‘It’s so joyful’: Chandler Symphony Orchestra relishes return to in-person performances

Musicians in the Chandler Symphony Orchestra await the beginning of rehearsal. The group’s Oct. 3 concert was its first since February 2020. (Photo by Sierra Alvarez/Cronkite News)

Pam Hahn, executive director and harpist for the Chandler Symphony Orchestra, reminds orchestra members how important it is to wear a mask and stay healthy. (Photo by Sierra Alvarez/Cronkite News)

Members of the Chandler Symphony Orchestra are required to wear masks unless masks interfere with playing their instruments; for example, woodwinds and brass. (Photo by Sierra Alvarez/Cronkite News)

Michelle Wall plays the piccolo during a Chandler Symphony Orchestra rehearsal. The piccolo is a higher-pitched cousin of the flute and is the highest-pitched instrument in a full symphony orchestra. (Photo by Sierra Alvarez/Cronkite News)

Vanja Nikolovski, conductor of the Chandler Symphony Orchestra, says being able to conduct the orchestra after a COVID-19 hiatus is like “being reborn again.” (Photo by Sierra Alvarez/Cronkite News)

LeAnn Contessa, concertmaster and first violinist of the Chandler Symphony Orchestra, is happy to be back with the orchestra. Contessa says she loves performing any type of music as long as she can be part of an ensemble and play before an audience. (Photo by Sierra Alvarez/Cronkite News)

Dwight Lear, principal viola player, practices with the Chandler Symphony Orchestra. (Photo by Sierra Alvarez/Cronkite News)

TEMPE – The Chandler Symphony Orchestra had performed for 28 years straight – until the pandemic hit.

The orchestra finally returned in October to kick off its delayed 29th season after a pandemic-induced hiatus that began in February 2020, and returning members are thrilled.

Its first in-person performance with the full symphony orchestra – strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion, even a socially distanced audience – was Oct. 3, with a program that included Litsz, Wagner and Schubert. Concerts are scheduled through May, including several this month with the Southwest Youth Ballet for “The Nutcracker.”

Everyone in the Chandler Symphony Orchestra is vaccinated except for one person with a medical exemption, according to Pam Hahn, executive director and harpist. Orchestra members socially distance themselves as best as they can, and those who can mask up while playing their instruments do so.

Vanja Nikolovski, conductor, said being able to perform and practice in person after such a long hiatus feels like they are “being reborn again.”

The Chandler Symphony Orchestra rehearses for its upcoming holiday concerts, including several performances of “The Nutcracker” with the Southwest Youth Ballet this month. (Photo by Sierra Alvarez/Cronkite News)

Some of the group gathered virtually earlier in the pandemic to play for fun, Nikolovski said, but it was “almost impossible” to play together over Zoom.

“The best technology cannot recreate the beauty of a live performance,” he added.

Technology couldn’t make up for the lost camaraderie either.

“It was demoralizing not being able to perform, so I didn’t really do anything for a long time,” Hahn said. “There’s something about playing in an orchestra that feeds your soul. … It’s just a community of people, and without that it was really tough.”

Many of the musicians are thrilled the orchestra is back practicing and performing as an ensemble in person again, although some chose not to come back.

“It’s so joyful to be with everyone,” concertmaster and first violinist LeAnn Contessa said. “When it’s taken away, suddenly you realize how much meaning it has in your life to make music with other fine musicians. … I just love the CSO. It really is a big family, and the family is back together again.”

Sierra Alvarez see-AIR-uh AL-vuh-rez (she/her/hers)
News Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Sierra Alvarez expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication. Alvarez is assigned to Cronkite News this semester.