On the horn
Reno Chamber Orchestra
Back in the golden mid-century years, Reno’s downtown casinos like Harrah’s and the old Harold’s Club employed complete house orchestras that played night after night, backing people like Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra when they came to town. These orchestras were made up of talented, classically trained musicians making a living catering to the toe-tapping sounds of showbiz.
By the 1970s, as the sounds of the Rat Pack were echoing into the ether, a group of musicians informally got together to create the Reno Chamber Orchestra. By 1974, the group was playing concerts here and there around town, gradually acquiring an audience willing to listen to a more classical timbre. They eventually started a nonprofit organization, formed a board of directors and offered a regular concert series.
“Chamber orchestras are about the [same] size as orchestras were two hundred years ago, around the time of Mozart and Beethoven,” said Chris Morrison, RCO’s executive director. The group has between 30 and 50 members, versus philharmonic or symphony orchestras with 100 members or more. Morrison said classical era composers like Mozart and Beethoven would have been writing their pieces with an orchestra the size of the RCO in mind.
In addition to the chamber orchestra, Reno is also home to the Reno Philharmonic.
“Very few communities of this size outside of Reno can actually have two orchestras that coexist that do great, and we do,” said Morrison. The music-loving audiences here also support various ensembles at University of Nevada, Reno and the Reno Pops Orchestra.
Conductor Theodore Kuchar—who has been widely recorded and led Czech, Ukranian and Venezuelan orchestras—normally leads the group. He has been the music director of the RCO since 2003. However, two November shows will be led by guest artist Michael Sachs. Sachs is principal trumpet of the Cleveland Orchestra and the head of the trumpet department at the Cleveland Institute of Music.
“Although Michael Sachs wouldn’t describe himself this way, he’s kind of a legend in the trumpet world,” said Morrison. To give context, John Williams, famed score composer for movies like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, wrote Concerto for Trumpet specifically for Sachs with the Cleveland Orchestra in 1996.
According to Sachs—whose orchestra is on a European tour of Luxembourg, Hamburg, Vienna, Paris and Linz through October—playing with a large orchestra is different than playing with a chamber orchestra.
“It’s kind of like moving the rudder on a large ship,” he said. It takes a little while to turn, while, on a smaller ship, it’s just going to go a different way. It’s the same thing with a chamber orchestra versus with a larger orchestra. The smaller orchestra has a little more dexterity, a little more flexibility potentially.”
The November concerts will begin with a symphony for strings written by composer Felix Mendelssohn when he was a teenager. Then, Sachs will be featured as soloist in both Hummel’s Trumpet Concerto and Mozart’s lively Posthorn Serenade.
In that piece, Mozart introduced a posthorn, an instrument that is part of the trumpet family and looks like a mini French horn without valves. It was used by mailmen in the 18th and 19th centuries announcing their rides into town.