Rachel Kristenson

OSO concertmaster Rachel Kristenson

As we celebrate 60 years of music making in the Okanagan , the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra (OSO) is thrilled to shine a spotlight on our own musicians. We kick things off next week with “Legends” to open our O’Rourke’s Peak Cellar’s Masterworks Series.

The first half of the concert will feature cellist Bryan Cheng who is bringing the “Bonjour” Stradivarius cello with him for Dvorak’s Cello Concerto. This particular cello is highly valued in the music world. It was built in 1696 and is currently valued at $14 million. A legend, indeed.

The second half of the concert is devoted to Rimsky Korsakov’s evocative symphonic suite, Scheherazade. Inspired by the legends of 1001 Arabian Nights, Rimsky- Korsakov uses the full palate of orchestral colour to create an exhilarating story of love, intrigue and adventure.

Of course, every story needs a storyteller. Enter OSO concertmaster Rachel Kristenson who will step into the spotlight with her violin to play the shimmering and sensuous melodies that represent Scheherazade.

She is entering her third season as the concertmaster concertmaster of the OSO. In case you were wondering “what the heck is a concertmaster?” here are a few fast facts about this very important leadership position in a symphony orchestra.

In the early days of orchestras, there was no conductor; the composer usually led from the harpsichord. G gradually, composers used harpsichord less and the “first chair” of the violins would lead, with everyone else watching their bow to know how to be together. As orchestras got bigger through the 19th century, the conductor came into being.

Right up until today, however, the concertmaster is still considered the leader of the orchestra. She is the one who comes on stage and makes sure everyone is in tune. She decides when everyone’s bows are going up or down and she is leading the rest of the string section in how to interpret the conductor’s gestures. Talk about multi-tasking!

She also acts as an intermediary between the conductor and players and when the conductor shakes the concertmaster’s hand, she is receiving recognition on behalf of all of the musicians on stage. In many great orchestral works, the composer will showcase the concertmaster with big solos to play. Such is the case with Scheherazade.

Rachel is a natural leader. With an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree from the prestigious Cleveland Institute of Music in violin performance and lots of professional experience playing in orchestras across North America, she is a virtuoso solo performer and the OSO is lucky to have her leading our orchestra.

She also brings an exuberance and great joy for music and has become an integral part of the leadership of the OSO. Audience members often comment on how inspiring it is to watch Rachel during a concert as her musicality and leadership flows off the stage to surround the audience.

Rachel Kristenson is married to Nels who is a fire fighting pilot, so he is super busy in the summer and she is super busy through the winter with performances. They are used to doing the hand- off from one to the other of their five children who also play the violin. Life will get a bit more complicated when they welcome their sixth baby in January.

Good thing Rachel is an expert in managing big groups of people and getting them all in sync with each other. Just imagine the stories that she has to tell. Who better to bring the narrative of Scheherazade to life as she spins her magical sound through the theatre, but our own OSO concertmaster, Rachel Kristenson.

Rosemary Thomson is music director and conductor with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra.