Kayoko Dan / Photo by Brad Cansler

As it prepares for a new season inside Memorial Auditorium instead of its typical home in the Tivoli Theatre, the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera is better prepared for whatever challenges it faces in part because of having to adapt during the pandemic, Music Director Kayoko Dan said.

Just weeks after reaching a new three-year collective bargaining agreement with the Tri-State Musician's Union Local 80, the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera board of directors must now begin a national search for a new executive director.

Samantha Teter announced Wednesday that she will step down at the end of this year.

Teter is part of the reason Dan, who recently signed on to lead the symphony for another three years, feels the CSO is in a good place.

"We were very lucky we had Samantha Teter leading us and the board decided to support us and our smaller chamber concerts," Dan said.

Taking its show on the road during the pandemic proved to be more beneficial than just keeping people working. Unable to perform in the Tivoli for all of 2020 after Mayor Andy Berke closed city-owned properties, the CSO performed 16 smaller chamber shows at venues throughout the city that put them in front of new audiences.

The shows had another, unexpected benefit, Dan said.

"That made us better players and musicians, because we had to listen and adapt to every new space," she said.

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Photo courtesy of Chattanooga Symphony & Opera / Samantha Teter is stepping down as executive director of the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera at the end of this year.

That experience will help, she believes, when the CSO plays in the larger Memorial Auditorium, where musicians will perform for the 2021-22 season while the Tivoli Theatre and Tivoli Center undergo renovation. For symphony shows at the Tivoli, a large shell behind and above the symphony projects the sound out and over the orchestra. The auditorium has no such shell, making it harder to hear, Dan said.

"We don't have the shell or the brow in Memorial, and it is very difficult for us on stage to hear each other, but we are very grateful to have a venue to perform in. Having done the chamber shows will help us," she said.

"Lights! Camera! Pops!" featuring scores from some of cinema's most popular movies including "Star Trek" and "Mission Impossible" will be presented in the auditorium Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with Maestro Bob Bernhardt conducting. In addition to her duties here, Dan has taken on a teaching position at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.

Teter joined the CSO as director of marketing in 2012 and has been executive director since 2016. During her tenure, the symphony saw ticket sales increase, as well as the return of opera performances. Her work included the implementation of new programs, strengthened partnerships and collaborations in the community, streamlined policies and procedures and boosted funding opportunities. She also helped steer the organization through the pandemic and a return to live performance.

"I am incredibly proud of the work I've been able to accomplish at the CSO," Teter said in a news release. "The board, staff and musicians have been nothing but supportive throughout the years, and I thank them all for being amazing colleagues."

CSO President Don McDowell said in the same release, "We have been so fortunate having a professional like Samantha at the CSO these past nine years. Her leadership, attention to detail and vast knowledge have simply been invaluable. Samantha's direction and steadfast vision have been especially noteworthy during the pandemic. While we respect her decision, we know she will be greatly missed. We wish Samantha only the best for the future."

Teter's plans include a return to the marketing field.

"While I have enjoyed my role as executive director, my passion continues to be promoting and building audiences for the performing arts. I believe I can better serve the arts in a marketing role, whether in a staff position or through consulting," she said.

The CSO board has hired Catherine French Group to lead a nationwide search for Teter's successor.

Earlier this year, the CSO reached a new three-year collective bargaining agreement with Local 80, beginning with the current season and ending in the 2023-24 season. It follows a one-year agreement that allowed for hiring and pay concessions on the part of the musicians in order to keep all contract musicians employed during the pandemic. CSO and union officials began discussions earlier this summer and made several changes to work protocols, hiring practices, the audition process and musician pay, including a small pay increase for musicians in each of the three years of the agreement.

Also included are updated health and safety protocols for musicians that continue to address the challenges of live performances during the pandemic.

"The negotiating committee would like to thank the CSO board and management for their continued collaboration in addressing the needs of working professional musicians," Orchestra Committee Chair Joey Demko said. "This past year has been difficult for us all, but this agreement ensures that Chattanooga will continue to have the world-class orchestra it deserves."

"The Chattanooga Symphony & Opera Board of Directors is particularly pleased that a new, three-year agreement has recently been ratified by its musicians," McDowell said. "The CSO's relationship with its employees remains strong due to our shared interest in addressing musicians' needs while staying competitive in an increasingly challenging environment."

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