Guest Conductor

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:



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:

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.


Sibelius, Shakespeare and The Tempest

How does one angry exiled duke stranded on an island with his beautiful daughter and deformed servant get revenge? A very big storm.

Shakespeare and Sibelius’ works combined, both titled The Tempest, illustrate the isolation of the sea in relation to the corruption traditional society of Milan.

"Miranda - The Tempest" by John William Waterhouse

“Miranda – The Tempest” by John William Waterhouse

The play The Tempest is set on a remote island where the rightful Duke of Milan, Prospero, has been stranded with his daughter Miranda on an island by his brother Antonio. Claiming father and daughter were lost at sea, Prospero’s jealous brother Antonio usurps his dukedom. Equipped with food and his precious sorcery books by a faithful servant, Prospero spends years mastering both his powers and the inhabitants on the island.

Through divine intelligence, Prospero sees that Antonio will be sailing close to the island and conjures up a furious tempest to overturn the ship and bring its survivors to the island. This will provide the setting in which Prospero will watch over, manipulate and work his way back to his rightful place as Duke of Milan.

Young composer Jean Sibelius

Young composer Jean Sibelius

The island in Shakespeare’s The Tempest represents the utopic world Prospero has built in place of Milan. Prospero, a godlike character in the play, maintains a manipulative hand in the characters’ lives, as he separates the shipmates from one another while they wander the island. The distance the sea creates between society and the island remains advantageous to Prospero as it provides a disconnect in communication between characters and renders prestigious name titles meaningless. In this vulnerable state, Prospero casts strategic spells and tricks using harpies, mythical food and deep sleeps to confront characters with their inherent folly.

Through the trials Prospero imposes on his islanders, every character in the play experiences a rebirth as they overcome personal corruption and return to Milan renewed. Even Prospero creates a news life for himself as he breaks his staff and drowns his book of spells before assuming the role of Duke of Milan.

Jean Sibelius’ suite The Tempest is an incidental piece which acts as background music in various stage adaptations of Shakespeare’s play. The suite paints a visual picture where each movement directly compliments each plot point. This suite differs from programmatic orchestral pieces, which symphonies often perform, as they invite audiences to picture a story or concept in their imaginations.

Sibelius’ piece enriches Shakespeare’s play through its evocative movements, from Prospero’s chaotic storm to the play’s concluding jovial court dance.

Can you hear the scene changes in Sibelius’ suite?