During an unusually warm spring day last week, Seattle Symphony music director Ludovic Morlot was surprisingly unruffled. He was enthusiastic about the orchestra’s rapidly approaching trip to New York to perform two dates, one at the classical temple of Carnegie Hall and one at an East Village nightclub.
The trip is not just about exposing musicians and music to new audiences. Both New York venues symbolize where the SSO is going under Morlot’s leadership — bringing audiences together to “listen boldly,” to quote the orchestra’s motto.
Morlot and the entire orchestra arrived in Manhattan over the weekend, one of six ensembles selected for the weeklong Spring for Music festival at Carnegie Hall. The fest, founded in 2011 (and retiring after this season due to lack of funding), makes selections based solely on the creativity of the programs orchestras submit. Others accepted into the fest are the symphonies of New York, Rochester, Winnipeg, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Seattle Symphony performs Tuesday night.
Morlot is no stranger to Carnegie, thanks to his tenure with the Boston Symphony, but he has never conducted there, solo.
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“Even though it’s new for me to be center stage, I have a good sense of what it can be like,” he said. He added that the acoustics at Carnegie and Benaroya halls are similarly “generous” — something that will likely feel comfortable to the orchestra.
Adding to Spring for Music’s festival atmosphere is the influx of hometown fans who come to cheer their musicians. The SSO offered package tours, and all the spots sold out.
That didn’t deter hundreds of others, who apparently decided springtime in New York with a chance to hear the orchestra was too good to pass up. Nearly 700 Seattle Symphony fans are expected to be on hand Tuesday night, according to the symphony, waving banners in the orchestra’s signature hot-pink hue.
“A combination of the support from our people and the curiosity of the New York audience will be creating something quite interesting in terms of the energy,” Morlot said.
The symphony submitted two programs to the festival and will perform this one: John Luther Adams’ “Become Ocean,” which the orchestra commissioned and premiered last year; Claude Debussy’s sea-themed “La Mer” (1903-05); and Edgard Varèse’s midcentury “Déserts.”
The nature theme seems, well, natural, coming from musicians from the Left Coast and a city with a pioneer heritage. But that’s only part of the reasoning, Morlot said.
“We want to present to New York an orchestra that, in the same program, can have one piece from the 21st century and two pieces from the 20th century. And with a French-American element. And a sense of versatility, which is one of the big strengths of our orchestra.”
He’s struck by the timing of Adams’ recent Pulitzer Prize, for “Become Ocean.”
“I knew it was a very special piece, but … it almost makes me laugh that John Luther Adams won the Pulitzer for music with this piece, not even having heard it live yet. New York will be the first time for him to hear this.”
Before the Carnegie date, a small group of players will unpack one of the symphony’s “[untitled]” programs — inspired by the series of late-night concerts in the Benaroya lobby with players in jeans and the bar still open. They’ll perform Monday at Le Poisson Rouge, the granddaddy of “out of the box” programming, which books jazz, pop, rock, world, classical, even soloists from the Metropolitan Opera.
Six Seattle players will perform contemporary works tied to key dates in Seattle’s history — from John Cage’s prepared piano to a new work by local composer Angelique Poteat, “Much Difference,” inspired by Pearl Jam.
It’s a long way from Carnegie, with its signature red seats and plush boxes.
“We wanted to create an environment where people can listen to the music the way they choose to,” Morlot said, of [untitled]. “ I think Le Poisson Rouge very much has that philosophy of mixing up genres, like we’ve been trying to do.”
Having worked so long in Europe, Morlot (who is also chief conductor of La Monnaie in Brussels) is accustomed to being on tour. It’s cheaper there, due to countries’ proximity to one another, aided by good public transportation and government support.
He also thinks going on the road is good for an orchestra for artistic reasons, and he’d like the Seattle Symphony to reap the benefits.
“When performing on the road, there seems to be a sense of wanting to do even better. Also, to build that sense of community and family within the orchestra. We are in that stage in the development of the orchestra where we are hiring a lot of new players, and touring will become one other strategy to really help create that sense of family.
“This creates something very special. A bond that is translated into the music making, for sure.”
Melissa Davis: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter @DuckMel