NEW YORK CITY — Visits to Carnegie Hall have a certain familiar rhythm to members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra — it has made 140 appearances here — but they are never routine, as seen in a weekend of activities, from Nov. 14 to 16.

The opening program Nov. 15, which sold out and was broadcast live on the radio and streamed online, was dedicated to music by Respighi, Berlioz and Bizet, while the second (near-capacity) concert Nov. 16 featured works by Prokofiev. The weekend residency also included master classes and a community performance at a hospital.

But before Music Director Riccardo Muti could give the downbeat, the inevitable logistical challenges of bringing 155 musicians, staff, guests and their belongings to New York City had to be met.

A year ago, the CSO’s travel agency knew that LaGuardia International Airport would be undergoing a massive renovation, with traffic chaos, and therefore seats were booked on two flights to Newark Liberty Airport instead. Buses ferried the orchestra and crew from New Jersey to Manhattan on Nov. 14 Additionally, the orchestra’s customary hotel was booked this weekend, so another property, on West 54th Street, was secured.

Then there was the cargo. When two semi-trucks (one climate-controlled) left Symphony Center on Nov. 13, hauling 120 trunks worth of instruments, concert garments, sheet music, scores and a podium, their route would head straight through the notorious snow belt of Ohio and western Pennsylvania. Winter weather was snarling roads earlier in the week.

But the 18-wheelers, from Clark Transfer, safely rolled into Manhattan before the 6 a.m. load-in on Nov. 15, parking on Seventh Avenue. For all of its glamour and acoustic brilliance, Carnegie Hall lacks a loading dock, requiring four CSO stagehands to steer the trunks past hot dog vendors and subway grates to the West 56th Street stage door.

“Everything has to be loaded in and let it out right there on the street,” said Heidi Lukas, the CSO’s director of operations. “It’s really complicated here.” Still, she said, “there’s a family feeling of coming back to somewhere that we’ve been so many times. I find that to be a pleasure.”

The dress rehearsal Nov. 15 seemed to suggest a new meaning to the term “urban jungle.” Rehearsing Berlioz’s The Death of Cleopatra, Muti stopped to demonstrate the slicing accents. “It’s got to be like a snake bite” he exhorted, referring to the venomous reptile that sinks its teeth into the Egyptian queen depicted in the work. It was sung here by mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who was embarking on a “Perspectives” series at Carnegie Hall.

Later, in Respighi’s Pines of Rome, Muti made a chirping gesture with his left hand to indicate that the recorded bird sounds specified in the score needed to be a shade louder. Adjustments were made.

The Respighi is a complex piece to travel with in many respects, since it also features an organ, an off-stage trumpet and a final, grand gesture: 12 off-stage brass players, stationed across the first-tier balcony, to unleash a series of massive fanfares, joining the onstage brass and enveloping the hall.

After rehearsal Nov. 15, five CSO musicians were deployed to Bellevue Hospital, where they performed for patients. Meanwhile, Acting Principal Viola Li-Kuo Chang and Assistant Principal Cello Kenneth Olsen led master classes for alumni of the National Youth Orchestra-USA in Carnegie Hall’s Resnick Education Wing.

Chang offered nuggets of auditioning wisdom to Brian Isaacs, a viola student at Yale University. “Nowadays, orchestras are very afraid of aggressive players,” he said. “Theyre afraid you’re not fitting in with ensemble. Remember, this is a job interview, not a talent show.”

After Isaacs played a passage from Bartok’s Viola Concerto, Chang recalled how Sir Georg Solti, the CSO’s music director from 1969 to 1991, would speak and sing with a throaty Hungarian accent. And when another young violist, Juilliard student Sean Juhl, played a Puccini excerpt, Chang demonstrated how he plays Italianate melodies for Muti. “Dare to exaggerate,” he said. “This is opera.”

“I know they all have excellent teachers,” Chang said in an interview after the class. “But a teacher’s responsibility is bring them up like a soloist. My contributions come from many years of working with these great conductors — Solti, Barenboim, Haitink, Boulez. All that I learned from them, I have to pass on.”

The next evening, Chang put his methods into practice, delivering the lyrical viola solo in Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

Before returning to Chicago, the CSO musicians had some brief down time. Associate Principal Horn Daniel Gingrich visited a falafel joint and fueled up on dumpling soup at Kung Fu Chicken in Hell’s Kitchen.

“We always play to enthusiastic audiences at Carnegie Hall,” Gingrich said. “The sound is rich and warm, which is always something to look forward to.”

A New York-based writer, Brian Wise also is the producer for the CSO Radio broadcasts.

TOP: The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under Riccardo Muti, performs Nov. 15 at Carnegie Hall. | ©Todd Rosenberg Photography 2019