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CSO bassist spends 4 ‘very intense’ days before TV cameras

Chicago Symphony OrchestrBass

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Bass

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Updated: December 20, 2013 6:02AM

If professional baseball and basketball can have all-star teams, why not the world of symphonic music?

That, at least in part, was the thinking behind the first-ever All-Star Orchestra, a group of musicians gathered from this country’s top orchestras by veteran conductor Gerard Schwarz. Working together for four concentrated days in New York City, they taped performances of assorted old classics and contemporary works for a seven-part concert series on public television.

Chicago’s WTTW Channel 11 plans to broadcast it in early 2014 — exact dates have not yet been set. Beginning Tuesday, the series will be available on DVD at

Two Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians took part in the project: violinist Gina DiBello and Alexander Hanna. The latter, a native of Bowling Green, Ohio, took over in June 2012 as the orchestra’s principal bassist at age 26. Hanna spoke to the Sun-Times about his time with the All-Star Orchestra and his tenure so far with the CSO:

Q. What was it like to perform with the All-Star Orchestra?

A. It was a lot of fun. It was a very exciting group, because it was people from all around the country. Some of the musicians I had met and played with before and some of them I had not, so it was nice to reunite with old friends and colleagues and nice to meet new ones as well.

Q. There were four days of taping. How many days of rehearsals did you have?

A. Zero. We were performing from the very first minute.

Q. So, how intense was that?

A. It was very intense. Some of the repertoire I knew very well, and some it I didn’t know at all. So, the entire time we were playing during those four days, the camera was rolling. We would play as much of the work as we could. Often, we would just run it completely start to finish, and then, if needed, Jerry would rehearse the orchestra a little bit, and we would do another take on a certain passage that maybe wasn’t up to the integrity of the other passages.

Q. I was going ask how long it took this group to jell into an ensemble, but I guess it had to be instantaneous.

A. It did have to be instantaneous, and Jerry knew that and all the musicians knew that as well. So, all the musicians came into that very first session with an open mind, curiosity and respect for each other, knowing that if we were going to insist on doing things our own way, we weren’t going to get anywhere. So, from the very beginning, there was a good feeling of camaraderie and rapport in the orchestra.

Q. These were long days, then, right?

A. Very long. We started at 10 a.m. and didn’t finish until around 4 or 5 o’clock. The amount of repertoire that we covered was vast. I can’t remember how many pieces we played.

Q. You joined the Chicago Symphony in 2012. Do you feel settled in?

A. I feel very settled into the orchestra. As I’m sure you know, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is absolutely fantastic. It’s my dream job. At first, it was quite intimidating to join this orchestra, but once I got on stage and started making music with them I was very comfortable.

Q. Was it intimidating to take over the bass section at age 26?

A. I don’t think intimidating is the right word, because the bass section of the CSO is a group of great gentlemen who are very passionate about music, and they are also pretty nice guys. However, I did feel a tremendous amount of responsibility, taking over a leadership position in such a great orchestra. The way I responded to that was by preparing as meticulously as I could and always doing my best.

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