” Fairlie said. When the 55 musicians who were set to play Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony in the April concert program heard that the show might have to be canceled, they jumped in to make sure that didn’t happen.

“When we spread that news internally, the response was, ‘I’ll donate; I’ll donate; I’ll donate.’ The immediate groundswell was that the show must go on,” Fairlie said.

And it will.

At 3 p.m. Sunday, more than 50 musicians will take the stage at the Steamboat Christian Center to play Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. Most will play for free; those who come from the Front Range to play with SSO will do so for the cost of expenses, Fairlie said. Music director Ernest Richardson also will lend his conducting skills.

It’s a donation of time and talent that adds up to more than $17,000, Fairlie said.

“These are challenging times for everybody in this community and everybody in the arts community throughout the country,” Richardson said. “I think the main purpose of donating our services is a way of saying : how much we value the community and how important we think music can be in this community.”

Music to lift your spirits

The concert program is pared down from its original form – excerpts from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and a concerto composed by Richardson have been cut. There also will be just one performance; a Saturday night concert planned when the season was announced in fall 2008 has been canceled.

What remains on Sunday’s program, Richardson said, is one of the most uplifting pieces of music Tchaikovsky ever wrote.

“The music is incredibly optimistic, and that’s a huge thing for Tchaikovsky – he was a Russian composer, and they can find the dark lining to almost anything, and Tchaikovsky was like that,” Richardson said. But the Fifth came at a good time for the chronically depressed Romantic; the work’s triumphant melodies and exuberant ending prove that. Richardson said he would like that feeling of hope to come through in Sunday’s performance.

“It’s so optimistic, it’s so beautiful and the ending is so triumphant that it’s made to lift your spirits,” he said.

Boom through bust

Those musicians who played with SSO before it made the move toward a professional ensemble a few years ago are used to performing for free. Mary Beth Norris, who plays flute in the orchestra, said she’s grateful to the rest of the group for stepping up and donating their time.

“I love playing this music, and I love playing this quality of music, and it’s a real gift to be able to play this music for our community,” Norris said.

The Tchaikovsky is the biggest, most challenging piece SSO has ever played, orchestra members said. Musicians have had their parts for months and have been getting together in small groups to rehearse for a few weeks.

Going through with a season finale concert allows the orchestra to stay visible as it heads into its next season, SSO concertmaster Teresa Steffen Greenlee said.

“I feel like the orchestra is in a large growth period, and we’ve done such incredible growth over the last couple of years that to not do the concert would be to slow the momentum, and the momentum is great,” Steffen Greenlee said. Performing the concert keeps up a commitment to ticket holders, to the ensemble and to the music, she said.

“We feel like we need to maintain our presence here and we need to let the community know that we’re all committed to this,” Steffen Greenlee said.

“So we said, ‘We’re all in.’ And the show goes on.”

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