Bringing the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra to Bell Performing Arts Centre in Surrey is no easy task, but musicians and behind-the-scenes crew alike have done it enough times to make a routine of it.
"It's down to a science," said Dave Humphrey, operations manager of the VSO, before an Oct. 15 concert at the centre. "It's like clockwork."
The VSO frequently plays the Surrey theatre during its Surrey Nights concert series, performing a string of shows at the 1,052-seat auditorium. The venue features a sophisticated acoustic shell that carries the music from the front row to the back wall.
"This type of show, we call it a run-out," he said. "You run it out of the main hall at the Orpheum (the VSO's home theatre in Vancouver) to some of the other venues in the Lower Mainland.
"Usually, the show that we bring to the Bell (on a Monday night) is the repeat of a Saturday night concert at the Orpheum."
VSO performances can have upward of 90 musicians onstage, depending on the size of the venue and what the performance calls for. The Oct. 15 concert had 70 musicians; half made up the strings section while the other half were divided between horns, brass and percussion.
"Moving a symphony orchestra, there are some special considerations with the instruments that are more fragile," Humphrey added as crew members carefully wheeled out case after case of drums, stringed instruments and even an exquisite harp.
The day typically starts at 1 p.m., with Humphrey and others getting all the instruments and equipment together at the Orpheum. The concert on Oct. 15 was a little different, however.
"It's 8 a.m. to 1 a.m.," said Humphrey of his schedule that day. "We started at eight o'clock in the morning, set everything up at the Orpheum, had a rehearsal until 12: 30, tore everything down and took a quick lunch break."
At 2 p.m., the crew loaded up two five-tonne trucks from the same trucking company they've hired for 30-plus years, then drove to the Bell for load-in. By 4: 30 p.m., the trucks were empty and the stage quickly filled with music stands, chairs and big instruments like the harp and timpani drums.
"We just bring the large instruments like the basses and the cellos and the percussion, and usually at the venue they have a piano," Humphrey said.
"It's two hours to set up and then we go for dinner. We come back at 7 p.m. and do a pre-concert check. At 7: 30 p.m., we open the doors to the public."
Most of the musicians bring their own instruments and show up 30 minutes to an hour before the 8 p.m. showtime.
Nadia Kyne, the VSO's assistant principal flute and piccolo, said playing the Bell is like coming home. Kyne grew up in South Surrey before she did her undergrad at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music and, later, her master's at Juilliard.
"It's definitely a bit more of an intimate concert experience - we're not playing in this huge theatre," said Kyne, who also attended the Vancouver Academy of Music and now teaches there.
"The Bell is just such a great venue to actually connect with the audience more. We always just have such appreciative audiences in Surrey. It's always sold out, or close to sold out."
The show typically runs until 10: 30 p.m., with an intermission. After the audience leaves, it's time to take everything down - which is faster than setting it all up.
"If everything's cooking along, we can get out of here in half an hour, 45 minutes," said Humphrey confidently. "We're back downtown by midnight and then we put everything away at the Orpheum."
All in a 17-hour day's work.
Looking ahead, the VSO's next performance at the Bell is a "Music of the Masters" concert Monday, Dec. 3, featuring violinist Elina Vahala. Also that month, on Thursday, Dec. 20, the orchestra returns to the theatre for two of its annual "A Traditional Christmas" concerts, at 4 and 7: 30 p.m., featuring host Christopher Gaze, conductor Gordon Gerrard, UBC Opera Ensemble and EnChor. For event info and tickets, call 604-876-3434 or visit vancouversymphony.ca.
Into 2013, the VSO's Surrey Nights series continues with concerts Feb. 25 and April 15.