Music Director Candidate Spotlight: Alastair Willis

Alastair_just a personThe search for the HPO’s next Music Director continues with Maestro Alastair Willis as the first candidate this season to take the stage this Saturday for Opening Night: Laplante Plays Beethoven.

Alastair Willis is the first out of six Music Director Candidates to audition this season following Gemma New who made her guest conductor appearance during last year’s Pastoral in May. After spending the summer in Seattle with his family and training for a couple triathlons, Alastair is set to commence his concert season with the Illinois Symphony Orchestra as their Music Director.

In case you’re wondering, Alastair won’t be leaving the Illinois Symphony Orchestra for the HPO. In fact, most Music Directors take on multiple postings with orchestras around the world, making international travel part of the job package. In addition to manning his post with the ISO, Alastair guest conducts for orchestras on multiple continents. Last year, his total international travel time added up to be six full months during which he conducted the Orquesta Sinfonica de Rio de Janeiro, Ensemble Impuls in Germany and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. Despite spending half a year on the road and in the air, Seattle has been the home base for this maestro ever since he was appointed as Seattle Symphony’s assistant conductor in 2002.

Alastair conductingThe IIllinois Symphony Orchestra will see much of Alastair this season, but he’s scheduled to conduct the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra this November along with his visit with the HPO this week.

With his many years under the baton, some of Alastair’s most notable highlights include his Grammy nomination for best classical album in 2009 for his recording of Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortlieges with the Nashville Symphony and Opera for Naxos. He also toured with internationally beloved cellist Yo-Yo Ma during the Silk Road ensemble performances by the Seattle Symphony. Alastair has since conducted the ensemble with residencies in New York, Chicago and North Carolina.

Alastair was born in Acton, Massachusetts and lived with his family in Moscow for five years before settling in Surrey, England where he lived until he was 25. Alastair remained in England to pursue on honors bachelor degree at Bristol University and earned a post-graduate certificate of education degree from Kingston University, where he then taught music at both primary and secondary schools. He later earned his Master’s of Music from Rice University’s School of Music.

Don’t miss Alastair yoru chance to see Alastair this Saturday, September 20 at 7:30pm for Opening Night: Laplante Plays Beethoven. You can hear a Pre-Concert Talk from Alastair, part of the HPO’s Inside the Music series, at 6:30pm in the Great Hall in Hamilton Place, just one hour before the concert.

Listen to Alastair talk about his appointment as Music Director of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra:

 

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HPO and Thought Beneath Film: The Collaboration Process

In a unique collaborative performance, this Supercrawl the HPO works with local rock band Thought Beneath Film to create a concert experience that spans the classical and rock genres.

“I speak on behalf of my entire band, Thought Beneath Film, when I say that we’re incredibly excited about our collaboration with the HPO at the James Street Supercrawl this year. While Hamilton has long been one Canada’s ‘music capitals’ given its wealth and variety of musical talent, it’s unfortunate that the various musical movements have remained so segregated from each other,” says Brent Wirth, lead singer of Thought Beneath Film.

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Thought Beneath Film

“The city has so many amazing and diverse musical traditions happening simultaneously from classical to jazz to hip-hop to indie rock, and I think it’s about time that audiences start seeing some cross-pollination and collaboration between all of these genres. It’s so vital in keeping the ball moving forward creatively and to ensure the constant generation of new ideas and styles. For this reason, we’re absolutely thrilled to be able to collaborate with musicians that are coming from a completely different tradition and set of experiences than us.”

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Principal Bassist Rob Wolanski

Working with the HPO’s principal Double Bass Player, Rob Wolanski, Wirth and the HPO have curated an inventive performance that features reinterpretations of orchestral classics and will explore Though Beneath Film’s own original material through the orchestral lens.

“As someone who has always been involved in many very different genres of music, I’ve come to realize that great music and fantastic players are everywhere regardless of genre,” says Rob. “I’m hoping our audiences will find something unexpected and exciting about the genre they don’t normally listen to and will want to hear more. This project will feature some very unique arrangements, many of which have been written specifically for this show.”

Be sure to get a good spot in front of the stage to have a good view of the HPO Strings and Thought Beneath Film as they perform unique cross-genre works from traditional orchestral repertoire to original works by Though Beneath Film.

The HPO and Thought Beneath Film appear at Supercrawl on Saturday, September 13 at 6:15pm at the TD/Arkells Stage (Wilson and James Street North).

Two things you need to know about “Genre Hopping”

music-genres2Rock. Country. Blues. Classical. We tend to feel like we need to fit musical creations into one specific genre in order for us to understand where it belongs in the music world. But what if we took these barriers down? Does a musical work need to be composed to “fit” one of these genres? Is there a genre that includes two genres of music? How about three…four…fivesixseven – our heads are going to explode!

The cross-pollination of different musical categories is still a relatively new concept for music listeners, until you realize it’s been going on for quite some time. Classical music has a habit of getting slotted into an elitist and untouchable corner where only musical academics are allowed to “adequately” enjoy it. Perhaps this is because classical music is the oldest musical genre and thought to be a treasure trove of masterpieces that has been 500 years in the making. But when you listen to musicians like 2Cellos, Frank Zappa, The Piano Guys, Yo-Yo Ma and Emerson, Lake and Palmer (and loads more you can find here), you realize this concept isn’t so scary and can be downright enjoyable. We just see the same piece of music re-imagined in a new light.

So here are two things you need to know about cross-genre music.

1. Rock did it first, but Classical is doing it too.

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Emerson, Lake & Palmer

There’s been an urge from musicians across all genres to break down these barriers for quite some time. Classical music has only recently expanded its reach from its own sub-types to other contemporary styles, unlike popular progressive rock bands in the 70s who made the leap quite a bit earlier.

Originally a blues band, British rock group Jethro Tull didn’t reach their pinnacle of fame until they began to create more ambitious sound by incorporating elements of jazz, folk and classical music, making the band’s genre uncategorizeable at the time. Emerson, Lake and Palmer covered Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and Hoedown by using instrumentation to re-contextualize these classical pieces for rock fans. The 90s Icelandic band Sigor Ros goes beyond incorporating stylistic nuances of classical music by having Jón Þór Birgisson play bowed guitar.

Classical musicians are conversely bridging the gap too. Yo-Yo Ma released “Appalachian Journey,” an album that throws the cello into music devoted to old misty mountain songs. 2Cellos and The Piano Guys have gone viral with their popular covers of Disney and Mumford & Sons songs. And Punch Brothers have taken the mandolin and given it a good old southern twang.

The bottom line is we like to hear things we know presented in a new way. BUT we’re not always open to hearing something outside our comfort zones.

The next point should address this issue.

2. Audiences need to open up a little. 

Punch Brothers

Punch Brothers

On the flip side, audiences also need to be more open to these experiences. “I don’t think classical musicians are any more reserved on average than non-classical musicians, but it’s actually the audiences that are far more reserved” says Chris Thile from classical/bluegrass band Punch Brothers. “I do think it’s important that people who profess to really be interested in music to expose themselves to the width and breadth of the great music that’s available to them – and that’s everything.”

Once you listen to cross genre collaborations, it becomes clear there is JUST a stylistic and ascetic approach to playing a piece of music. So continue to enjoy the genre you have an affinity with, but also get ready to be wowed by an artist out of your musical genre purview who might just blow you away.

That being said, get ready for Supercrawl next week when HPO Strings take the stage with Thought Beneath Film for an unforgettable collaboration of rock music re-imagined through the orchestral lens.

Musicians perform on Saturday, September 13 at 6:15 on the TD-Arkells Stage (James Street North at Wilson).

Watch Punch Brothers’ Chris Thile talk about “genre hopping” while he serenades you with his mandolin.

2 concerts next season that you can’t miss

…according to these musicians.

There are so many fantastic works and exciting programs to pick from in this upcoming 2014-15 Season, but here are the top two concerts in which bassoonist Melanie Eyers and horn player Neil Spaulding are most excited to perform.

IMG_5365_2Melanie Eyers

“I am looking forward to Sci-Fi Spectacular on March 21 because I get a huge thrill performing music from the movies, and I have the best seat in the house to appreciate our amazingly dedicated and consummately professional HPO Brass section (they make it sound so easy!). Also, I am a lifelong fan of Star Trek and Star Wars, and I am looking forward to working with the wonderfully talented Larry Larson again.”

Sci-Fi Spectacular is happening on March 21 featuring guest conductor David Martin and Larry Larson.

 

MHP_7663Neil Spaulding

“I’m looking forward to playing Prokofiev’s Suite from Romeo and Juliet because it is such incredibly beautiful, passionate and moving music. It really is one of the great pieces of art of the last hundred years!”

The program for Romeo and Juliet on February 21 includes a number of works devoted to the infamous Shakespeare play, including ones by Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and Berlioz.

 

 

Since it’s Neil’s favourite piece next season, take a look at Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, Suite 1:

What have our Music Director Candidates been up to lately?

Our six music director candidates are keeping busy with conducting, composing and vacationing this summer…

Gemma New conducting publicity photoGemma New

It’s summer concerts galore for Gemma New, who will also spend time in New Zealand with family before spending almost a month at the Hollywood Bowl, assisting programs for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. To date, Gemma has conducted with the Atlanta Symphony and jazz, swing and classic concerts at the New Jersey Symphony. “There’s an amazing number of rock/pop/swing/jazz/broadway stars who come from this state – even Rachmaninov had a house here,” says Gemma.

Stilian KirovStilian Kirov

“This summer,” says Stilian, “I will have the most important engagement in my life: becoming a father.” Stilian and his wife are expecting their son to be born sometime near July 20.

“He is our very first child so this is why my main summer activity for this year will be learning how to be a dad.” Of course, some of the first pieces his son will hear, he adds, will be Beethoven’s Second Symphony and Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto as Stilian prepares for his November HPO concert.

Alastair WillisAlastair Willis

Alastair is keeping it on the light side this summer. Along with preparing for the upcoming season in Illinois with his orchestra and guest conducting, he is enjoying spending time with family and training for a couple of triathlons.

 

Theodore KucharTheodore Kuchar

“Upon completion of the subscription seasons in North America,” says Theodore, “I traveled to Cape Town, South Africa culminating in a cycle of the complete Rachmaninov piano concertos with the distinguished Italian pianist Antionio Popmpa-Baldi and the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra.” After returning to California, where he lives, he closed the Slovak Symphony subscription season. He reserves July for finishing and performing as violinist at chamber music festivals, and will participate in the Nevada Chamber Music Festival and the Bruman Chamber Music Festival at UCLA in Los Angeles.

Then, in August, he returns to South Africa for three weeks of concerts with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra and Kwazulu-Natal Philharmonic including the 100th Anniversary Gala Concert with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra and violinist Shlomo Mintz.

Gregory VajdaGregory Vajda

Gregory is full speed ahead with composing the third and final act of his new opera Georgia Bottoms, based on the book of the same title by author Mark Childress. “This is going to a real ‘home grown project’ in February 2015,” says Gregory, “to celebrate the 60th season of the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra.” He’ll also split time between family, composing and fundraising events for the upcoming season in Huntsville, although in August, rehearsals begin for the season’s opening production at Erkel Theater in Budapest (part of the Hungarian State Opera). Living in Huntsville also gave him a chance to spend a week-long vacation in Alaska. “I always wanted to do this while living on the West Coast. Now that I live in Huntsville, I actually got to do it  – it was wonderful.”

Alain TrudelAlain Trudel

After three successive summer tours (two in Canada and on in India) conducting the Juno-nominated National Youth Orchestra of Canada, Alain spent the first two weeks of July conducting the National Art Centre Orchestra, where he is principal and family conductor. He then led the Orchestre Metropolitain (Montreal) in Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony and was the featured soloist in a program with the Brass Orchestre Symphonique de Laval. Part of August will be spent playing concerts and recording with the All-Star Brass in Banff and also guest conducting at the Peninsula Music Festival in the US.

Behind the Scenes: What does it take to plan a season?

IMG_1811What does it take to put together an orchestra’s season? Lots of time, knowledge, forethought and planning—two years worth of planning, to be exact.

Sometimes it might seem that planning a season of orchestral music would be easy—you just put together some of the greatest music in history into a year of performances and there you have it! …but there’s a bit more to it.

Our Artistic Advisory Committee, composed of musicians and administrators, meets regularly throughout the year to talk about programming the best works for our audience in future years. To arrive at the best program, the committee first puts together a skeleton framework that consists of repertoire we feel the audience will most enjoy or a specific soloist or conductor we would like to highlight. From there the jigsaw puzzle begins as the HPO works with artist managers and musicians to ensure factors like schedule availability, repertoire demands, finances and concert programming fit into a coherent vision of a season for our audience.

This long view planning cycle allows us to program exciting and dynamic concerts that feature the best of our HPO musicians and guest artists that we can offer our patrons. This summer, we’re firming up the 2015-16 season. While we might have the 2016-17 Season almost complete, we’re choosing to leave it a bit looser in anticipation of our Music Director!

35 pictures that sum up a pretty fantastic 2013-14 Season!

The 2013-14 season was a special year for the HPO. We hosted the circus, mixed beatboxing with classical music and said farewell to Maestro James Sommerville to name a few memorable moments…but before we launch into a thrilling new concert season, take a look back at some of these amazing memories from last year.