Classical Tahoe

“Live from Classical Tahoe – Season 7 Opening Night”

By 5:30 in the evening, the hospitality tent is usually buzzing with people eager to hear what Classical Tahoe has in store for them at the imminent 7 p.m. Opening Night performance on Friday night, 27 July 2018. But this year, with the roll out of too many new features to list here for Classical Tahoe’s seventh music festival season, the buzzing was extra loud, singing praises for such anticipated events as the new Music Institute initiative.

Among the first patrons to arrive on the Sierra Nevada College campus were sunglass-clad board members Estel and Wally Binder who set the style (perhaps best defined as “Tahoe formal” in crisp cottons and linens) and the pace (offering hugs and quick kisses to staff and crew).

Also in early attendance was subscriber Paul Eykamp and his family. Mr. Eykamp and Classical Tahoe had coordinated an event for twenty guests, all alumni of Washington University in St. Louis, MO and which included its assistant vice chancellor. In a private reception area, Tahoe’s local Sunshine Deli treated the invited guests to platters of hors d’oeuvres, which included caprese skewers, cashew chicken salad wrap bites, and buckets of wine and beer.

New this year, Classical Tahoe has partnered with Sunshine Deli to offer patrons hot and delicious pre concert dinners each night—ordered on www.classicaltahoe.org in advance. Because the Opening Night theme this year was “Made in America” featuring music by American composers, the menu included a buffet of pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans, potato salad, cole slaw and decadent chocolate frosted brownies. Some guests scrambled to find chairs at tables while others stood at high tops with their heaping dinner plates. Throughout the festivities, the pre-concertgoers mingled around three vehicles strategically placed by festival sponsor Dolan Lexus, near a giant banner showcasing the event like a searchlight beacon, and not far from the box office tent, where guests could confirm tickets and seats and also purchase programs and branded t-shirts.

A brief burst of excitement invaded the now crowded space between 5:45 and 6:15 p.m. when Incline Spirits and Cigar hastily set up in a few scant minutes to complete the Washington University group’s overlooked drink order, all while at the same time satisfying the many other guests who wanted to add aperitifs to their meals. The VIP guests met the slight delay with the cheerful reserve so characteristic of highly educated, music loving midwesterners.

At 6:55 p.m., a trumpet fanfare befitting a royal coronation jolted the merry feasting throng into attention. All conversation ceased as Billy Hunter, principal trumpet player of the renowned Classical Tahoe brass section, propelled patrons to enter the pavilion with a resounding cadence on his horn. A few lucky guests managed to grab their smartphones just in time to capture it for posterity—and who knows? maybe even for future use, instead of clanging a bell, to call the family in for dinner!

In yet another 7th Classical Tahoe season first, Incline Village’s CYMBAL Foundation has partnered with the brand new CT Music Institute to create a Volunteer Student Usher Program. CYMBAL, which stands for “the Club for Youth Music and Band Lovers”, supports the band, orchestra, jazz band and general music productions and educational curriculum for grades K-12 in Incline Village, NV. Its founder Denise Menzies works tirelessly to create many opportunities for motivated music students to enhance their musical training and experiences. Qualified area high school students applied upon recommendation by their music teachers and were accepted into the program to serve as festival ushers complete with badges, uniform T shirts, program recognition and best of all free concert tickets!

Finally the Student Ushers had assisted and seated all the guests eager for the first note of the first piece of the first concert of the seventh festival season. The air in the pavilion was palpable as all breathlessly awaited the first downbeat of Maestro Joel Revzen’s baton: The musicians, who had been intensely practicing in the tent all week the complex rhythms of the  “Made in America” repertoire, and Classical Tahoe’s loyal patrons—many of whom were regulars attending their seventh Opening Night in a row since 2012 sitting shoulder to shoulder with many first timers. Even Leonel Morales, the piano soloist for the next night’s concert, themed “French Romance” was in attendance.

Then, in what has become a cherished annual tradition, Maestro Revzen ceded his own baton to the winner of a certain live auction item from the Classical Tahoe Summer Gala’s fundraiser three weeks past, whose bid got them the opportunity to conduct the first piece of the first concert of the season. With aplomb rarely seen outside the Vice President’s first pitch at Major League Baseball’s World Series, Ms. Julie Rouchle, who singularly won the honor of guest conductor, led the orchestra in America the Beautiful. Her amazing grace, presence and enthusiasm belied the fact that it was only Ms. Rouchle’s second time on the stage in the pavilion; the first being only several hours earlier during the Friday dress rehearsal.

Soon Maestro Joel Revzen gratefully retrieved his baton from a beaming Ms. Rouchle and launched into his own interpretive conducting of the concert’s first half—music of American composers Copland and Torke—with the wildly loud and enthusiastic bravado that has become his hallmark. Ms. Cindy Rhys narrated and acted out live program commentary between selections, a contextual treat for all in attendance.

By intermission, although the Nevada sun had gone completely, several guests nevertheless fanned themselves with the playbill to ward off heat while everyone poured into the hospitality tent in an atmosphere resembling an Opening Night trance. Those who hadn’t purchased programs were quick to do so, and other guests navigated the long and winding road to the restrooms or the much shorter path to the bar and the Cymbal concessions table. Under beautiful decorative lights and a full moon, the conversation, which during pre-show had been largely social with random greetings and small talk similar to long lost friends at their school reunion, now during halftime turned to serious arts and culture mixed with a little about Tahoe, its history and its ancient beauty.

Guests had hardly caught their collective breath from the first half when the student ushers once again escorted the excited guests back to their seats. With her usual soft spoken elegance and composure, Ms. Rhys again welcomed the audience, introduced the performance, and acknowledged Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday. She was followed by a delightful symphonic rendition of the Bernstein ballet suite Fancy Free.  

Once the last notes had faded into the summer evening, the orchestra was greeted with thunderous applause as Maestro Revzen, with great flourish, first acknowledged the evening’s principal musicians: Billy Hunter on trumpet, Dan Gilbert on clarinet and Concertmaster Laura Hamilton on violin. Then the whole orchestra stood together with the enraptured audience in a rapturous ovation!

Some patrons walked onto the stage to personally congratulate individual orchestra members, many of whom had traveled all the way from New York to spend their vacations from the Metropolitan Opera orchestra playing for the Lake Tahoe summer residents. Many came with their families who got to play in the pristine outdoors of the lake region. Some patrons remained in the pavilion or just outside to chat and watch the musicians pack up their valuable instruments.

Most guests, however, quickly headed either for home perchance to dream of sailors and New York, while resting up for the coming marathon over these next two weeks; or they headed to an after party at a late night haunt or friend’s home lest the magical evening end too quickly. Many musicians headed to the local night owl hangout Bite for cocktails and tapas, refueling after a major league athletic exertion between the treble and bass clefs of their music scores.

Very soon the entire concert venue was deserted, and a silence gradually settled in so unlike the lovely sounds emanating from the stage just hours before. It was quite ephemeral however. The musicians were back in their seats—albeit dressed much more casually than their tuxes and evening gowns the night before—by 10 am Saturday to begin their dress rehearsal for the July 28th concert, A French Romance, featuring the fancy fingering of Leonel Morales on piano. Then Sunday July 29th, they regaled the younger set with a free family concert, all about rhythm, where the little ones received collector cards with stats on each musician, reminiscent of collectible major league baseball cards.

A musician’s life is a busy life, a life with little rest, a life not for the faint of heart. But to judge by the incredible prowess coupled by the friendly, approachable demeanor of these artists, they enjoy a happy life and love to share not only their music but their wisdom and ebullient humor with everyone in reach. The coming concerts promise even more special surprises.