North State Symphony works to perfect modern interpretation of classical music


A portion of the violin section of the North State Symphony at the Museum of Northern California Arts on Saturday. Photo credit: Dominique Wood

Natalie Hanson

Violins whined, clarinets hummed and strings moaned as musicians warmed up their instruments next to famous pieces of artwork. The conductor, Scott Seaton, stepped up to his music stand, shuffled his music sheets and rolled up his sleeves, all eyes fixed on him.

Seaton slowly raised his arms, signaling the orchestra to begin playing, and his wrists set violins in motion.

These musicians were hard at work in a rehearsal at the Museum of Northern California Art (MONCA), which is located on Chico’s historic Esplanade. They are musicians in the North State Symphony (NSS), which will perform its second concert of the season next weekend.

The NSS opened its rehearsal to the public in the MONCA Saturday, as part of an event called “Behind the Curtain.” Conductor Scott Seaton opened the rehearsal with a lecture on the museum preceding the rehearsal. He discussed the process that the NSS uses to plan each concert in order to spotlight the works of different classical artists.

IMG_1105 copy.jpg
Music Director of the North State Symphony, Scott Seaton. Photo credit: Dominique Wood

“We’re excited to do this because it’s not often that you get a peek into how we actually put something together – what is behind the curtain, and how does the process progress?” said Seaton. “What you’re seeing today is the early part of the rehearsal process, which we’ve never really opened up to the public before. It’s going to be fun because this particular piece is chock-full of earworms that you will instantly recognize, if you aren’t familiar with Mozart’s 40th symphony.”

Seaton went on to explain why it is important to him to fully research the music selected, as interpreting classical music for contemporary listeners can be a particular challenge without context. The symphony that the NSS will be performing, Mozart’s 40th, was composed in 1758, over several weeks.

IMG_1111 copy.jpg
Scott Seaton with the help of Carol Jacobson talk about the notes of Mozart at the Museum of Northern California Art on Saturday. Photo credit: Dominique Wood

Drawing a diagram for the audience, Seaton, along with concertmaster Terri Baune, demonstrated why old sheet music can make it difficult to interpret a classical piece respectfully.

“With classical and baroque music… there were lots of other interpretations until people started doing research into that period,” said Carol Jacobson. principal cellist.

“You can’t get a sense of how fast or slow the piece is going to be. You rely on other things.” said concertmaster Terri Baune. She said after having performed this particular piece many times with different conductors, it is interesting to see whether the conductor will choose a lush, romantic style or keeping it clear, classical and short.

After the lecture, Seaton conducted the orchestra through a rehearsal of each movement of the symphony. Seaton conducts with his entire body and, clearly, has an effect on each musician with his expressive, passionate style of leadership.

IMG_1154 copy.jpg
The North State Symphony rehearsing live for the community at the Museum of Northern California Art on Saturday. Photo credit: Dominique Wood

In addition, although this was their first full rehearsal of the symphony, the orchestra seemed fairly confident in most sections of the piece. Seaton would pause at key points to add more to each section’s contribution, often speaking out the sound of what he would like them to add (with “more ch-ch-ch’s” or “some ta-ta-TUM’s”).

It was a valuable experience to be welcomed behind the curtain, to get close to each musician and to witness the hard work that goes into every part of every movement within a body of work.

This second concert in the NSS’s Masterworks series for the 2018-2019 season will be “Mozart’s Influence.” It will take place on Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. in Redding, and at on Nov. 11 at 2 p.m. in Chico in Laxson Auditorium.

“This one is youth-focused,” said Seaton. “Part of it is side by side with youth musicians who will play alongside us, which is a phenomenal opportunity for them.”

He said that this concert will also feature a Tchaikovsky concerto where the NSS will be joined by, Canadian violinist,Timothy Chooi, who has won major competitions all over the world, including a bronze medal in the 2015 Michael Hill International Violin Competition.

Seaton said, of his vision for this year’s season, that he feels very excited “to get people of all ages and backgrounds into the audience and enjoying something about the concert.”

“We try to have a variety of events that cater to not just older fans but to also the younger generation,” Seaton said. “We’re trying new things all the time.”

Natalie Hanson can be reached at [email protected] or @NatalieH_Orion on Twitter.