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Orlando Philharmonic’s International Search for new Music Director

Alondra de la Parra performing in Río de Janeiro
Alondra de la Parra performing in Río de Janeiro
Borrowed from Copyright © 2014 Alondra de la Parra. Website: Lenny's Studio

If there’s one thing that the five finalists for the Music Director position at the Orlando Philharmonic have in common, it’s a desire to immerse themselves in the community and present a 21st century orchestra as an accessible and integral part of the local arts scene.

Upon the announcement of the impending conclusion of Music Director Christopher Wilkins’ eight-year tenure, a 12-member committee was assembled to examine more than 275 applications that came in from around the world. Comprised of orchestra musicians and community members, the committee spent more than 2,000 hours to shortlist the best candidates. To home in on the best fit for the needs of the Phil, the advanced stages of the process included discussions of mock-up programs and artistic plans for the future of the ensemble.

Different artistic backgrounds, nationalities, ethnic groups and both sexes characterize the talented final five, each of whom will join the Phil for about a week to get up-close and personal with musicians and management alike, rehearse a unique weekend performance, and participate in community engagements. This personal and musical interaction will be crucial for the final selection of the artistic voice and leader of Orlando’s premier orchestra.

“You need to make sure people know the symphony is there for them; you don’t have to be a scholar to enjoy the music. It’s about how you get the people there and how you make them feel,” shares Mexican sensation Alondra de la Parra, who conducted the Phil in a stellar performance in 2011. “It’s all about personal contact and approach, and the charisma and connections the musicians and conductor have with the community.”

De la Parra remembers fondly her engagement with the Phil, in which she felt chemistry with the musicians. She believes that mixed programming is what really works for long-term support, which is reflected in her program for the 2014-2015 season-opening concert. “I think the orchestra is in a great situation for growth and that excites me a lot. The music itself is amazing and when people see a great performance, filled with energy and commitment, they’ll want to come back.”

An opera lover and an ambassador for contemporary American classical music, Steven Jarvi has been lauded for stellar performances in the symphony hall and opera house alike. He’s excited about performing with the Phil and tackling Schumann’s violin concerto for the first time, with the amazing soloist Midori.

For Jarvi, the interview process was lengthy and thorough “in the best of ways,” he says. “Part of my job would be to lay out a vision of how to best exploit the new Dr. Phillips Center. I want to make sure the group is ready musically and with a plan in place to get people to come year after year when the attractiveness of a new venue has faded.”

Jarvi feels that part of the job should be to energetically connect with the community, both for the sake of awareness and fundraising. The conductor intends to “demystify” classical music. “A pops concert is a great way to get someone in the door,” he says. “I also want to establish the highest sense of integrity with the musicians.”

The young conductor and cellist Eric Jacobsen, co-founder and music director of the orchestra The Knights, has the distinction of being a member of one of the brightest and most progressive string quartets today, Brooklyn Rider, which has performed in Orlando. What’s exciting about Jacobsen is his passion for genre-defying modern music and world music.

His engagement with the Phil features a truly exciting program; internationally renowned soloist Wu Man will perform Chinese film composer Zhao Jiping’s concerto for pipa. “What he’s doing is taking a Chinese folk song and incorporating it into his concerto for pipa, a traditional lute-like instrument played upright,” explains Jacobsen in his introductory video for the Phil’s website. His progressive mind and natural flair for making classical music feel both modern and accessible are qualities that could do wonders to the Phil.

Hailing from Germany, conductor Dirk Meyer exudes an infectious enthusiasm in his performances. He made Florida his home years ago to work with the Florida and Sarasota Orchestras. Meyer led the Phil in 2012 for Symphony in HD, a special multidisciplinary event at Full Sail University, accompanied by animation, photography and lighting effects.

Meyer also espouses variety in the programming: “I am fascinated by contrasts. When the idea of juxtaposing the classic Mozart with the overly romantic Strauss came to my mind, I immediately embraced it,” he says in his program notes.

The concluding concert of this classical series will be led by the incredibly experienced conductor and composer Leslie B. Dunner, who has performed with most major American orchestras. A recent accomplishment of the native New Yorker is his notable South Shore Opera performance of African-American composer William Grant Still’s Troubled Island. The production was rated #1 by the Chicago Sun-Times among the city’s best classical/opera moments of 2013.

Dunner’s program, consisting of majestic, heroic and multi-layered music, will feature Phil concertmaster Rimma Bergeron-Langlois performing Sibelius’ concerto. A feat for the eyes and ears will surely be Dunner’s multitasking, as he controls the heavy orchestration and commands the dueling timpani battle of Carl Nielsen’s Inextinguishable symphony.

Note: An edited version of this article appears originally in the September/October issue of the Orlando Arts Magazine

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