When people talk about Chattanooga Symphony & Opera Maestro Bob Bernhardt's last day as Music Director, they almost always say: "He's not leaving, you know, he's staying here."
It's true. Bernhardt is sticking to Chattanooga like honey on a bun. He will conduct the CSO - including "Dark Side of the Moon" at Riverbend this summer, lend his skills to the Lee University orchestra in Cleveland this month and guide the CSO, as always, at the CSO Guild's fundraising gala in May.
So why the special concerts "Bob's Favorite Things" on April 2 and Mahler's Symphony No. 2 on April 7 and 8? Why does CSO Board President Susan Rich jokingly refer to his farewell soiree at the Tivoli Center as the "how can we miss you when you won't go away" party?
Because, on June 1, Bernhardt goes 4G. After nearly two decades of conducting, coaching and public speaking, the CSO's second-ever Music Director becomes its first-ever Music Director Emeritus.
"I've had an absolutely spectacular run - I've had the time of my life," says Bernhardt. "I love the orchestra. I love the staff. I love the town. But there comes a time when every organization can use a kick in the pants."
As for Bernhardt's future duties? "None of us knows," says Executive Director Molly Sasse. "But Bob's flexible."
So it's a great time for classical music fans to pull their hankies from their pockets, wave Bernhardt goodbye - and hello - and enjoy a triumphal romp through some of the world's best music with a first-class symphony orchestra, top-flight guest stars and Bernhardt's best friends.
In "Bob's Favorite Things," Bernhardt, a famous generalist, revels in the eclectic: "Overture" to "West Side Story," the "Flower Duet" from the opera, "Lakme," Ralph Vaughn Williams' "Serenade to Music," "Carmens" "Toreador March." Performers include mezzo-soprano Camille Zamora, Bernhardt's daughter, the actor Charlotte Bernhardt, and Fletcher Bright and the Dismembered Tennesseans.
In the Mahler's Symphony No. 2 concert, he shifts from lighthearted to inspirational. "If there is one piece of classical music that can change your life, it's this piece," says Bernhardt.
A majestic vision of resurrection after death, "it's about energy, uplift, a journey - in so many ways, it expresses how I feel about my nearly 20 years here."
Meanwhile, the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera celebrates its own renewal. The organization recently balanced its budget, recovering from a deficit of $400,000 four years ago.
"To say we're elated is an understatement," says Rich. "We feel very good about being able to continue to serve our community with a still-great product."
New offices at 701 Broad Street offer high ceilings, fresh paint, a large lobby and easy access to the public - a striking contrast to CSO's former suite. "Our old offices were under the ramp of a parking garage," says Katie Wilson, director of marketing and development. "At a certain time of day, you thought the world was coming to an end." The music library - formerly housed at Memorial Auditorium - has also returned to the building.
Most significantly, the CSO will announce its new Music Director this spring. "We have high hopes for the new conductor," says Rich. For the first time ever, Chattanooga's orchestra leader may be Asian, African-American or a woman.
The new leader is expected to change the music heard, the orchestra's character and to touch every facet of the musical life of the town.
No matter how charming or brilliant the incumbent, the Bernhardt standard will be tough to meet.
"It is all about being a talented conductor with a warm, open, engaging personality," says Rich. Simple enough. Still, some are glad to know that Bernhardt's got the newcomer's back. "I'm looking forward to the best of the best," says Gloria Stewart, president of the CSO Guild. "We'll have someone new who will enhance the artistic elements of the music - and, of course, Bob's still here."