Finding what’s resonating: The Reno Chamber Orchestra works to build community via ‘The Stories We Tell’ 

Orchestral music isn’t the most popular form of music in 2023. As a result, music organizations worldwide are doing what they can to help the genre grow and reach new ears. 

For the Reno Chamber Orchestra, collaboration is extremely important—and the orchestra is working with a variety of individuals and organizations for an upcoming concert event, The Stories We Tell. Narration, music, storytelling and more will unite when the Reno Chamber Orchestra takes a journey through three works, on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 18 and 19.  

During a recent phone interview, Reno Chamber Orchestra executive director Amy Heald explained that the event was inspired by a desire to provide programming that is progressive and community-focused. 

“Our music director, Kelly Kuo, his approach to programming is always with the lens of, ‘What is going to resonate with our community, and where there is potential for partnerships within our community?’” Heald said. “The other aspect is really thinking about who has historically not been allowed, or has been forgotten, or has been marginalized as an artist on our stage. You’ll notice, looking at our season, a lot more women composers, and composers of color throughout all of our programming—who you typically don’t see as often. As a chamber orchestra, we’re really trying to break open those historic boundaries that have been placed over the years.” 

The Stories We Tell consists of three musical movements, and each piece helps craft a narrative. 

“The first piece (“Artemis”) is by Canadian composer Kevin Lau, who is one of two living composers out of our three composers in this concert,” Heald said. “He wrote a piece that tells the story of the god Artemis through music, and it’s a really intense piece that was inspired a little bit by the planets. Gustav Holst was a composer in the late 1800s, and he wrote a piece called ‘The Planets’ that’s based on all of the gods that the planets are named after, so this is kind of a play on that.” 

The second piece, “The Mountain That Loved a Bird” features a collaboration with college students. 

“‘The Mountain That Loved a Bird’ is a book that was written in the ’60s and illustrated by Eric Carle,” Heald said. “In 2018, Caroline Shaw was commissioned by Carnegie Hall to take that book and set it to music, so it’s text with orchestra accompaniment. We’ve partnered with Truckee Meadows Community College’s animation department, and they have created original animations that will accompany the reading and performance of this piece. We’re really excited about that collaboration, and it has been really great to get to work with their students and get to know that whole department a lot better.” 

The final music number, “La Cenerentola” (the Italian version of Cinderella), is bringing opera music back to Reno. 

“We had an opera company in Reno, and then sadly … they folded, so we haven’t had a dedicated opera company or much opera in Reno, outside of the university, in many, many years,” Heald said. “We’re really excited to be able to bring this opera, even though it’s just scenes from it, back to Reno and to semi-stage it. We have two vocalists who are coming in to sing the lead roles, and then we’re partnering with the Nevada Gay Men’s Chorus, and they will be singing backup chorus on that piece. Also in our vocal department, we have a trio of students who will be singing a small role in this concert. We have a lot of collaborations, and a lot of different kinds of music that all tell different stories.” 

Collaborating with the community has been a priority since Heald and Kuo came on board in recent years. 

“To me, for the orchestra to continue to be relevant, and for people to want to care about us, especially since we do play a fairly dated art form, we have to be able to go out to our community and talk with them and find out what’s resonating with them, and invite them in,” Heald said. “We can’t just expect the community or people to come to us anymore. We really have to be much more inviting as an industry. That’s something that orchestras across the country are working on, and have been working on for many, many years. Coming out of the pandemic, that’s become even more of a thing, and we’re realizing that the audiences that we have aren’t necessarily all coming back, so we really have to make sure that we aren’t just doing the same old thing. What are we doing that is actually inviting, that’s new and that resonates with our community?” 

In the community-building vein, the Reno Chamber Orchestra will be hosting other events leading up to The Stories We Tell. At 5 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 14, Kuo will hold a meet-and-greet at the Element Reno Experience District, 2030 Element Lane, in Reno. The event is free, but RSVP by emailing [email protected]. At 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 16, a small ensemble from the orchestra will be performing “The Nightingale” by Kevin Lau at the North Valleys Library, 1075 N. Hills Blvd., in Reno. The performances are free. 

While the Reno Chamber Orchestra has featured collaborative events in the past, The Stories We Tell will be its first truly multimedia experience, and the organization hopes to continue fostering relationships with people outside of the orchestra world. 

“We have another collaboration that will be happening in the spring with TMCC and their drawing and art departments,” Heald said. “Again, we are just looking at all the different ways that we can continue to find other partners within our community. We also have an ongoing partnership that we started last year with Northern Nevada HOPES, and we have been doing small chamber performances at Hope Springs, which is their bridge housing community. We also offer free tickets to their staff, clients and anybody on their side who would like to come to our concerts, so we’ve seen both staff and residents of Hope Springs who have been coming to our concerts for the last year, which has been really, really special. … We work really closely with high school districts and are starting to add more opportunities for students to come. I just want to make sure that everybody has an opportunity and feels welcome to experience this art form and this music.” 

The Stories We Tell will take place at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 18; and 2 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 19, at the Nightingale Concert Hall, on the UNR campus at 1335 N. Virginia St., in Reno. Tickets are $28.50 to $68.50, or $5 for students with ID. For tickets and more information, visit