No doubt about it, the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra members are the busiest artists of the entire Festival—accompanying the opera and choral productions as well as playing many symphonic and chamber concerts throughout the season. (This year alone, ensemble members play such a range of compositions—from Bach’s St. John Passion and Strauss’s Salome to more contemporary works by Shostakovich, Steve Reich, Julius Eastman, and Michael Gordon, among many others.) But the Orchestra members are also some of the Festival’s youngest artists: many are students or recent grads from top conservatories and graduate programs, and each member auditions during a nationwide audition tour (going on now). From an applicant pool of more than 500 musicians, 92 will be selected as members of the 2019 Orchestra, and many are starting to receive job offers and confirming their residency in Charleston for the season. From early May to mid June, they take over our Southern city, shuffling from theater to theater with instruments in tow.
One such player will be Shannon Fitzhenry, a violinist who grew up in Charleston and is currently fulfilling a graduate performance diploma at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. Shannon also performs as a substitute violinist for such orchestras as the Baltimore Symphony, Charleston Symphony, and the New World Symphony in Miami—and as she thinks about her next steps after school, she is, in her own words, “fully in the orchestra audition process.”
On Friday, February 8, Shannon will give Annual Auction attendees a little taste of what that audition process is like, demonstrating the artistry, virtuosity, and versatility required of Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra musicians. Ahead of this event, held at the brand-new Hotel Bennett in downtown Charleston (details below), we asked Shannon to tell us a little more about herself and her instrument.
Do you have any nicknames?
When I was younger, my siblings called me “Sha-Sha.” They still do once in a while, but I think I’ve mostly outgrown that one.
Does your violin have a name?
Not right now. But when I started taking lessons at age 2, I couldn’t even pronounce “violin,” so called it my “La La La.”
If you were to take your instrument to a fancy dinner, what do you order and who picks up the check?
Wine with a meal is a must. I’m thinking my violin and I would like to order seafood and a nice Chardonnay. And I paid so much to own my violin, I think it’s only right that he foots this bill!
What cities have your favorite music scene?
As a Charleston native, this place will always hold a special spot musically in my heart. I feel that the downtown culture is so conducive to making beautiful music, and growing up with Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto definitely spoiled me. As I’ve traveled more, I’m realizing that New York is an incredible melting pot of music and culture.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen backstage before a concert? Do you have any pre-performance superstitions?
I can’t remember seeing anything too weird, though here’s a funny story: Last summer at Tanglewood, one of the violists lost a dress shoe and had to wear two left shoes onstage during a concert. I can imagine it was probably a very uncomfortable concert for him! For myself, I have a big problem with anyone asking me if I’m nervous before a performance. Maybe it’s just a superstition, but I feel that admitting I’m nervous just makes it worse and causes me to get in my own head.
Any favorite performances that weren’t at a traditional concert hall?
I played solo violin for a wedding proposal around midnight at the Jefferson Memorial. I’ve played many proposals, but this one was so beautiful.
What’s your current Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon binge?
I’m really into detective crime shows, and right now I’m watching a show called “Crossing Lines.” When I’m in the mood for something light, I can’t go wrong with “How I Met Your Mother!”
Interested in supporting the 2019 Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra members? Visit spoletoauction.com and consider bidding on exciting packages (a Bahamas vacation, anyone?), exclusive Spoleto experiences (like meeting the gals of I’m With Her or Esperanza Spalding), and more. Funds raised help offset the cost of musicians’ housing, performance fees, and travel. The online auction is open from February 4 to 18. The live event begins at 6:00pm on Friday, February 8, at Hotel Bennett. Details at spoletoauction.com.