The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra continues their tradition of excellence under new music director Louis Langrée. Mr. Langrée will take up the baton at historic Music Hall for six of 20 thrilling subscription concert weekends for the 118 year-old Orchestra. The season lineup honors the CSO’s rich traditions of presenting classic orchestral repertoire and exploring new musical territory. Groundbreaking collaborations and a diverse array of repertoire set the stage for a vibrant new beginning for the CSO and Mr. Langrée, drawn together by a passion and vision to transform the live concert experience and create inspiring performances. The 2013-14 season is packed with over 67 works of music through the Masterworks, Ascent and Boundless series, and includes two world premiere commissions and visits from four acclaimed composers.
The weekend of November 8 marks your first concert as Music Director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Please share some of your thoughts as we approach the beginning of your season.
First, it’s very exciting to be officially beginning as Music Director. I’ve conducted the Orchestra several times, and I’ve been working on season planning and administrative duties for quite some time, but now that my official inaugural concerts are almost here, I feel as if it’s finally time to really begin our journey. The CSO is such an incredible ensemble, with the ability to create rich warmth as well as sharp, precise attacks in their sound. And this Orchestra is doing cutting-edge, interesting things; LumenoCity [a live performance paired with digital projection mapping that attracted over 35,000 people in Cincinnati in August] was one example of this and we have much more in the pipeline. The history this Orchestra has of mastering the classics while premiering and commissioning new works sets the stage for extraordinary things to come.
Please tell us how you first became involved with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
I first conducted the CSO in March 2011. We performed Brahms’ First Symphony, and everything seemed to come very naturally. It was really an organic and free collaboration. I enjoyed making music with these players; we seemed to speak the same musical language. In August of that year, they asked me to come back to conduct a special summer concert where we did the Mozart Symphony No. 41 and Beethoven’s Seventh. Again, I was struck by the substance and newness this ensemble gave to these masterworks. A few months later, they asked me to be Music Director, and I of course said yes.
Your first concert of the season includes Aaron Copland’s iconic Lincoln Portrait (given its world premiere by CSO in 1942), featuring narration of text (written by President Lincoln) by Dr. Maya Angelou. This is especially poignant as November 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, from which much of the text is derived. Please tell us how this special program came together and how it honors CSO’s traditions.
We definitely wanted this first program to reflect this Orchestra’s rich history of commissioning and premiering new music; the CSO has especially enjoyed a strong relationship with Copland’s music. Lincoln Portrait has been performed here a number of times with narrators including Neil Armstrong. When we were thinking of narrators for this performance, we wanted someone who could bring a certain level of wisdom and poignancy, and Dr. Angelou’s name came up. The Gettysburg Address anniversary is also especially appropriate, as Cincinnati has a strong Civil War history. We’re also working with Westwater Arts to incorporate three-panel photochoreography with this piece, which is a nod to the CSO’s spirit of experimentation when it comes to mixing artist mediums.
The inaugural weekend also features Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, an extremely popular work which was featured in the CSO’s very first season in 1895. Has this piece been performed many other times in CSO’s history? What determined that it will be performed again this season?
Yes, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony has been performed well over 100 times in the CSO’s history (which includes non-subscription concerts such as Young People’s Concerts). I wanted to include a work that was performed on the first season, and I also wanted Beethoven on these inaugural concerts because this Orchestra performs it so well. The Fifth was a good fit and a complemented the other works on the program very well with its intensity and frenetic jubilation.
Your opening concert will also feature Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon’s On a Wire, performed with ensemble in residence, eighth blackbird. The piece is often referred to as “theatrical” – can you please explain why?
The members of eighth blackbird will be very busy on stage! With several of them playing multiple instruments, the use of the piano beyond what we’re used to and the collaboration with the rest of the orchestra all make this a piece that needs to be seen and heard.
Last year was the beginning of the “One City, One Symphony” program, a unique endeavor that involved listening parties, discussion guides, digital downloads, and a live video feed to 14 different locations. This year, Mozart’s less-known Davide penitente, and Tchaikovsky’s popular Symphony No. 4 will be performed. Both pieces have links to themes of fate and redemption. Can you please tell us more about these themes, and how the pieces tie in together?
The emotional construction of Davide Penitente is built like Tchaikovsky’s Fourth, from the darkness to the light. From the repentance of King David, saying ‘I’m so sorry for what I did,’ and Tchaikovsky’s symphony starting with this anxiety, this doubt, this pain, this darkness, this lack of air, and going to the transformation, to the jubilation to the transfiguration, to the eruption of this last movement is very similar.
CSO will feature two Artists-in-Residence, cellist Alisa Weilerstein, violinist Augustin Hadelich and ensemble-in-residence (eighth blackbird) to deepen community engagement. What kind of events and opportunities can residents look forward to from these programs?
During Alisa’s October residency week, she performed for patients at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and did some work with school ensembles, rehearsing and performing with them. Augustin and eighth blackbird will be doing some similar work in schools, as well as collaborating with other local music groups, performing surprise concerts in unique places around town. Overall, we wanted these artists-in-residence to provide connections with the community, which grow over time. Although these particular artists are only here for short amounts of time, it ignites a spark, opens a well that flows out in unexpected ways.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up and how did those artists’ affect your career interests?
My father is an organist so my sisters and I were surrounded with this richly harmonic music from the beginning. I learned the organ, piano and flute, and didn’t begin conducting until later in life. I think learning keyboard instruments, where you are focusing on harmonic structures and development as well as melodic lines, possibly increased my interest in conducting orchestra and opera.
Tickets are available by phone at (513) 381-3300, online at www.cincinnatisymphony.org, and in person at the CSO Box Office at Music Hall, 1241 Elm Street.