When Irish violinist and conductor Kevin Mallon began thinking about a program to lead with Seattle Baroque Orchestra, his instinct was to include contemporary dance.
“Kevin had the idea of doing opera excerpts by (18th-century composer Jean-Philippe) Rameau,” says August Denhard, longtime executive director of Early Music Guild, which presents historically informed music and merged with SBO in 2010. “I happened to mention that Seattle was a center for contemporary dance, so he had the idea to work with a Seattle dance company. In the end, we decided to go with a Bach cantata program, but I was really impressed by his creativity and ability to get other artists excited.”
Rameau was a major French composer of opera and harpsichord music from the Baroque era. This year marks the 250th anniversary of his death.
Mallon, 50, is one of seven conductors auditioning this season to become the new music director of SBO, founded in 1994. Mallon, who commutes between Ottawa and Toronto most weeks to take charge of various orchestras, keeps things exciting by pursuing diverse musical missions.
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“I like to tell people I have lots of part-time jobs and I cobble them together to make one,” says Mallon. “Were I offered the Seattle position, I’m going to have to give something up, no question.”
Mallon serves as music director for Aradia Ensemble, a vocal and instrumental Baroque group he founded in 1996. The touring orchestra has made 50 recordings for the Naxos label and was recently named Orchestra in Residence for the Centre for Opera Studies in Italy.
Aradia, Mallon says, “is the heart of my life. It’s my baby. I’ve made more sacrifices for it than anything else.”
Mallon also serves as music director for the Toronto Chamber Orchestra, Ottawa’s 38-year-old chamber ensemble Thirteen Strings, and New York’s West Side Chamber Orchestra. He recently accepted an interim position as director of the 30-year-old Opera Lyra in Ottawa.
Mallon will lead SBO through several sacred cantatas by Bach for Lent and Easter, including BWV 4 (Christ lay in death’s bonds), and BWV 42 (On the evening of that very same Sabbath). The full orchestra will be supplemented by oboes and bassoon, and guest vocal soloists include Linda Tsatsanis, Hannah Penn, Aaron Sheehan and Sumner Thompson.
Born in Newark, N.J., Mallon moved to Belfast, Ireland, six weeks later. He was an adolescent at the height of Northern Ireland’s explosive, ethno-nationalist conflicts in the 1970s.
“I grew up in the middle of ‘The Troubles,’ ” he says. “I wasn’t allowed to go out very much. I grew up Catholic and one of my best friends was a Protestant boy. We would hang out after school, but the next morning I could never say hello because if his friends saw he was friendly to a Catholic and vice versa, we both would’ve been beaten up.”
Mallon found a path to a different life through the violin. He received a scholarship at age 16 to Chetham’s School of Music, in Manchester, England.
“That was my biggest achievement, because I managed to escape Belfast,” he says. “All the things I do now are very well, but the big accomplishment was getting out.”
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org