Future Uncertain for Louisiana Philharmonic
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra plays its first concert since Katrina tonight, but it's not playing in New Orleans. Sixty members of the orchestra are in Nashville at the invitation of that city's symphony. From member station WPLN, Rebecca Bain reports.
(Soundbite of orchestral warm-up)
REBECCA BAIN reporting:
It could be any orchestra anywhere warming up before a rehearsal, until you look just a bit closer. These musicians keep smiling at each other, touching each other's hands or shoulders or exchanging hugs as they make their way to their seats. The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra has not been together since last May when the musicians finished their season with Verdi's "Requiem." The new season should have opened September 15th.
Mr. JONATHAN GERHARDT (Principal Cellist, Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra): It was very emotional just to see people for the first time and to make sure that they were OK...
BAIN: Jonathan Gerhardt is the orchestra's principal cellist.
Mr. GERHARDT: ...because an orchestra's like a family, you know. It's dysfunctional at times, but, you know, we're there for each other.
BAIN: Like most of his colleagues, Gerhardt has yet to return to New Orleans. He's learned that the apartment building he lived in is still intact, so his possessions should be unharmed. Not so for violinist Ansis Freimanis.
Mr. ANSIS FREIMANIS (Violinist, Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra): This is the second time in my life that I've basically lost everything. First time was in World War II and now Katrina.
BAIN: While fleeing Katrina cannot compare to the Latvian native's flight from the Nazis, Freimanis' New Orleans neighborhood was flooded. He's reasonably sure everything in this house is a total loss, including his collection of violins.
Mr. FREIMANIS: I left five violins sitting in a closet. Now they're up six feet, but if I have nine feet of water, I mean, that's--forget it. And one of them was made in 1898, and another one was made in 1740 or something, so lost quite a bit.
BAIN: Freimanis is far from the only one. The orchestra's principal bassist lost three basses; his wife lost five harps, including one worth more than $30,000. The LPO's timpanis were stored in the basement of the Orpheum Theatre, which is still underwater.
(Soundbite of orchestral music)
BAIN: Despite all the stories of lost instruments, lost homes, lost everything, members of the Louisiana Philharmonic feared they might have lost each other. Mollie Pate plays French horn.
Ms. MOLLIE PATE (French Horn Player, Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra): We couldn't talk to each other, so it was amazing just coming here this afternoon and seeing everybody. It was like the realization hit that we're all without a place to perform and just a home, you know? This is like my family for the last nine years.
(Soundbite of orchestral music)
BAIN: The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra is this country's only full-size, professional orchestra that is musician-owned and collaboratively managed. It was formed 15 years ago when the New Orleans Symphony went belly-up. While playing in the LPO is technically a part-time job, the musicians play other gigs during the summer, and many of them also teach. It is an important source of income. Already symphony members have taken jobs with other orchestras, some for only a year, but a few musicians have longer commitments. Nevertheless, violinist Nicola Payne is optimistic about the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra's future.
Ms. NICOLA PAYNE (Violinist, Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra): I believe that this orchestra is a survivor. It's come back from the dead once through the determination of several people in this orchestra, who are still here. And I think just the mere fact that we're here in Nashville, that this was put together scarcely a month after the hurricane, I think is a very good sign that we have a strong future.
BAIN: But it's still an uncertain future. After tonight's concert, the musicians will disperse with no idea when they will be performing together again. For NPR News, I'm Rebecca Bain in Nashville.
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