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Curtain Call: Britt Orchestra GM says good music is like a well-drawn cup of espresso

New Britt Festival Orchestra General Manager Renia Shterenberg’s favorite part of the job is working with talented musicians, conductors and soloists. She considers them brilliant individuals, many at the pinnacles of their careers.

“Working in close proximity with a soloist, for instance, is like drinking a well-drawn cup of espresso,” she said. “You get to experience the bitterness and sweetness, the flavor and complexity, for a very short time. But it stays with you long after the cup is empty.”

Shterenberg is new to the Britt Festival organization but not to the orchestra.

She joined the staff Nov. 1 of last year but played violin in the BFO for eight years, from 2004 to 2011.

“I saw the position as orchestra manager as an opportunity to return to the Valley and embrace the festival I have such fond memories of,” she said.

She’s excited about the 2022 season, knowing how frustrating the pandemic break has been for staff, musicians, and fans.

“It will be really wonderful to get the BFO back on the pavilion stage, to hear the sounds of orchestral music flowing up the hillside. I am really looking forward to the music,” she said.

She vividly remembers her first rehearsal as an orchestra member 18 years ago.

“I sat down, and as the music began, I remember thinking how amazing the string sound was that surrounded me. It was, by far, one of the best orchestras in the country, and I was so honored to be a part of it.”

The Britt Festival classical segment was moved from its traditional late summer slot to an earlier start on June 17 for the 2022 season.

“The change was made in response to many successive years of wildfire smoke,” she said.

Following several moves to the North Medford High School auditorium and other locations, plus concert cancellations during several BFO seasons, the Britt Board of Directors and BFO decided to move the orchestra season to late June when wildfire smoke does not normally impact outdoor concerts.

The BFO’s 2022 program was announced earlier this month. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to brittfest.org.

Shterenberg, who lives in Jacksonville, is originally from Manchester, New Hampshire. She grew up in a family of creatives.

“My sister, brother and I all played musical instruments growing up as part of our education,” she said. “We all started in public school orchestra programs, and I went on to pursue a career in music.”

An early experience was a spark that ignited her interest and passion for music. When she was 9 years old, her dad took her to see Midori perform, a violin prodigy who debuted at age 11 with the New York Philharmonic.

“I will never forget that she played the ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ and I was amazed at the speed she moved her fingers and the sound she got from the violin,” she said. “I was hooked!”

In high school, Shtenerberg played violin and sang in the choir. In college she studied violin performance and post-college became an orchestral violinist. She has a BA from the University of Minnesota and a Master of Music degree from Louisiana State University.

Her first job, after completing one year of her doctorate studies, was as principal second violin with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra in South Carolina. After two years there, she moved to Texas to join the San Antonio Symphony.

She had a stint as librarian for the San Antonio Opera and, before moving to Jacksonville, spent the last seven years as executive director of the Olmos Ensemble, a chamber music group based in San Antonio that performs a three-week summer festival and numerous concerts throughout the season.

She believes her experience both on stage and off has prepared her well for the new position at the Britt, but expects there will be challenging as well as gratifying aspects, as with any job.

“Sometimes it can be tricky to get everything lined up for performances,” she said. “Especially in the current climate of the pandemic, arts administrators must be prepared to be very flexible. That can mean program changes, changes in guest artists, or even moving dates of events.”

In her previous administrative jobs, she has worked with musicians to reschedule performances, add events to seasons, and make last-minute changes to programs or personnel.

“It’s all tricky, but hearing the beautiful music, letting it sweep you away, is worth every effort.”

In her job as orchestra GM, Shterenberg works directly with musicians, host families, soloists, and Music Director Teddy Abrams.

BFO musicians work under a negotiated contract, an agreement that spells out terms and rates.

“When I started at Britt, the budget for the 2022 season had already been set, so now it’s my job to stay within that budget,” she said.

In addition to the nitty gritty daily responsibilities of the job, Shterenberg enjoys helping organize a picnic for host families and musicians as well as a farewell party on the last night of the season.

While she has the utmost respect and admiration for BFO musicians, some of the most talented from across the country, she is particularly impressed by those singular individuals who wield the baton.

“The musicians are brilliant individuals and conductors are the most brilliant people I have ever met,” she said. “And 99.9% of the time the conductor is the smartest person on the stage, next to the concertmaster.

“Each conductor has a very well thought out plan — their concepts of the music, the stage, the entire event from start to finish. It’s always inspiring to be in a conversation with a conductor, whether discussing the stage setup of the first and second violins, or the deeper meaning of a phrase.”

When asked about her interests and passions outside her work, Shterenberg said they were pretty much one and the same.

“Music is my work, and my life,” she said. “I enjoy listening to music and playing my violin.”

But she also is very interested in cooking, coffee, and staying fit.

“I practice yoga every day,” she said. “I also enjoy going for an occasional run, or riding my bicycle. Going on a 40-mile ride is a great way to spend a beautiful morning, if I have the time.”

And one can tell from the enthusiasm she has for her new job at BFO, “enjoying the ride” will be an integral part of the experience.

Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.