Joseph Pollard White, who conducts Thalia’s season-opening concert on Nov. 4, says he wants to perform more American music, as well as music by groups “ such as composers who are women or African-American, or who use explicitly queer language.”
One of the oldest community-based orchestras in the region, the Thalia Symphony Orchestra, has a new music director. Joseph Pollard White, 59, a mainstay of the Seattle classical music scene who currently conducts the Seattle Mandolin Orchestra, will make his debut on Friday (Nov. 4).
“I think part of the reason that the orchestra and I hit it off when I first conducted them last April, on short notice, is that I want to focus more on American music from the 20th century and our own time,” White said by phone. “I also want to perform more music by underrepresented groups, such as composers who are women or African-American, or who use explicitly queer language.
“I’m really not interested in hearing every last note by Mozart when there’s so much music by other composers that doesn’t get heard at all.”
Thalia Symphony Orchestra
8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, 4805 N.E. 45th St., Seattle; $18-$24 (253- 642-7657 or thaliasymphony.org)
White’s goals are reflected, at least in part, in the season opener for Thalia, which was founded in 1948. That musical adventure has been designed to take the audience on a “little surf to turf journey” that will begin out at sea, with Wagner’s familiar Overture from the “Flying Dutchman,” and end with what White calls “a nice hike in the woods” via one of his favorite pieces, Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony No. 6. But the evening will also include two infrequently heard pieces: “Sea Horizon,” the evocative opening of the rarely heard “Harbor Narrative” of George McKay, a Seattle composer from the 1930s and ’40s, and Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending,” with Sol Im as soloist.
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“Vaughan Williams is one of those composers that a lot of people like, but a lot of orchestras don’t take seriously,” he says. “McKay, who may have been the first composition teacher at the University of Washington, paints a picture of Seattle before the war, when it was a very different kind of town.”
White acknowledged that, when it comes to European repertoire, he is drawn far more to French, English and Scandinavian music than German and Italian. Which suggests that, while he’s certainly not turning his back on them — Mozart and Mendelssohn are also part of his first season — the way forward will put more emphasis on composers such as Harris, Nielsen, Villa-Lobos, Saint-Saëns, Bernstein and Poulenc, all of whom he will conduct later in his opening season.
“Our first concert is a good example of my overall approach,” he says. “It has an underlying feel and connectivity — I like unifying fields — mixes familiar and unfamiliar music, and combines American repertoire with old-school German. We’re not backing away from the core European repertoire, but instead honoring it and going beyond it. I don’t see our mission as promoting music just off the presses, but there’s plenty of stuff that has been written over the last 50 years that deserves a hearing.”
White is also not shy of challenges. Next March, he’s joining forces with Choir of the Sound to present another of the great works, the Mozart Requiem. If all goes well, there will be more collaborations, including some semi-staged pieces.
“I think Thalia Symphony Orchestra’s music making is really solid,” he says. “We’re still here, going strong, and doing new and interesting things. I’d say the same for me. I’ve been in Seattle off and on long enough to see how much growth has happened. Our musical organizations still have a long way to go, but we’re on the right track. I see organizations like Thalia stepping up and getting to the next level, as part of what our entire musical community is doing at this exciting time.”
Information in this article, originally published Oct. 30, 2017, was corrected Oct. 31, 2017. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated soloist Sol Im’s name and the name of the Seattle Mandolin Orchestra.