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Public Can Chime In On Choice Of New Hartford Symphony Orchestra Director


November 08, 2009

The Hartford Symphony is looking for a new music director. Interested?

It may be too late for you to apply, but it is not too late for you to participate in this critically important process by hearing each of the seven finalists conduct the Hartford Symphony.

When music director Edward Cumming announced last January that he will step aside in May 2011, a process was set in motion that identified seven conductors, each of whom will conduct the Hartford Symphony in a complete program. Four of the finalists will conduct this season, and three will be heard in the 2010-2011 season.

It is time to start envisioning this new music director. Would you imagine this person to have a dramatic stage presence, or a quiet and focused one? Is charisma and interaction with the audience a priority? What about depth of musical experience? How adventurous would you want the programming to be?

While many constituencies will play a role in choosing this new director, the public voice is an important one in helping to guide decision-makers. This search is an opportunity to develop a new relationship with the orchestra.

Kristen Phillips, executive director of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, is promoting a blog created for this search (hsomusicdirectorsearch.wordpress.com). The site (which is also accessible from the "music director" search button on the HSO's home page), contains biographical information on each candidate and responses to a uniform series of questions useful to compare candidates. Interviews with each of the candidates for this season are also included.

The blog includes an audience feedback feature. This is an opportunity to debate and consider each candidate; these conversations could be of great value in arriving at a public consensus. Phillips is willing to be contacted directly by audience members at kphillips@ hartfordsymphony.org.

The first of the conducting finalists is Constantine Kitsopoulos, music director of the Queens Symphony Orchestra and general director of the Chatham Opera in New Jersey. Kitsopoulos conducts the HSO and Hartford Chorale in the "German Requiem" by Brahms Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Nov. 15 at 3 p.m. at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts.

"Audiences are actually pretty smart," said Kitsopoulos. "If you give an audience something substantial, they will respond."

It is hard to beat the Brahms Requiem for substantial. Kitsopoulos described this work as "for the everyday person. ... What Brahms has done is to take the 'fear' element in most requiem settings and not use it … instead [it is] a piece that can comfort those who are living and that is a very important difference."

Kitsopoulos views the work as "a human piece … it invites people in, and makes them feel good about the message that it puts across."

Kitsopoulos described his conducting style as being as true as possible to the composer's intention. "The most important strategy for rehearsal is to listen," he said. "I do as little talking as I can, and I try instead to show with my movements what I think the music requires. If that doesn't work, then we need to stop and work on a section."

The most important thing, he said, is "to respond to what one hears."

Kitsopoulos articulated an interest in adventurous programming, "works that the orchestra may not be entirely familiar with and we can learn together and bring something new to an audience as well." As an example, he suggested Miklós Rózsa's "Theme, Variations and Finale," a work that Leonard Bernstein conducted during his debut with the New York Philharmonic on Nov. 14, 1943.

He is also a fan of American composers. "Not just Bernstein, Copland, Rorem, which I love, but also the American Songbook, and bringing out into the open American composers that people might not know." His example is Michael Starobin, a who has worked with Sondheim "but is a wonderful composer in his own right."

The educational role of a symphony interests Kitsopoulos: "I would like to get into the schools, but also into community organizations and libraries and talk about the music and relate it to other disciplines and other aspects of life."

Kitsopoulos described "a very human connection between the music that [young people] are listening to, and what was, or is, happening at the time it was written." Exposure to the arts makes a radical difference. Kitsopoulos summed it in five words: "Kids soak this stuff up."

The second conducting finalist is Andrew Grams, assistant conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra. Grams conducts the Hartford Symphony in a program centered on Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony and the Sibelius violin concerto, with HSO concertmaster Leonid Sigal as soloist, on Dec. 3, 4 and 5 at 8 p.m., and Dec. 6 at 3 p.m. at the Bushnell.

"I always try to keep in mind what I learned from playing in orchestras and use what is really necessary gesture-wise for the orchestra," Grams said. "More than anything else, to inspire them to play and then let them do it."

Grams, trained and experienced as a sectional violinist, is practical. "I wouldn't say that I'm extravagant in my gestures," he said. He laughed while relating the story of a comment during a recent post-concert discussion, at which an elderly audience member told him: "My comment to you is that your gestures are based in music and you don't jump around like you were trying to put on a ballet for everybody."

Grams becomes passionate articulating details about the music. He described the Sibelius violin concerto as "a piece that has a lot of challenges … not only gesturally, but it is notated in a way that the music does not line up very well with what you need to do physically to make the gestures happen."

Regarding the Tchaikovsky symphony No. 5, he considered ways to coax the orchestra into "the wide dynamic range, the wide range of expression, from the inner-most utterance to the outwardly all-embracing exuberant exclamation, and everything in between. The quiet music needs to be soft but focused, the loud extremes very full very round and not forced but a complete release of sound."

Grams says his tastes in programming "tend to go toward music that is very descriptive in nature, tone poems, works by Debussy, pieces where the music is describing something non-musical. … Descriptive music seems to capture my fancy these days."

He mentioned his experience as second conductor with Alan Gilbert in Boston doing the Ives Symphony No. 4. He is a fan of John Adams, and recently began programming works by Steve Reich, like "Music for Eighteen."

Study the interviews and questions on the HSO website. But remember that conductors come to life in front of an orchestra. Hear them live and register thoughts and opinions.

•Upcoming HSO concerts showcasing candidates are: Andrew Grams conducting Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, Dec. 3 to 6; Tito Muńoz conducting Chopin works, Jan. 7 to 10; Tania Miller conducting Beethoven violin concert and Dvorák's New World Symphony March 18-21. Carolyn Kuan, Marcelo Lehninger and Kevin Rhodes conduct in the 2010-11 season. The Courant will run stories on candidates closer to their performance dates.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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