April 17, 2020

An unforgettable “Ride”— Lyric Opera Orchestra delights with virtual performance

Just as you’ve probably needed to take a step away from some of the people and things you love, so have the artists at Lyric Opera of Chicago. And what they really love is making music together for you.

It’s not surprising, then, that when Lyric had to cancel the Ring, members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra still found a way to perform for Lyric audiences, playing individually from apartments and home studios all over the Chicago area and beyond, and — as you’ll see — very much sharing the experience.

Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" by the (Virtual) Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra

The idea for the video grew from several brainstorming conversations among musicians. They had seen the Rotterdam Philharmonic's video of “Ode to Joy,” which was one of the earliest compilation videos released during the current public health crisis, and they immediately knew they wanted to do something along those lines. The musicians also knew they wanted to pay homage to Lyric’s just-canceled Ring cycle, an event that had been nearly a decade in the making and which, with its surrounding festival events, had sold nearly 40,000 tickets to opera lovers from around the world who had been planning to come together in Chicago in April 2020. “The Ride of the Valkyries” is the most recognizable music in Wagner’s four-part Ring, so it became the clear choice.

Percussionist Douglas Waddell volunteered to engineer the whole project, from making the click track for everyone to play along with at home to doing all of the audio and video editing with his son, Ryan. Preparing to play a Ring is rigorous effort; in 2020 alone, the Lyric Opera Orchestra was scheduled for 113 hours of Ring rehearsals, and being so well rehearsed, it's not surprising that 63 musicians sprang into action to provide their tracks for the monumental compilation edit.

How do these artists, often the unsung heroes who aren’t seen in their seats in the orchestra pit, feel about the final product?

Co-Assistant Principal Clarinet Susan Warner said, “The abrupt end of our Lyric orchestra rehearsals and loss of our Ring cycle came as an incredible shock. But as artists, we don’t sit still for long. The Lyric Orchestra is so much more than a performing ensemble. We are a closely knit family. As I watched my colleagues perform (virtually) together again in this video, my eyes flooded with tears.”

Principal Horn Jonathan Boen told us, “Immediately following the cancellation of the season, I felt an immense sense of sadness. Recording with a click track was a tricky thing to do in isolation when you're used to having the entire orchestra surrounding you. I love the rich sound of our brass section and really miss my colleagues, so when I was recording, I imagined myself sitting in the pit. I'm especially happy and excited to share with our audience just a snippet of what we were preparing, although the irony is that we actually hadn't yet rehearsed the opening of the Third Act ‘Ride’ sequence!”

The enthusiasm from the brass section was uniform, the Ring being a tour de force for them. Jeremy Moeller, Principal Trombone, said, “As a trombonist, I NEVER pass up a chance to play ‘The Ride’! It might not be the same as having us all together in the pit, but it’s pretty close.” Were there any advantages to playing the piece from home? “This was the first time I didn’t have to wear a tuxedo to perform it!”

We hope you’ll enjoy this thrilling performance from the “Virtual Lyric Opera Orchestra” and join us in extending our most sincere thanks for their wonderful artistry, creativity, and camaraderie.


Photo: Todd Rosenberg