Phoenix
The Orchestra Reborn
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Origins Part 4: The End of the Beginning

What's in a name?

Standing in front of a raucous audience at Oberon on Tuesday the words felt so natural. “Good evening everybody… And welcome to Phoenix.” By the time our launch event rolled around the name was so engrained in my head, so much a part of everything that we do, that it was just second nature. But it took a long time to get there.

Months earlier in October, on the set of our music video, I had read some of the almost-names from the long, “Orchestra Names,” document on my computer to members of the orchestra during a break.

Afterbeat.
Coda.
Fandango.
One Step, Two Step. (No, really. Apparently I considered that.)
Picardy Third.
Smorgasbord. 
Tafelmusic.
Falafel. (I can’t tell if that’s on this list as a joke.)

Like most things that Phoenix does and is, the name wasn’t my idea. It turned out all I had to do to find the name for the new orchestra was go to Alaska, sit on my friend Mike’s couch, and wait for my friend Josh to text me with the name his fiancé, Bernice, had come up with. My phone was on the table next to me and the vibration from the text alert caused it to drop onto the couch. So really, seriously, it almost literally fell in my lap.

“Phoenix,” Josh said out of the blue. I knew exactly what he meant, and it clicked immediately.

We’d been looking for something short, this was short. We’d been looking for something distinctly new, this was new. We’d been looking for a color scheme for branding and the website, this made it obvious. We’d had discussions about what the orchestra should wear for performances, this made that decision easy.

For the longest time we’d been trying to distill the orchestra down to a motto. Classics Reworked, Classics Reenergized, the Orchestra Reformatted, the Orchestra Evolved. But none of them were quite right. Phoenix, again, put the answer right in our laps. Reborn.

The Orchestra Reborn highlighted exactly what we were trying to do with Phoenix. We wouldn’t be reinventing the orchestra. We love orchestras. We love the music we play. Our focus was on giving that same music new packaging. A fresh coat of paint. Like a Phoenix when it rises again.

Together in one place

The next few months were a blur. Everything fell into line and hard worked paid off. We hired a director for our music video and set recording and filming dates for October. The first week of September the core team of administrators that made up Phoenix met for the first time at my apartment. The pizza was incredible. The energy was electric.

We spent a couple of weeks passing around ideas about new concert formats and the classical music experience and then hunkered down to work on putting together the music video. We had fundraising goals, and we exceeded them. We had recruiting deadlines, and we met them.

In October we met for the first time as an orchestra to record the audio for our Carmen music video. Over the next two days we filmed the orchestra at Jordan Hall and at a pool in Southern Massachusetts. The narrative of the video showed how we were moving classical music out of its traditional home and giving the audience a personal relationship to the orchestra in a more casual setting.

Looking back on the video is particularly fulfilling with the memories of Ignite fresh in my mind from Tuesday. The whole night members of Phoenix wove seamlessly in and out of the audience, answering questions about their instruments and the music we were playing. I was asked countless times what exactly a conductor does and for once in my life had the chance to answer the question and demonstrate directly afterwards. I watched in awe as our concertmaster, Zenas Hsu, gave a surprise performance of The Last Rose of Summer. “Holy shit dude,” I heard from the audience, before the house exploded in applause. Surely this was the appreciation that playing deserved.

It's Happening

One of the best things about the Ignite event was that it finally gave us a chance to properly thank the people that had made it possible. After all, without our Kickstarter backers and donors Phoenix would still be just an idea in our heads.

On January 31st, the last day of our Kickstarter campaign, we met at my apartment to celebrate the success of the campaign and contemplate a sudden realization: Phoenix was happening. These ideas running around in our heads were going to become reality. We were going to have a concert. And it was only seven weeks away. It was thrilling, but there was also a lot of work to be done.

We broke into teams again and got down to work. One team focused on the branding of Phoenix. “What is Phoenix?” we asked. What are our goals and how are we accomplishing them? One team focused on the event itself. Where would everybody be at every moment of the night? How would the event play out for the audience’s perspective? The final team would focus completely on public relations.

These groups kept up that work all the way through the event we hope many of you had a chance to attend on Tuesday. The orchestra rehearsed on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday before the event, working three hours a day to get the musical end of things together for our launch. And suddenly, just like that, it was 7pm on March 24th. Showtime.

A real thing

For months leading up to Ignite it was hard for me to imagine that March 25th was a real day that would actually happen. After all, my whole life had been building up to March 24th, the day of our launch event. The night of the event was surreal.

Phoenix was a real thing. With a sold out crowd and an audience. An audience that hooted and hollered with enthusiasm during Golijov’s Last Round and sat in rapt silence during Pärt’s Fratres. An audience that was thrilled to talk to musicians during the concert and stick around afterwards to grab one last drink. For all intents and purposes the long awaited answer to the question, “Can classical music survive and thrive in a more casual environment?” was heard loud and clear: “Yes.”

For most of the night two happy thoughts predominated my mind: This was the audience I wanted to play music for, and these were the musicians I wanted to make it with. Being able to do this is a blessing. One the musicians of Phoenix and I don’t intend on wasting.

March 25th

So March 25th came and honestly, it wasn’t as momentous as you would think. I woke up at 8am to go to work, absolutely exhausted after a late night of celebrating with the orchestra at a restaurant with a very gruff server. Ten hours later I came home and collapsed on my bed and didn’t wake up for at least nine hours.

It wasn’t until March 26th that I really got to the task of reflecting on what we’d done and where we were going. Of course, being me, I had a set of notes I’d taken the night of the event on things we could improve for our May concert, Flight. I took to scheduling coffee with every person that had played in or attended the concert I could to gather as much feedback as possible. I keep telling people that the truly fantastic thing about Ignite was that we managed to have such a successful event while also managing to find so many little things we can improve upon next time around.

Of course we’re already prepping for our next concert. It’s just over six weeks away. It’s a quick turnaround and I’d say that worried me, but I’d be lying. After all, this time we have a foundation to build upon. Phoenix is a real thing. A real orchestra with musicians, an audience, and even a name.

Matt SzymanskiComment