I hope to inspire the musicians or put out this road map of how we achieve the vision of how this piece should sound like. Because I'm also always waiting for the musicians to inspire me by their playing, their phrasing, their tone. I think it should be a two-way street. Everybody contributes to making this orchestra and this performance a success, not just the conductor controlling everything. That changes the model of how orchestra conductors and orchestral musicians work.
I like that. And definitely you see more diversity on the podium, you see more diversity in orchestras. Maybe not as much in audiences though these days. In particular, it seems like orchestras continue to struggle to really connect with a broad demographic of people, both in terms of age and also socioeconomic level. Why do you think that is? What can be done about that do you think? I think definitely the culture is changing around us, and so the culture of a symphony orchestra also has to change.
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I think it used to be orchestras are kind of just on this shrine in the concert hall. And this idea that people should come to us because it's a very special event. Back in the day they wear a tuxedo or something. There's a kind of formality that's associated with the symphony; and a lot of the younger generation, young adults, they maybe are not attracted to that formality. I think times have changed, and symphonies shouldn't sit in their concert hall waiting for people to come to them. It's the other way around, really.
That they need to go out and reach people. Orchestras are starting to do this around the country. So things like, you play in different venues than just the concert hall. Or you have smaller events in coffee shops and bars. Those are all ways to reach out to the audience. I think it's first understanding what your audience likes and who they are and creating events that tailor to what they're attracted to doing.
It's not that we are changing how we play music, the music itself is still the same, and it's still great; we're just changing how we present it. So, I think definitely getting to know your audience is important to help reach those people who are not already your core supporters. Also, I think a lot of people, even people who've never been to a symphony concert, they have exposure to symphonic music, they just don't know it.
A lot of the video games have fabulous music. The movies too. I think they have that symphonic sound in their ears.
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They've heard it, they appreciate it, even liked it maybe, they just didn't know how to appreciate it. So, a lot of times you break away all the formality or what they perceive what that concert is like, then maybe when they get to the music itself, they would really like it. Ultimately, to reach a more diverse audience you have to have diverse offerings of different type of events and music. You can't please everybody with one type of concert, so you create many different types and people will find what they like. Talk to me about your programming philosophy.
What inspired the program for this concert, and then how would you see yourself approaching a whole season with the orchestra? I always look for ways to mix things up, the new and the old, and create a season or concert that has diversity. So, for example, with this concert I set out to do all American music. Of course Bernstein, Gershwin we know really well. These giants who we admire for their amazing, beautiful music.
But then who else is out there that we've never heard of, who would add a different element?
I have played her chamber music in the past, and she wrote beautiful songs as well. It was premiered by the Boston Symphony in , and she was the first female composer that gained public attention. She was a child prodigy, a pianist, and she wrote this beautiful, luscious music. You could hear those Wagnerian chords, and really bold and luscious harmonies. It's a beautiful piece, and I don't know why it's not in the mainstream of famous symphonies. And yet this was such a formative part of American music.
It's part of a generation of Americans writing in this Romantic language that kind of was dominating Europe at the time. When you mix new things with familiar things, you can hear the familiar things with fresh ears.
So, that's always been a part of my philosophy. I don't like concerts where the music is all from the same era, or all from the same family of musical language. In terms of a whole season, I have always thought about how much diversity I could put in a season. Diversity from different periods. From Baroque, Classical, Romantic to Contemporary; women and men composers; composers of different backgrounds and ethnicity.
How can I create a season that is interesting? I often think of music the way you think of food. You can love Italian food, but you may not want pasta every day for the rest of your life. So you have Italian food one night, and you have Chinese food the other night, you have French food or Mexican food. So, for a whole season of concerts, what flavors can you offer that is fresh to the audience while also making sure you give them a taste of their favorite things. People who love living composers and love talking to them, they find something in the season.
People who are Romantic music fans or Baroque music fans, they have something in the season for them. That is always what I'm thinking of when I program. How do I mix all these different things up and create a wonderful dish that everybody will like. Let's talk a little bit about your role off of the podium in the community and with your organization. How do you view that in a small community like this?
What a conductor does off the podium is, in some ways, much more important than what the conductor does on the podium. The rehearsals and the concerts are only really 20 percent of the job. The other 80 percent is going out in the community to develop relationships — personal, organizational — and to really listen to the people about what they like, what they want, what they need.
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When we were going to start an outreach program at my chamber orchestra here in Seattle, I went to a lot of schools and talked to the music teacher. I asked them questions about what kind of programs are already offered and what can we do that they don't have and wish you had. That kind of information and relationship is so important. As a conductor, I gain programming ideas by talking to people, and what kind of concerts they fancy.
Every community is different, and the most important job for the conductor is really to go out there and talk to people to understand the community and how the symphony can be a part of it. As far as working with musicians in an orchestra like the MSO, how do you go about working with and getting the best out of musicians who aren't generally doing this as their primary form of living?
I have worked with orchestras of all different levels, from college orchestras to professional orchestras. In Seattle there are plus community orchestras. I'm always so amazed at how people outside of their full-time job find the energy and the interest to really practice hard and sound good. A lot of my chamber orchestra, Philharmonia Northwest, is made up of community members — lawyers and engineers and such.
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