Backstage at the CSO: Heidi Lukas, director of operations

Heidi Lukas prepares to board for the next stop on a CSO tour.

© Todd Rosenberg Photography

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association presents about 400 concerts and events in a typical season. In addition, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra regularly performs on national and international tours. Behind the scenes, Director of Operations Heidi Lukas manages the countless details that make each stage production possible — a job she feels “honored and proud” to do.

How long have you been working at the CSOA?

Twenty-five years on May 15, 2020. 

Could you describe your job duties as director of operations?

Here in Chicago, I oversee stage production, including all technical elements (e.g., stage equipment, sound, lighting, projection, etc.) and the Symphony Center stage crew. I also supervise our front of house manager and rentals events/Symphony Center Presents team. In addition, I plan and manage the execution of Chicago Symphony Orchestra tours and off-site concerts, which includes contracting with presenters, coordinating concert production details, working with the musicians’ committee and managing all logistics of passenger and cargo travel.

How did you choose a career in orchestra operations? What led you to the CSO?

I have always loved music and earned my degree in piano performance. After graduation, I became interested in the field of arts administration and began my career at Lyric Opera of Chicago in the development department, planning and implementing special events. I really enjoyed the logistical side of things and was anxious to become closer to the creation and production of concerts. I was fortunate to begin my work at the CSO in the mid-’90s and to grow up professionally in the operations department.

What do you enjoy about working with CSO musicians?

I have enjoyed getting to know many of the musicians personally and to understand what they put into their work every day (both at Symphony Center and away). It is amazing to hear them in solo and chamber settings, as well as with the orchestra on stage. They are a remarkable group of individuals who come together to make an extraordinary orchestra!

What’s one of the most rewarding parts of your job?

With the myriad details of being on tour, it can be a stressful time for me and sometimes difficult to enjoy the travel. I do, however, find it extremely rewarding when I am able to sit in the audience and hear the orchestra while we are on tour. Of course, I love hearing the incredible concerts and being among the very appreciative audiences, but I also feel honored and proud to have been a part of putting together the behind the scenes arrangements necessary to get to that point.

Earlier this season, the CSO performed in New York City, Europe and Florida. Is there one location, concert or memory that stands out to you from these three tours?

Our tour to Europe began in Cologne, Germany. This was the first foreign city I visited with the orchestra when I began working on the tours. The orchestra hadn’t been there in 20 years, and it was quite special to return; a few of the same people I remember were still working at the venue! The group of colleagues and friends I’ve met around the world while doing this job are very important to me. Even though we may not see each other for years, it’s always reassuring to know this network of people who understand the complexity of touring are there supporting one another.

Do you have other favorite tour locations and/or tour performances from your tenure with the CSO?

It’s hard to believe, but I’ve now been on over 45 tours, so I’ve been fortunate that I’ve traveled to many diverse places with the orchestra. It’s difficult to choose, but I would say that my favorite cities to visit over the years have been Tokyo and Lucerne. There have been so many great tour performances, but just to share one, I do have an enduring memory from the end of my first foreign tour. The CSO played a single concert in Leipzig, Germany. It was Mahler 5, and I will never forget hearing the orchestra there with Bud Herseth’s solo trumpet opening the piece — truly a concert that will always be with me!

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

My husband Charlie and I both enjoy cooking, so we try to do that together whenever time allows. We have also been working on some piano duets, which is a lot of fun! I also enjoy running, weight-lifting and water sports, including swimming and paddle boarding.