Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra will mark 20th season with an impressive lineup
By Chris Waddington
Sunday, January 30, 2011, 5:00 AM
Anniversaries offer a chance to look back, but that's not the style for the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. The group is celebrating its 20th year by playing new music, forging new community partnerships, welcoming a new generation of musicians, teaching youngsters across the state and savoring the national recognition that has come its way since Hurricane Katrina.
TED JACKSON / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE
The LPO is turning 20 this year, evolving from a rag tag group of a nationally respected orchestra. The orchestra poses for a portrait after a concert at the Mahalia Jackson Theater, Wednesday, January 12, 2011. Conducter
"This is an orchestra that always keeps growing -- and never gives up, " said music director Carlos Miguel Prieto. "That spirit helped to sustain the group after the hurricane, and it comes through now in performances."
Battling adversity comes naturally to the LPO. The musician-owned ensemble formed in 1991 after the collapse of the debt-ridden New Orleans Symphony. Players wanted to keep playing, and created a self-governance model that remains unique nationally.
Prieto compared the LPO's positive outlook to that of his predecessor as music director, Klauspeter Seibel. The German maestro led the LPO from 1995 to 2004 and continued to serve as principal guest conductor until his death earlier this month.
"Even in his final illness, Klauspeter never gave up his passion for music or for this orchestra, " Prieto said. "He loved New Orleans and spoke of the LPO as if it was his family. Such loyalty, from an artist with many opportunities, is a sign of this ensemble's quality and its continuing growth."
Prieto has led the LPO since June 2005, and in that time his own career has bloomed. He took over Mexico's most important orchestra in 2007 and travels internationally as a guest conductor. He logged about 170 concerts last year, and his work with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra drew critical raves.
"I don't like to compare orchestras, but after working with so many, I'd say the LPO has a unique flexibility in its sound and in its ability to adapt and change. The group's spirit and its artistry has kept me here. Those qualities also have attracted wonderful young players as we go through a generational shift. The word is out all over the country: If you want to play exciting repertoire in a great orchestra, come to New Orleans."
Guest artists and composers have also felt the LPO's tug. The orchestra recently performed with the Romero Guitar Quartet, and in coming weeks will be joined by other classical superstars including pianist Lilya Zilberstein, flutist James Galway and violinist Robert McDuffie. Galway and McDuffie will both play contemporary works that were composed for them. And on Feb. 19, the LPO will present the world premiere of a newly commissioned piece by jazz superstar Terence Blanchard, a New Orleans native whose resume includes five Grammy Awards and composing credits for more than 30 Hollywood soundtracks.
"Some orchestras play the same repertoire over and over, but that's not the case with the LPO, " Blanchard said. "This is an inquisitive group of musicians with a real attachment to New Orleans. They have the skills and the desire to perform my music alongside the classical repertoire. When they played my Katrina piece, for instance, they knew exactly where I was coming from, because so many of them had gone through the same losses. They care about the city. They are the city."
TED JACKSON / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE
Conductor Carlos Prieto
The LPO also has benefited from shifting definitions of organizational success, said Jesse Rosen, president of the League of American Orchestras.
"For a long time, the hallmarks of great orchestras were a 52-week season, a recording contract, national tours and big-name soloists, " Rosen said. "These days the focus is on what matters for an individual community and in that regard, the LPO is seen as a national leader, a group in the forefront of change as orchestras do more with education and outreach.
"The LPO also impressed its peers after Katrina, turning the loss of its main performance space into an advantage by working in new locations -- and finding new audiences -- all over the area, " he said.
Rosen also pointed to the LPO's artistic strengths.
"In my position, I hear a lot of orchestras, and the LPO is one that stands out, " Rosen said. "I heard them play a Beethoven symphony, the kind of transparent, classical work that doesn't leave you anyplace to hide. I was amazed at the string sound. I realized that this was a very disciplined group with great unanimity of purpose, great balance and a firm grasp of style."
Rosen's group tapped the LPO to participate in the 2011 Bruno Walter National Conducting Preview. On Feb. 17, hundreds of talent managers and orchestra leaders will fill the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts for a series of closed-to-the-public LPO performances led by six rising-star conductors. Alums of the prestigious showcase include Prieto and the music director of another newly prominent ensemble: the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.
"People who attend the preview are looking very closely at the conductors, but it's also a national platform for the orchestra, " said LPO managing director Babs Mollere. "For us, it's a chance to create word of mouth among musical decision-makers. It can also help us to draw top players to our auditions. Musicians want to play with other good musicians."
Mollere and her staff have also forged alliances with Louisiana institutions -- and national funders -- in the years since Hurricane Katrina.
The LPO just inked a letter of agreement with Louisiana State University, for example. The full range of the collaboration has yet to be detailed, but the organizations expect to market LPO tickets to LSU alumni, with a portion of sales going to support scholarships at the university's music school. The orchestra is also scheduled to perform on the LSU campus in May.
It is also continuing its successful post-Katrina collaboration with the Historic New Orleans Collection, work supported by a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. On Feb. 10, the LPO and the HNOC will present a concert at St. Louis Cathedral that focuses on music created and performed by free people of color in Louisiana. The concert is in conjunction with a national symposium organized by HNOC. The concert will be reprised in Slidell on Feb. 11.
"This kind of collaboration between an orchestra and a research institute is unique in Louisiana -- and very rare nationally, " Mollere said. "I suspect that's why we were so generously supported by the NEA. It's the largest grant we have ever received from a national government source."
In addition to the concert, the grant will support the creation and distribution of educational DVDs and CDs that will go to every fifth- and eighth-grade class in Louisiana.
"This collaboration lets us explain the deep roots of orchestral music in our state, and it helps remind people that this is music for everyone, " Mollere said. "We're part of a living tradition, and we want to be part of growing that tradition for years to come."
LPO Stand outs
Dressed in black and white and arranged in a semicircle, the 69 musicians look a trifle anonymous. But everything changes when they start to play. The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra is full of strong solo voices -- and those voices are equally forthright when it comes to discussing the allure of New Orleans and the pleasures of working in the player-owned ensemble.
TED JACKSON / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE
Joseph Meyer, concert master in the LPO.
"It sounds obvious, but New Orleans is a music town and that makes all the difference for me, " said concert master Joseph Meyer. "I came from a good orchestra in Charlotte, but North Carolina was NASCAR country. Here I'm being pulled out of my comfort zone by musicians and audiences that appreciate new experiences."
Now in his third season with the LPO, Meyer said that New Orleans has been an easy place to find other opportunities. This past spring, for example, the violinist stepped out with the Faubourg String Quartet, blazing through the long opening solo of a Wynton Marsalis composition. Today at 6 p.m., he'll perform a free concert with French pianist Jean-Baptiste Monnot, at St. Mary's Church, 1100 Chartres St.
Robert Nunez came to the LPO straight out of Louisiana State University -- and for 19 years his tuba has anchored the brass section. The Chalmette native grew up in a musical family that included some notable early jazz players -- and he plays jazz, too.
"I think it's natural to cross musical lines, and so do my colleagues at the LPO, " Nunez said. "We play Beethoven, and we work with artists like Terence Blanchard and Randy Newman. A few years ago, we played in the Jazz Tent at the Fair Grounds. It helps to remind audiences that orchestral music has always been a part of the mix in New Orleans."
Ted Jackson/ The Times-Picayune
Robert Nunez, plays tuba in the LPO.
Oboist Jaren Philleo came to New Orleans for her first full-time position with an orchestra. Now in her fourth season with the LPO, the 28-year-old Alaska native already has a national reputation, chosen four times to work at classical music's most prestigious summer gig -- Vermont's Marlboro Music Festival. But Philleo has no plans to leave New Orleans or the LPO.
"I feel lucky to be in a town that I love, playing with musicians who send me home inspired and ready to practice, " Philleo said. "For me, Carlos Prieto is especially amazing. Although I'm performing a lot of this music for the first time, he gives me the freedom to try out ideas, to experiment with phrasing. That makes the LPO a perfect place to grow as an artist."
If you like big name soloists, new repertoire, local content, witty songs and masterworks that test an orchestra's skills, then the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra has scheduled something to suit you during the next few months. Here are some highlights:
To explore the artistic legacy of Louisiana's free people of color, the LPO will draw from the repertoire of La Societe Philharmonique -- a 19th century New Orleans ensemble that performed both European classics and works by Creole composers (Feb. 10, St. Louis Cathedral; Feb. 11, Slidell).
Ted Jackson / The Times-Picayune
Oboist Jaren Philleo
American music is the focus of an LPO program that includes the world premiere of a concerto by jazz star Terence Blanchard, works by Copland and Bernstein, and a 2010 Philip Glass violin concerto. Glass wrote the piece for violinist Robert McDuffie, who will premier it here (Feb. 19, Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts).
James Galway's golden tone and flickering runs made him the world's best known classical flutist, but his efforts to expand the repertoire are equally impressive. He will join the LPO for William Bolcom's "Lyric Concerto, " a 1993 work that was written for him. It features Irish jigs, waltzes, an Afro-Cuban finale -- and plenty of room for fiery solos (March 26, Mahalia Jackson Theater).
With their mood shifts and sprawling architecture, the symphonies of Gustav Mahler pose tremendous challenges for any conductor. Carlos Miguel Prieto spent the summer of 2010 conducting the entire sequence and will bring that knowledge to the LPO as he leads them through Mahler's Seventh, a vast, colorful, five-movement composition which often runs as long as 90 minutes (April 9, Mahalia Jackson Theater).
"H.M.S. Pinafore" has held the stage since 1878, winning audiences with catchy melodies, patter songs and farcical action. The LPO presents a semistaged version of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta with soprano Sarah Jane McMahon and baritone Frederick Reeder (May 12, Mahalia Jackson Theater; May 13 Covington).Read the original article here.