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  • Writer's pictureLauren Sublett

A Love Letter to the Nashville Symphony

Thank you to Enrico Lopez-Yañez for agreeing to an interview with me!


I used to think that I would need to be dressed head to toe before attending the symphony. With extravagant instruments, renowned players, it was easy to see this as an event, one that was not only an occasion, but also rare. So, when you attend, your outfit must be well-orchestrated, just like the tempo and timing of your polite (but not too polite) handclaps. Although I am an avid fan of fashion and all things elaborate, I still feel like this mindset limited my experience to one that was surrounded around visual perception. I ask myself, “Was I there for the music, or to be seen?” But what I remember most is that I was uncomfortable in my fancy clothes. In fact, I was just uncomfortable. Do I clap now? Wait…wait... I’d glance over to a woman with a stiff haircut and posture and wait for my signal to clap next. Perhaps this is because when I was younger, the symphony had an affluent connotation, but certainly not one of swagger or accessibility. Certainly, people don’t really listen to that music. They must be pretending.


But I didn’t live in “Music City” then. Dark times.


Now that I do, it has been much easier to come to my senses regarding the symphony, and not just the optics. I find myself now on a weekday, after work, with jeans on listening to some of the top instrumentalists dedicated to a single performance. Often, I go on a whim. Sometimes when I just need to shake off my workday, as if I’m popping into my favorite bar on my way home, I’ll indulge in what I pen symphony spontaneity, an opportunity to escape with some of the best musicians in the world. And I know that I said I focused much less on the visuals, but if you haven’t yet had the chance to see for yourself, you must know that these “concert on a whims” occur within the most beautiful concert hall you can imagine. To quote our Pops conductor, Enrico Lopez-Yañez, who plainly stated “I don’t know if there is a better hall in the country.”


Photo taken by Emmanuel Echem

I know. The venture downtown is not ideal. I park, proud of myself for taking myself out. I brave a few blocks, pass by a bachelorette party (maybe two or three depending on the month), and leave my headphones and worries in the car knowing the Nashville Symphony awaits for my cue. I step foot in front of the concert hall and am yet again reminded that the move to Nashville and a simple venture downtown was all worth it. Goodbye, so long to the honky tonks, the pedal taverns, the chaos, and the unnecessary noise. Suddenly, I do not think about my outstanding tasks, my to do lists, unanswered emails, or when I will have time to go to the grocery store. Purely in the moment, bewildered by the very experience of hearing eighty or more musicians effortlessly bring and celebrate music to life. Surrounded by absolute beauty and exhilarated, I always smile when I am with you, my dearest symphony. I look around and see no stiff postures, grimaces, or glances, but rather I am in a room full of amazing musicians and an audience that shares all of the same sentiments as I do. We are so grateful for symphony spontaneity and moments like these where stress and cell-phones are not allowed. Not a single audience member (tourist or not) dares take out their phone to quickly check their socials, no one is yelling at the performers, and no one screams “FREEBIRD” at the Schermerhorn. There is a collective peace that is palpable in the room, and it is readily accessible at the concert hall.


Community is the backbone of the symphony, with musicians themselves working together to blend and amplify the collective experience with the live audience.


For me, experiencing the magic at the Schermerhorn is one of the greatest indulgences readily available here in Music City. And if you have never treated yourself to a live symphony outing, perhaps you’ll brave the trek downtown at least once in your lifetime. I assure you it will be worth it.


 

This is a love letter to the Nashville Symphony.


If you know me, you know that my first love has and will always be music. I am fortunate in that I have been awarded more musical exposure than most, with my father, grandmother, and aunt all being talented musicians. My aunt, Shelly Sublett, has maintained her position in the Memphis symphony for more than forty years, and has always inspired me with her perfect pitch. Growing up, I might not have known much about the true meaning of a symphony, but I certainly understood that I was the niece of a musical prodigy—it certainly helped that my father always bragged about her.


So sure, I’ve been exposed to it perhaps more than the average person, dare I say even more than most who have grown up in the Bible Belt. But it took me living in our very own “Music City” to fully gain an affinity and love for experiencing live orchestra.


The Nashville Symphony, the only symphony in the world housed in Music City, withholds a diverse group of musicians from every genre. With endless possibilities for musical differentiation and arrangements, coupled with a pool of collaborators to select from—it is no wonder why our symphony isn’t afraid to take chances and push boundaries.



In our conversation, Enrico made a point to mention that one time during a disco show (yes, our symphony had a DISCO show) that particular set had musicians from backing bands for a broad scope of brilliant artists like Post Modern Juke Box, Nas, Jennifer Nettles, and Patti Labelle, just to name a few. Of course, it is hard not to go on when there are so many talented musicians that drive the magic behind our symphony.


And beyond pushing boundaries, our symphony makes history, literally bringing it to life with each orchestration. For music fanatics like me, maybe we are similar in that we all have that one, unique show that forever embeds itself in our hearts and memory, but when the show also represents a showstopping moment of history, there are simply no words, only notes to explain. One of my favorite shows this year was the Trailblazing Women program, also now referred to as the first night in the history of all symphonic music that an orchestra featured all female composers. Again, no words, just notes, when a moment of symphony spontaneity becomes me witnessing epic moments of musical history.


And if classical music isn’t your thing, then kindly check out our Pops programs. Many agree that these are for everyone, boasting contemporary programs with Ledisi, Nas, Mickey Guyton; to movie scores like Home Alone, Ghostbusters, and Star Wars; to contemporary composers that incorporate choirs and dancers; to one of my personal favorite shows, the Latin Fire program, which brilliantly highlights various Latin music from classical to Gloria Estefan. Our symphony truly has something for everyone.


Of course, The Nashville Symphony is ambitious, and much of this ambition is driven by our Pops conductor, Enrico Lopez-Yañez. I joined his growing lists of fans back in 2019, a year after moving to Nashville. At the time, he was already making waves with innovative programming. Beyond being one of the most sought-after conductors in the world, he is also incredibly charismatic, fun, and cool. He’s brilliant but accessible. Playing a complicated instrument like the trumpet and dancing with ease, he also uses his voice to speak and continue to take risks without hesitation.


While first getting seated for our interview, I had to ask what other debuts he would like to see our symphony do. With his usual charming manner and well-articulated delivery, he said he’d love to see us continue to push the boundaries of symphonic music, exploring collaborations with punk, rock, EDM, and more. His ambition and love for what he does radiates in everything he does, like agreeing to sit down with me, a stranger, to kindly and cordially answer my questions purely in the hopes of providing more exposure to the Nashville Symphony. I made it clear that the purpose of this passion project and interview is not only to help with gaining exposure but also to promote the idea that the symphony is not reserved for the uptight, affluent, more reserved crowd. Rather, the symphony is an organization consisting of diverse, brilliant musicians that represent and relate to everyone in their performances. The symphony is for everyone, and I cannot help but to fall in love with the treasure of the Nashville Symphony that Music City beholds in these very own concert halls.



As Enrico pointed out, what’s unique about our symphony, is it’s “not trying to be the Philharmonic.” Our symphony is passionate about catering to the community: varied neighborhoods for free concerts every summer, family concerts that are sensory friendly, and programming that reflects our diverse community. Nashville tourism largely supports the country scene and notoriously carries on the honky tonk connotation, whereas, as Enrico told me in our interview, “We are a symphony for the community.” He expressed that the Nashville symphony wants to provide programs that the community wants to hear (and no, it’s not Freebird!) and is thus passionate in discovering the evolving tastes of the community, and ultimately, what brings people together.


This focus on community, and the depths of the talent Music City has to offer, is what made Enrico choose to come to Nashville in 2018. Recanting his first meeting with the classical conductor, Giancarlo, and all of the attributes of the symphony of which brought him to Music City. Yes, there are Grammy wins, but more importantly, an innovative symphony that offers diverse programming and embraces the artistic freedom abundant and unique here to Nashville, Tennessee.


At one point during the Latin Fire program, Enrico and Jose Sibaja (incredible trumplet player) traded lines, both performing trumpet in a sort of dance, mimicking a bull and a bullfighter. I had never seen a conductor perform an instrument on stage before. It was brilliant and funny and peak entertainment, and I learned so much history through all of the Latin music, which featured Monica Abrego, an incredible soprano singer originally from Mexico.


Whether it’s Enrico or Giancarlo conducting, they really seek to teach you history through the music so that each member of the audience can absorb the culture and experience at the Schermerhorn. I learned so much that night I developed a love of Latin music I have kept with me since.


In preparing for the interview, I listened to several episodes of Enrico’s podcast, which prompted me to ask him how the symphony has had more of a demand for highlighting marginalized communities in recent years.


One show he is particularly excited about is The Three Mexican Tenors show in April. He said this show is very important because it is not a free show, it is not a “token” concert, it is actually part of the symphony’s programming, demonstrating their core values as an orchestra. As he said more than once in our interview, “We are a symphony for the community.” And they certainly are successful in orchestrating and bringing people together.


And the community here loves music and has much to choose from every night of the week. I asked Enrico, who has his master’s in trumpet and as a world traveler more insight on the topic, if it’s easier working in Music City because there is more support for the symphony than maybe my aunt’s symphony in Memphis, or perhaps other symphonies around the country. He pointed out that while there are perhaps more people that appreciate symphonic music, there is much to compete with every night of the week here, especially in the pops space.


So our symphony has to take risks and collaborate with artists, doing things you wouldn’t normally see. One of my other favorite shows was the performance with Nas at Ascend amphitheater. I asked him about preparing for a show like that, and was shocked to find that even for shows with major artists, the musicians only usually get one rehearsal, and it is the day of the show. In fact, they usually have a month or less to prepare, which is insane to think about when you think about what it takes to blend in with 80 plus musicians, who are often working on several pieces at once. Enrico loves working with pop artists for their first symphony show, as it provides a new creative outlet for them and enhances their music in a new way. I asked him how much freedom he has in developing a program, and he said the biggest hoop is getting artists to buy in.



But I think artists are figuring it out. This past year I saw Tower of Power and Lettuce perform with the Colorado symphony at Red Rocks. And in Nashville, before she headed to Carnegie Hall, Ledisi did a performance with Enrico geared towards a tribute to Nina Simone. On Valentines Day, I am headed back to the Schermerhorn to see Gladys Knight perform with our symphony, which is truly a dream come true for me. Later on in May, you can catch the Beach Boys with the Nashville symphony, just a few weeks before the Black Panther and Jurassic Park concert series. And for the classical lovers, highlights for me have been seeing pieces by Beethoven and the immaculate suite The Planets. Giancarlo is a professor of music history, and you truly get your money’s worth at any classical show he is conducting. I love hearing him talk about the pieces before they are performed almost as much as I love the music itself.


The Nashville Symphony is for everyone, and we are blessed to have such incredible conductors dedicated to serving our community. They will continue to push boundaries, make music history, and highlight the incredible talent we have by virtue of living in Music City. Nashville is so much more than country music. The same players you see performing with major country acts on television, you can often catch at Rudy’s Jazz Room, or even the Nashville Symphony on a Tuesday night. We are Music City for a reason, so why wouldn’t you see perhaps the most challenging presentation of music possible, an orchestra working together to bring complex arrangements to life. If you haven’t seen it yet, I hope you’ll experience it once in your lifetime. And join me in supporting the Nashville Symphony, because it is truly a Nashville treasure.


(This piece was edited by my sister, Caroline Salvadore, an English teacher and my favorite writer. I could not have brought it to life without her.)

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