Orchestra prepping for final performance of season May 17-18Written by Dave Willinger | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Toledo Symphony Orchestra will wrap up its 69th season May 17-18 with performances of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E minor.
Principal Conductor Stefan Sanderling called this work by the beloved Russian composer one of the 20 most popular symphonic works ever written and said the Toledo Symphony Orchestra chose it in order to conclude its season with a musical work that is “grandiose,” “hopeful” and “positive.”
Sanderling, in his 11th season with the Toledo symphony, said he has conducted Tchaikovsky’s Fifth many times, while the orchestra has also performed it in the past. But Sanderling and the Toledo symphony have never combined in a performance of the work – until now.
“We know each other very well,” Sanderling said of his relationship with the close to 80 musicians who will play under his baton at the Toledo’s Museum of Art’s Peristyle Theater for the season finale.
“The orchestra knows what gesture to expect,” he added, referring to his conducting style. “I know what [guidance] the orchestra needs.”
Sanderling said when he leads an orchestra in performance he tries to achieve what the composer had in mind, in effect sharing with the audience “something of the beauty, richness or desire,” which the composer had in mind when writing the work.
The inherent tour de force that is a successful live performance by an orchestra depends on many things. It may also depend on “everybody’s moods and circumstances,” Sanderling said.
“We depend a little bit on the inspiration of the moment,” he said, adding that it is the nature of performing live that “the moment you give it out, it becomes music.”
The musicians strive to deliver a performance where “the audience never feels how difficult it is,” Sanderling said. Instead the audience has to feel that the music performed is natural. “We have to achieve that. That is why we are professionals,” he said.
Sanderling recalled first coming to Toledo as a guest conductor during a time when the symphony was seeking a new principal conductor. It was an era that boasted a busy Toledo Express Airport, he said. Disembarking from his Delta flight, Sanderling said the first thing he saw was a Toledo symphony poster welcoming travelers to the city.
Sanderling, the German-born son of the late Kurt Sanderling, a famous conductor, recalled thinking at the time, “This is where I want to be” — a city where even at the airport the symphony is present. Sanderling’s contract with the Toledo Symphony Orchestra requires about eight conducting weeks per year, he said. But the principal conductor, who maintains a home here with his wife Isabelle, a cellist, estimates he spends a minimum of 10 conducting weeks in the Glass City, citing his involvement in additional community concerts and educational performances. Over the years the Sanderlings have also developed friendships in the area, he said.
So far during his tenure, the Toledo maestro has also held one and sometimes two other simultaneous conductor positions, something Sanderling said is quite common for orchestra conductors. Sanderling recently stepped down as music director of the Florida Symphony after a decade with that institution. So after 11 years with the Toledo symphony orchestra, is Sanderling mulling a switch to conductor emeritus in the Glass City, too?
Not for another 25 years, said Sanderling, who turns 49 this summer. Sanderling views Toledo’s symphony as “one of the best regional orchestras in the country.”
“We played in Carnegie Hall,” Sanderling said with pride, referring to the orchestra’s selection in 2011 to play at the legendary New York City venue. “And we played well.”
But he also notes the Toledo symphony is poised for more accomplishments. The orchestra has “huge potential,” he said.
Going forward, Sanderling said he believes the symphony should make professional recordings to help spread the word that Toledo is a fantastic orchestra. Recording also provides musicians with the opportunity to listen to their performance, which sometimes can be “very revealing,” he said.
Sanderling said the symphony is discussing possibilities, but cautioned that the recording process is an expensive undertaking.
“We have to be very careful how we spend our money,” Sanderling said.
The symphony has a $16 million endowment to help cover operating expenses, said Kathleen Carroll, symphony president and CEO.
While the Toledo symphony’s concerts are not broadcast live, those performances are recorded for later broadcast on WGTE-FM public radio. More than 30 such broadcasts were aired during the current season, according to a brochure published by the symphony.
While CDs would serve to publicize the quality of the orchestra, CD sales would not be expected to create a revenue stream.
“Having an orchestra is never a revenue stream,” Sanderling said, but added, “I still believe we should make [a record].”
Emphasizing the orchestra’s role in education more than entertainment, Sanderling also stressed the importance of the youth orchestras, which he said “play an incredible role in assuring we also have an audience in next 20 years.”
The conductor explained that “to play in the youth orchestra doesn’t necessarily mean you become a soloist.” But it does mean “you spend time making music,” said Sanderling, who opined that future generations will have an orchestra only if the people love music. And “to love something you must get to know it first,” he said.
Growing up in East Germany was “gray,” said Sanderling. Of course, as the son of a renowned conductor he also grew up around music. He said he doesn’t remember at what age he decided to become a professional musician but learned piano first, next clarinet and viola. Sanderling dispelled the myth that a conductor must be able to play all the instruments in the orchestra. However, the conductor needs to know enough about every instrument to understand what it can deliver and what the conductor can demand from the player, he said.
Sanderling is scheduled to return to Europe for the summer, coming back to Ohio in time for the fall season.
“Home is where you’re happy,” Sanderling said. “That’s why Toledo is also my home.”
The May 17 and 18 concerts are billed on the Toledo Symphony Orchestra website as “the thrilling conclusion to the 2012-2013 season” and feature Cornelia Herrmann on piano. In addition to the Tchaikovsky, the program includes Haydn’s Overture to L’isola dishabitata and the Piano Concerto in C Minor, K. 491, by Mozart.
For more information, visit toledosymphony.com.