The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is billing Thursday’s delayed 70th anniversary season opening concert, fittingly, as “Ode to Joy.”
The program title references the major orchestral and choral work on the hastily assembled program, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which places portions of Friedrich Schiller’s poem in a transporting musical setting in its final movement. But it’s also a clear allusion to the end to one of the most unpleasant chapters in the ASO’s history — a two-month musician lockout — and the healing power of music. Management and the players committed to a four-year collective bargaining agreement just last Saturday.
ASO Concertmaster David Coucheron, who will be featured in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5, sounded pretty joyful himself before the second of four intensive rehearsals Tuesday and Wednesday, if surprised to so suddenly be going from zero to 60 to prepare.
Music director Robert Spano phoned Coucheron on Saturday with the plan to feature the violinist in the Mozart, which, conveniently, requires a smaller orchestral complement than many other pillars of the classical repertoire.
With ASO musicians still scattered across the country guesting with other ensembles because of the lockout, Coucheron wasn’t even sure who would be sitting beside him in the associate concertmaster’s chair when he arrived for the first Symphony Hall rehearsal Tuesday. Nor was he certain of how many ASO first and second violinists will appear in the program Thursday and Saturday nights.
Still, Coucheron, who has not played Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 since his first year as ASO concertmaster, in the 2010-11 season when he was all of 26, instinctively responded to his boss, “Yes, let’s do it.”
Instead of preparing a work a half-year in advance, as is his preference, he told the maestro he would practice night and day. “And that’s what I’ve been doing, 24-7.
“You know what, it’s so great to be back, I’m not complaining,” he added. “It was very emotional to see all my colleagues and we all hugged each other. It’s a big community that’s coming back, so it’s lovely.”
If anything, that sense of community feels even bigger after management, seeking concessions following 12 consecutive years of deficits including $2 million in fiscal 2014, imposed the lockout then cancelled the season’s first eight concerts.
Now 30, Coucheron, who has endured two lockouts in his four full seasons here, said he was struck this time by the swelling support shown by concerned Atlantans.
“We love making music for the community and judging from the outpouring of support, the community loves the orchestra making music for them, too.”
The habit of musicians and management in unionized American orchestras pummeling each other like BattleBots during labor negotiations, then pledging to work together harmoniously when an agreement is finally forged, seems odd to the Norway native.
In his homeland and across Europe in general, the arts enjoy deep government subsidies, so the whole concept of a musician lockout is, well, foreign.
“A lot of my friends in orchestras all over Europe are quite stunned by what has happened here,” Coucheron said. “I am a little stunned myself.
“Some of the things that have been going on, like cutting off health care,” he added with a wry laugh, “I don’t think would even be legal in Norway.”
Happy to put that in the rear view, he predicted that music-making would salve musician wounds.
“Absolutely, 100 percent, everybody feels that,” he said before racing to rehearsal. “It’s our life.”
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and ASO Chorus
8 p.m. Thursday and 7:30 p.m. Saturday. $34-$109. (Very limited availability for Thursday; tightening availability for Saturday.) Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St., Atlanta. 404-733-5000, atlantasymphony.org.
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