Humans of the MET: Chelsea Knox

by Katherine Anderson, violist

At the end of her first season, Principal Flute Chelsea Knox sat down with violist Katherine Anderson to answer questions about her prior opera experience, the difference between playing in symphony and opera orchestras, and more.

Katherine Anderson: Where were you living/working before you joined the MET Orchestra?

Chelsea Knox: Before joining the MET Orchestra, I was Assistant Principal Flute in the Baltimore Symphony. I spent two years there, but during that time my husband, cellist Eric Stephenson, still lived in Brooklyn, so I was back and forth to New York every few weeks.

KA: Had you played any operas before coming to the Met?

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CK: Before coming here I had only played a few operas while I was in school at Juilliard. I loved watching opera, though - as a student I would go to the Met regularly and when I moved farther away I would go to see the Met HD broadcasts.

KA: What have you found to be the biggest difference between playing in a symphony orchestra and an opera orchestra?

CK: The biggest difference to me is reacting to the singers. There’s this group dynamic in the MET Orchestra…everyone is always on their toes, ready for what might happen behind them on the stage. In symphonic repertoire, the orchestra relies primarily on a conductor's musical interpretation, but in the opera there’s a much stronger feeling of collaboration between everyone involved. In opera, the same conductor with different singers can feel totally different, so everyone is constantly adapting.

KA: Besides studying at Juilliard, had you ever lived in NYC before this year? 

CK: I moved to New York when I was 17, when I studied for my undergrad and then masters degrees. After graduation, I worked full time at a picture framing shop in Chelsea until I was lucky enough to win positions with the Princeton and New Haven Symphonies. For the next few years I kept my home base in NYC, but I traveled around for work as it came up. Now, over a decade later (with my two year detour to Baltimore), New York is starting to really feel like home.

KA: What do you enjoy the most about this city?

CK: I love being able to walk everywhere. The first thing I did when I moved back was get rid of my car. I feel like the best way to feel connected to the rhythm of the city is to be out in it. I have a bike and it’s the fastest way for me to get around, but if I have the time I would rather walk. There are so many details in this city and if you move too fast, sometimes you miss them.

KA: Do you have any favorite places to walk?

CK: I love the parks, but who doesn’t?! I used to live right next to Prospect Park, so that’s one of my favorite places, especially on summer nights when everyone is out barbecuing. Now that I live in Hell’s Kitchen, I like wandering the cross streets. It’s a weird neighborhood because it’s still so industrial over by the river, but then there’s Times Square just a few avenues away. I’m always discovering unexpected things - the other day I found a stamp collecting hobby store and then recently I tried out a class at a little hole-in-the-wall pottery studio. I’m still searching for the best taco!

KA: I’m sure after people read this they’ll weigh in on their favorites! Did you have a favorite opera this season?

CK: I loved Cendrillon! Before we started rehearsals, I went to the Met gift shop and bought the DVD of the Royal Opera House production. I thought it was so delightful. I learned the dance moves and tried to practice some of the French tongue twister lines. The whole production was so magical and fun - the cast was fantastic, the costumes were amazing, and the score had a really enjoyable flute part!

KA: I also loved that production and I especially loved hearing you play those solos! What are your summer plans?

CK: This summer I will first be traveling with my husband to a music festival he’s playing at in Walla Walla, Washington. He plays in a group called Project Trio, which has flute, bass, and cello, and they play classical/jazz/crossover music they mostly compose themselves. After that, I’ll be heading to Switzerland to coach at Verbier with some of my MET Orchestra colleagues. Then it will be time to start preparing next season’s operas!

KA: That sounds like a wonderful summer! Thanks for speaking with me, Chelsea, and welcome to the MET Orchestra!