Pensacola, Florida
Sunday June 17th 2018


Symphony’s Opening Night

By Jennie McKeon

Sure, there’s intense pressure before opening night of the symphony season, but music director Peter Rubardt likes it that way.

“There’s always pressure,” he said. “But I absolutely wouldn’t want it any other way. We kind of thrive on it.”

The opening night will feature “Overture to The Bartered Bride” by Smetana, “Symphony No. 3” by Brahms and “Piano Concerto No. 5 ‘Emperor’” by Beethoven—although Beethoven is not in blue jeans, you’ll have to wait until January for that.

“We’re starting the season with the bare essentials,” Rubardt said. “It’s a more standard concert, although we’ve never played Brahms here before.”

But don’t think the traditional choices are any easier to perform.

“They’re very demanding no matter how often you play them,” Rubardt said. “These are symphonies musicians spend a lifetime trying to live up to.”

The symphony musicians love to play the entire spectrum of orchestra music.

“I love the variety of sound colors that come from playing in an orchestra, as well as the thrill of playing the classic such as Beethoven’s ‘9th Symphony’ or Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring,’” said Bethany Lujan, who plays the flute.

The Pensacola Symphony Orchestra hasn’t played together since April and by the time they step on the Saenger stage, they will have only practiced together four times.

“That’s the premise of a professional orchestra,” Rubardt said. “Everybody is already at a mastered level.”

Some of those master level musicians are native to Pensacola and have been a part of the symphony for years.

Nathan Mitchell plays principle second violin and has been with the symphony since 1990 when he was in eighth grade.

“Artistically, the symphony has come a long way since those days,” he said. “I credit our music director for dramatically raising the artistic level of the orchestra.”

Lujan is in her 12th season with the symphony, “and I have loved every minute of it,” she said. Like Mitchell, she praises Rubardt’s direction.

“Peter is a very inspiring conductor to play for, which any musician will tell you, can make a huge difference in the concert experience as a performer.”

Beyond the appreciation for their conductor, symphony musicians share close relationships even though they only play together for half of the year.

“There’s something special about a group of people coming together to make music, especially since I have so many close friends in the Pensacola Symphony,” Mitchell said.

The roster of long-standing musicians helps build friendships as well.

“Many of the musicians in the orchestra have known each other a very long time,” Lujan said. “Overall, the Pensacola Symphony has a very personal feel to it that I love.”

After years of opening nights, Lujan and Mitchell are unfazed by season starting pressures.

“I do feel that it carries a bit more weight in the season, because there is a buzz that accompanies the openings of a concert season,” Lujan said. “I don’t feel pressure as much as anticipation and excitement for the first concert.”

For Mitchell, the community support—symphony concert tickets often sell out fast—is what makes him focus.

“Once we play the first note, the jitters fade and we focus on delivering the best performance possible,” he said. “I think every performance is just as important and exciting.”

Symphony musicians enjoy returning the support to the community through music.

“It has been very special to me playing in my hometown because now I am getting to contribute to performances that I used to attend as a child—musicals at the Pensacola Little Theatre, ‘The Nutcracker,’ and classical programs at the Saenger Theatre, to name a few,” Lujan said. “The people of Pensacola appreciate music and culture and there are many opportunities to cultivate that.”

First-time symphony audiences may not understand what there is to actually see at a symphony concert. But they would be surprised just how visual the symphony can be.

“There’s nothing like a live performance,” Rubardt said. “Orchestras require tremendous coordination and tremendous speed. It’s like the difference between going to Yosemite and just seeing a picture.”

“Oh it’s a complete show—a feast for all senses,” added Mitchell. “The visceral energy is very much visually evident on stage every concert.”

Mitchell mentions an upcoming symphony performance in February, “Cirque de la Symphonie,” which will be a sensory overload experience with high-flying acrobats set to live music.

“A symphony concert can have it all: music, singing, staging, lighting, costumes, drama and dance,” he said. “My only complaint is I don’t get to enjoy it from the audience very often.”

Even if there aren’t acrobats at the opening night concert, there is still plenty to take in.

“Attending a concert is an aural and visual experience and there is much that can be learned by watching a conductor and orchestra,” Lujan said. “For instance, the conductor’s motions change from small gestures to larger gestures depending on the mood of the piece. The percussion section is often fascinating to watch, especially on pieces involving cymbal crashes, tympani rolls and bass drum hits.”

Lujan points out that the symphony can also be a personal, not to mention rich cultural experience.

“It’s important to be a part of something that connects us to past generations through classical music,” she said. “Music moves people and touches their emotions in a very real way, reaching them in all stages of life. The concert experience can be one of the most fulfilling ways to spend an evening.”

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6
WHERE: Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox
COST: $20-$82