Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra music director competition heats up

SUMMERMUSIK 2016: Meet the candidates, compare their platforms, participate in the process

The Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra is auditioning candidates for the position of music director during its second annual Summermusik.
Four conductors will lead the CCO and curate a chamber music program during the festival, Aug. 13-Sept. 1. The fifth candidate, Kelly Kuo, served as interim music director and auditioned during August 2015.
The five candidates are being evaluated by CCO artistic and administrative staff, orchestra players and board members. Concert attendees are encouraged to provide feedback. Four cocktail receptions will offer a less formal opportunity for stakeholders to interact with the candidates.
Movers & Makers presented a series of questions to learn about each candidate and how they plan to approach this new position, if selected. These are not part of the formal audition process, but are intended to give candidates a chance to share their perspective on this opportunity with the public.

The candidates:

Daniel MEYER: Music director, Asheville (N.C.) Symphony Orchestra and Erie (Pa.) Philharmonic

Christopher ZIMMERMAN: Music director, Fargo-Moorhead (N.D.) Symphony and Fairfax (Va.) Symphony Orchestra; artistic director, American Youth Philharmonic Orchestras (Washington., D.C).

Sarah IOANNIDES: Music director, Tacoma (Wash.) Symphony Orchestra and Spartanburg (S.C.) Philharmonic Orchestra

Eckart PREU: Music director, Spokane (Wash.) Symphony and Stamford (Conn.) Symphony

Kelly KUO: Artistic director, Oregon Mozart Players; music director and conductor, Butler Opera Center/University of Texas at Austin

Christhpher Zimmerman

Christopher ZIMMERMAN

What is your overall programming philosophy?

Meyer) I believe every concert should be an adventure of sorts. There should be elements that are new or unfamiliar. There should be some elements that give you exactly what you were expecting. But most importantly, the music should be executed with an incredibly high degree of finesse, virtuosity and passion. My favorite concerts are the ones in which I discover something new, but also hear an old favorite played so well and so passionately that I lose myself in the performance and don’t even notice the passage of time.

Zimmerman) To present a broad swath of orchestra programs, sometimes interconnected, sometimes not, and from all eras, that captivate the audience in ways that can be fun, can be provocative, but are always stimulating.

Ioannides) My goal is to create a platform from which the listener can gain maximum satisfaction, understanding and appreciation of the music. I look to make multiple connections to a concept or theme to increase their receptivity and for elements to produce the greatest artistic vibrancy. Diversity, variety of color and styles help pair the choices for the most appealing and interesting menu that satisfy as many different tastes as possible. I consider the different audiences, their responses, the set-up, positioning of the works, extra-musical possibilities, and all that is important to the best possible effect on the audience.

Preu) Diversity is key: centuries, genres, styles, orchestra/ensemble sizes. Programming is a face of an organization that tells a lot about the aspirations, audience and mission of the orchestra. Programming is about finding the right cocktail/mix of attraction that excites the longtime supporter, intrigues the newcomer and energizes the performers. We are in the business of preserving the “standard” repertoire – so composers like Mozart and Beethoven should always be a staple of the menu – but we are also responsible for taking part in creating the “new” standard repertoire by presenting, commissioning and collaborating with living composers, bands and performers. These newer works are the “spice” of the programming. As always with seasoning, it takes care, expertise and taste – but it is a necessity for a flavorful experience.

Kuo) As a professed foodie, I believe planning musical programs is akin to creating culinary menus. Just as contrasting textures, temperatures, colors and flavors are important in developing a well-balanced meal, each musical piece has specific motivation for its placement, creating maximum impact in a concert. Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, having the advantage of versatility, flexibility and intimacy of repertoire when compared to its larger relatives, is the perfect kitchen in which to produce creative and compelling performances which can satisfy any appetite.

Eckart Preu and daughter

Eckart PREU with his daughter

What are your thoughts about the current trend, pro or con, toward making orchestral concerts more multisensory?

Ioannides) Great music needs no aids, but I believe developing art forms that combine multisensory aspects does have an important place in the future of concert experience. For years I have explored a variety of extra-musical content in concerts, both with innovating the visual experience and preserving the auditory message as the prime goal of satisfaction. My philosophy is to add, not detract, from the great art of musical performance. I believe music must also be presented in its pure form with vibrant and engaged performances.

Zimmerman) Mixed. Pro, if the balance between the music and other stimuli – presumably visual, but maybe we should try other senses like taste, smell and touch? – enhances what we are hearing. Con, if it dilutes it or detracts from it. This is difficult to get right.

Preu) Music is principally an auditory experience. Multi-media can update the concert experience without falling into the trap of being self-serving. I love visual enhancements – lighting, projections and still pictures – as support for the listening experience. Too much (or intense) visual stimulation easily overrides or impedes the ability to listen, so caution and thoughtfulness are a priority here. There are many ways of rethinking performance formats and presentations that include other media. If you think of music as a “living,” intensely human experience, there are many non-virtual art forms that work in similar ways: all kinds of dance and performance art, from acting to pantomime or puppetry, song, folk song, choral, all other musical genres, the visual arts – the list goes on.

Sarah Ioannides


Kuo) It is natural that as our world becomes increasingly visually oriented that musical organizations have engaged in programming and activities which are multisensory in nature in an effort to draw audiences and compete with instant-gratification entertainment choices that are just a few clicks away.

Meyer) To my mind, concerts are multisensory in so many ways already. I will never forget the first time I heard the Cleveland Orchestra as a young boy in Severance Hall. I was so thrilled by the experience and was astonished by how completely engrossing it was to sit in the same space as that incredible ensemble. The force of 100 musicians playing in such synchronicity had me hooked from day one. Consequently, I’m a bit suspicious of orchestras who program fancy films or other elements that actually put a barrier between an audience member and experiencing the music. That said, if there are ways to make the music more prescient or get the performance closer to the original intent (like, say, commissioning a dance to accompany music that was originally intended to be dramatically rendered), then I am all for it.

How do you plan to differentiate the CCO from other local musical organizations?

Preu) The advantage of a chamber orchestra vis-a-vis a symphony orchestra is that it is flexible. It’s a race car versus a bus. It can play some of the best music anywhere, anytime. It can supply extreme intimacy and thus an intensity that only a close-up exposure can provide. It also provokes identification of the listener with the individual musician, not just the group. I would strive for a brand name that insures performances of the highest quality, playing repertoire from the standard repertoire, works by living composers, as well as original works; a brand that is known for out-of-the-box programming and inspiring collaborations; a brand that stands for social experience, surprises, and a seemingly neglected aspect: fun.

Daniel Meyer

Daniel MEYER

Meyer) I am particularly excited that the CCO has already taken significant steps to differentiate itself from the rest of Cincinnati’s vibrant art culture. I certainly agree with the new festival model and the idea that each concert can have connected events that enhance the audience’s experience with the music and the musicians. I also like the fact that the orchestra is large enough to make a sonic impact, but small enough to fit into some of Cincinnati’s most unique spaces.

Zimmerman) It’s already happening. The time of year of the Summermusik Festival, the nature of the schedule, i.e. the type of concerts and venues, and the partnerships with other arts and arts organizations, are all making the CCO distinct and distinctive. Mind you, this could and should be only the beginning. I can foresee residencies with featured artists, festivals within the festival, and more.

Kuo) CCO’s musicians must be seen on the front line as teachers, leaders and role models in order to build meaningful relationships with the communities they serve, establishing a real bond with the audiences of tomorrow. There is no substitute for planting seeds and having music and art play a role in the lives of youth. If children are taught effectively how to delight in the world of sound, they will not be in a completely unknown world when they become adults, and we will be able to build and sustain an audience that is passionate about music. It’s only when the audience feels a deep connection with the music and senses a generous and honest giving from the artists that they will come back for more.

Ioannides) I’d develop a long-term artistic vision that defines the unique artistic personality of the organization and its relevance and interactivity within the community. I’d like to see the CCO further innovate in and out of the concert hall, inspire and foster creativity within the community, draw on local interests and passions, and create new pathways of communication to deepen relationships with audiences. Through collaboration and the talents of these artists working with us, I would foster a platform that will bring curiosity and interest in CCO and Summermusik locally, nationally and internationally.

Kelly Kuo

Kelly KUO

How do you plan to attract new, sustainable audience members?

Zimmerman) By attempting to put on shows that are irresistible. This means quality of music chosen, quality of execution (that’s more than just good playing; it includes connection and interaction with the audience from conductor AND player, i.e. synergy), quality and attention to the entire experience, from when the listener leaves home to when he/she returns, and quality of marketing and promotion, which should be classy, exhaustive and probably give credence to the acronym KISS  (Keep It Simple, Stupid).

Ioannides) I’d hope to build an audience in numerous ways: relevant and attractive programming, inspiring guest artists, develop popular community events (such as free and informal concerts), focus on educational and family programs for all communities that could run in parallel to concerts and help develop the festival’s deepening levels of engagement. I would work to sustain a growing audience through deepening the relationships with the audience in all concert and community activities, engaging with the community personally, and helping develop social activities that enrich the experience of the festival for families.

Meyer) My favorite strategy to attract new audiences is to program stimulating and creative concerts, perform them within an inch of their lives, and foster a communal experience that feels welcoming and immediately puts you at ease when you first step in the door.

Kuo) It is the job of the organization’s leaders to identify the ideas that can be best brought to life with passion and quality; collaborating with other forms of artistic expression; and exploring music in a totally different way, but without compromising our artistic souls.

Preu) A lot has to do with the perceived notion of what classical music is and what a chamber orchestra experience is like. It is important to continue to break down the intimidation factor that accompanies classical music, as well as other stigmas that are persistent: that what we do is exclusive, expensive and unapproachable. The Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra has made big strides in redefining the listening experience with collaborations with local musical and nonmusical organizations. Strategic outreach and educational efforts would incorporate initiating long-term relationships with local organizations, neighborhoods and communities. Especially successful are musical programs that are designed in conjunction with social programs. I am a believer in presenting exciting new and old works in unusual settings and thus providing genre-defying, memorable experiences that not only cross generations but bring them together.

Meet this year’s conductors at ‘Cocktails with the Candidates’ –
5-7 p.m., Bar at The Palm Court, Netherland Hilton Plaza

Aug. 11,  Daniel Meyer
Aug. 18, Christopher Zimmerman
Aug. 25, Sarah Ioannides
Aug. 31, Eckart Preu

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