Rachel Mercer is Artistic Director of the 5 at the First Chamber Music Series. She joined the National Arts Centre Orchestra as Associate Principal Cello in January 2016 and is a member of the Mercer-Park Duo and Ensemble Made In Canada. She plays the 1730 Newland Celoniatus Cello graciously on loan from the Canada Council for the Arts Musical Instrument Bank. Find her at www.rachelmercercellist.com or Follow 5 at the First on Facebook and Twitter @5attheFirst.
The church sanctuary is filling up as the last audience members take their seats. There is a hum in the air as people chat in low voices, about their day or in anticipation of the concert they are about to hear. Suddenly the house lights dim a bit, the stage lights brighten and there is a hush; a side door opens and in walk the musicians, smiling, with a spring in their step, and ready to give all they can in the couple of hours they share with this audience.
This moment, that lasts to the final applause at the end of the concert, is the moment when the concert presenters finally get to enjoy the fruit of their endless labour. I never realized until I began presenting a series how much goes on behind the scenes to enable those two hours of wonderful music. As a performer, while we communicate for years before the concert about details of programming, fees and travel, the real ground work is being done even earlier with board meetings, fundraising, grant writing, venue booking, programming, fundraising, scheduling, negotiating, promoting, fundraising again...it is a complete labour of love and we performers are so lucky there are those amazing people who love and believe in live music so deeply that they are willing to sacrifice time and financial gain to enable these moments.
While I would never compare myself to these special people, at 5 at the First, my colleague Michele Corbeil and I are the worker bees; me covering the programming, booking, grant writing and financial side, and Michele pounding the pavement with flyers and posters and reaching out to the community for sponsors and volunteers, while being in charge of everything behind the scenes on the concert day. There is always more to do; promotion, finding more money, making sure the artists are taken care of, but that hectic buzz of activity is suspended from the moment the lights go down to the final applause. As a performer, during the concert there are those transporting moments where everything aligns and you lose your self and are just at one with the music, the other musicians and the audience, and time stops; it's an addictive high that feeds our need to perform. But it's another kind of reward, softening and heart-warming, when you sit in the audience and see their smiles, see the heads bobbing, hear your amazing colleagues on stage, hear the audience appreciation in applause and words afterward, knowing that you took part in making it happen.
5 at the First's opening concert features String Extravaganza VI - the return of our audience's favourite string group - in a concert of duos, then all six musicians together for Erich Korngold's gem of a Sextet. Korngold has a large body of work, but is most well-known for his film composition, including the score for Errol Flynn's Robin Hood. The rest of the 2016-17 season features players from across Ontario in programs of beloved and rarely-performed music, including Schubert, Haydn, Vaughan-Williams, Rossini, Canadian works, and an all-original jazz concert of Darren Sigesmund's Strands Ensemble. 5 at the First is grateful for support from the Ontario Arts Council and individual donors.
*Banner Image: Rachel Mercer [Photo: David Leyes]