Alastair Willis is no stranger to The Symphonia, Boca’s chamber orchestra celebrating its 16th year this month. He guest conducted seven concerts here and comes with major credentials. His recording of Ravel’s “L’Enfant et les Sortileges” with the Nashville Symphony was Grammy-nominated for best classical album. Willis has guest conducted orchestras around the world, including the Chicago and Philadelphia orchestras, New York and Mexico City philharmonics, Orquestra Sinfonica de Rio de Janeiro and the Silk Road Ensemble with cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Boca Voice spoke to him from his home in South Bend, Ind., where he’s music director of the South Bend Symphony Orchestra.
Q: First, congratulations for being named
principal conductor and artistic advisor. It must feel like old home week to be coming back in this new role.
A: I have a long relationship that goes back to 2005. These are friends and family now and The Symphonia is moving in exciting new directions.
Q: Before you explain New Directions, talk about the season for 2020-2021 Marleen Forkas Connoisseur Concerts starting Dec. 6 and one each in January, February and March. Subscriptions are already available and single tickets go on sale Sept. 1. Will this situation affect the schedule?
A: Yes, we are all set. The only thing we don’t know is what the state of the world will be in December. The current law is to have fewer musicians on stage and audience members. If that means adjusting the repertoire, how many times we play it, maybe can do the program twice. We’re looking at every option to have a season safely. I feel the immediate future of the classical music world is for smaller ensembles for safety reasons. We can be flexible. Maybe we can move concerts around. We’ll be prepared for any eventuality we need to take.
Q: Speaking about the program for the first concert, I see it’s all Beethoven. Is there a reason for that?
A: This year is Beethoven’s 250 birthday year. He was born in 1770.
Q: That’s a good segue into New Directions. Explain what it is and how you and pianist/raconteur Bruce Adolphe will channel Beethoven for that concert.
A: New Directions combines classical music with theater and multi-media elements in a meaningful and entertaining way. Bruce is known at Lincoln Center for his Piano Puzzlers. Like me, he likes to become a character of a composer. For this concert, he will be Beethoven and I will be one of Beethoven’s students. We can use the orchestra to express the composer’s mind. In the second half, we play the piece we just dissected.
Q: I see violin soloist Mei Mei Luo will also be back to play Beethoven’s “Romance for Violin and Orchestra in F Minor.” She’s known for founding the Delray String Quartet and is concertmaster of Orchestra Miami and Miami City Ballet’s orchestra.
A: She’s also concertmaster of The Symphonia. We like to feature our own.
Q: Putting the Covid situation aside for the moment, do you see the New Directions approach helping to attract younger audiences?
A: Every orchestra in the world is making that one of their priorities and we are no different. New Directions has a theatrical element and I have a theatrical background. I put music into an historical context. I write a script and a character or two and create an experience that comes alive in fresh, new ways.
Q: Will this be something completely different for The Symphonia?
A: Last year was the first one, but it evolved. We got great feedback, so decided, let’s do this more officially.
Q: Are you doing more music online?
A: We already have Symphonia at Home and that online presence, and we could live stream. Really, we’re doing everything right and will continue to look to keep the audience we have and grow the audience.
Q: How many musicians are there in a chamber orchestra and how will you handle that?
A: 35 to 40 musicians. Our musicians play in other orchestras. Hopefully by December, we’ll be able to create conditions acceptable to all.
By Marci Shatzman
For information on The Symphonia’s 2020-2021 season, visit thesymphonia.org, call 561-376-3848 or email email@example.com
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