The Colorado Symphony finally posted a budget surplus for the first time in its history. It’s back from the brink of death, with a growing multi-million-dollar endowment and a raft of new and returning corporate sponsors. It’s got a peppy new music director designate....
Now the musical directorship will transfer to the present associate conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, 37-year-old Brett Mitchell, who takes up the position formally on July 1, 2017. Is Mitchell the kind of committed, charismatic leader the symphony needs?
[CEO Jerome] Kern is a staunch supporter, of course. “When you look at a guy like Brett Mitchell, who’s committed to spending no less than 25 weeks a year in Denver, to move here with his wife, well, we haven’t had that since Marin Alsop,” he says.
“It’s not my first rodeo,” says Mitchell, who’s currently braving Denver’s insane housing market. In a short span of years, the conductor has accumulated a significant amount of experience, ranging from opera to leading the Cleveland Orchestra’s Youth Orchestra. He’s excited about the challenge ahead, praises the musicians (“They’ve been doing their part in this place for so long that it’s a labor of love”) and looks forward to conducting the full range of concert offerings.
“Hey,” the Seattle native says, “I am not the guy who did nothing but listen to Mozart growing up.” He confesses to playing a little alto sax à la David Sanborn – “Hey, it was the '80s!” – but he didn’t really feel the impulse to conduct until his freshman year in college.
“At first I thought I would be a band teacher,” he says. “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” Once he determined his career path, he studied extensively with such prominent conductors as Alsop, Kurt Masur and Lorin Maazel. However, he doesn’t disdain the popular fare.
“I think that, having been a staff conductor, I’ve played just about every kind of music there is for orchestra, and I love it all,” Mitchell continues. “I want to do the pop shows and the movies. My interest is to appear on every series, not just the masterworks. Those works need to be performed with the enthusiasm they deserve because they mean something. I mean, John Williams [composer of Star Wars et al.] was my intro to orchestra. That’s a gateway. Developing a broad footprint, having enormous diversity and variety — those are gateways.
“With an audience, you need to develop relatability," he goes on. "If you are doing the same thing over and over again, people can shut you out. The way that we have it is not as a museum, but as part of a continuum. How do you make music that opens ears in a new way that doesn’t make it intimidating? We want to be responsive, not reactive. We’re not dumbing down anything at all. The presentation is managed differently, and there’s more salesmanship to it. We’re just trying to have fun and share these extraordinary experiences.”
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