Summer vacation for ASO musicians means hot demand on festival circuit

Atlanta Symphony principal bass Colin Corner spent the summer as part of the Grant Park Orchestra in Chicago. (Photo by Robin Flynn)
Atlanta Symphony principal bass Colin Corner spent the summer as part of the Grant Park Orchestra in Chicago. (Photo by Robin Flynn)

Orchestral musicians are migratory by nature. As the mercury climbs, many Atlanta Symphony Orchestra players take flight, heading to some of the most beguiling locales. ‘Tis the season for music festivals, beehives of music-making, young artist training and diversion.

“My summer is jam-packed with beautiful places and lots of music,” said ASO principal oboe Elizabeth Koch Tiscione.

And there’s plenty of that to go around. The Moab Music Festival entices music-loving outdoor enthusiasts onto “music hikes” — treks into orange-hued, sunbaked canyons for live performances amid natural acoustics. The Grand Teton Music Festival, a regular stop for Tiscione, offers more conventional performance spaces, but with the jagged Tetons as its backdrop.

“Going into the national park, it never gets old,” Tiscione said. She manages to do some 12-mile hikes during her free time, but is quick to add she’s not as hard-core as some. “Jay Christy [an ASO violinist] has summited most of the major peaks in the Tetons,” she said.

There’s a shared focus on reaching musical heights, as well.

“Playing with more people gives you a bigger horizon,” said David Coucheron, the ASO’s star violinist and concertmaster; he spends part of his summers in the mountain resort town of Aspen, Colorado, at the prestigious Aspen Music Festival. “It gives you more material to work with and process, and bring back to Atlanta. I think it also helps my leadership.”

Coucheron, a native of Norway, brought a little Atlanta to his hometown when he invited Tiscione to the Kon-Tiki Chamber Music Festival, an event he founded. The concerts take place on the lighthouse-dappled Oslo Fjord inside a maritime museum. “I wanted to combine the people I had come to know in the United States with the people I know in Norway,” he said. “So they get to play together.”

ASO principal bass Colin Corner joined the Grant Park Orchestra for 10 weeks of free outdoor concerts in the heart of Chicago. For him, it’s about a lifelong love of what he calls “the Chicago sound.”

“It’s a really big and beautiful sound,” he said. “And they produce a lot of it at Grant Park. They go for it. But it never loses the clarity.”

During his free time, Corner, 35, frequents The Green Mill, a jazz club once owned by Al Capone. He also enjoys the city’s bike trails, Vietnamese iced coffees, and the energy he gets from camaraderie with fellow players.

“My favorite Chicago experience so far would have to be the ‘bass hangs,’” he said. “After one rehearsal, all the bass players spent the day at Foster Beach. Another time we had a pool party. And we go out for beers after concerts.”

Atlanta Symphony principal bass Colin Corner
Atlanta Symphony principal bass Colin Corner

Unlike Grant Park, many festivals don’t audition players for these coveted jobs. Rather, they extend invitations. That places ASO players near the front of the line for two premier destinations — Aspen is headed by their own music director, Robert Spano. Grand Teton is led by the ASO’s principal guest conductor, Donald Runnicles. Tiscione played at both, along with five other festivals by summer’s end.

Working with ASO conductors at their mountain retreats, she said, “feels a little bit like you have a piece of home.” But not too much. Having a change of venue, new colleagues, new approaches to music-making and a different audience are what make these sojourns so invigorating.

“There’s some really unusual programming at Grant Park,” Corner said. “It’s great to see these huge crowds of people that are digging this very interesting-sounding music.”

For the summer, Corner settled into a routine of hopping ‘L’ trains and jamming under the Frank Gehry-designed pavilion. “The season is flying by,” he lamented in August. But when it comes time to head home to Atlanta, he said, “I’ll be ready.”

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