Profile: "Texas Music Festival’s Brett Mitchell loves football, just like you"

Houstonia Magazine has published a profile of Brett Mitchell in advance of his concerts this weekend with the Texas Music Festival:

This week’s guest conductor brings a decidedly everyman vibe to the conductor’s podium for a performance of Elgar’s Enigma Variations. (Photo by Peter Lockley)

This week’s guest conductor brings a decidedly everyman vibe to the conductor’s podium for a performance of Elgar’s Enigma Variations. (Photo by Peter Lockley)

“The only way I can be helpful to an orchestra is if I’m actually listening,” says 37-year-old, Seattle-born conductor Brett Mitchell, who led over 100 performances as assistant conductor of the Houston Symphony before becoming associate conductor of the internationally renowned Cleveland Orchestra. “So much of being a leader is about listening. And that’s just as true in a board meeting in corporate America as it is on the podium in front of an orchestra.”

Before heading north to Denver with his wife Angela to begin his tenure as music director of the Colorado Symphony for its 2017-18 season, Mitchell is in Houston this week to lead the Texas Music Festival Orchestra in performances of Finnish conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen’s sprawling L.A. Variations (1997), a concerto featuring this year’s Cynthia Woods Mitchell Young Artist Competition winner, and Edward Elgar’s lush and haunting Variations on an Original Theme, better known as the Enigma Variations. It’s the kind of program Mitchell loves: an engaging mix of the classical and the contemporary.

“I am big on contemporary American music,” Mitchell says. “It’s one of the reasons why I’m so bound to the composer’s message in the score, because I know what it’s like to look at an empty piece of staff paper and try got put some notes on that thing . . . it’s not easy! So if I can help my colleagues say what they need to say, that’s awesome.”

“Having these two sets of orchestral variations on the program, each written about 100 years apart at either end of the 20th century is very interesting to me,” says Mitchell, who will be conducting L.A. Variations for the first time. “It’s not in our blood the way the Elgar piece is. But by the end of the week, it will be.”

The TMF orchestra is made up of pre-professional musicians from all over the world, each chosen through a rigorous audition process to come to Houston and study and perform with some of classical music’s most celebrated conductors, faculty and performers. For Mitchell, who has appeared as a guest conductor with orchestras across the country and served as music director of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra, preparing for a performance with young musicians isn’t all that different from working with a seasoned professional orchestra.

“The piece is the piece,” Mitchell says matter-of-factly. “If we’re going to do the Enigma Variations, we’re gonna do the Enigma Variations. The ensemble is kind of incidental to that.”

“Part of working with a young orchestra is letting them know you have these high standards,” he continues. “But how you inspire them to get there is telling them you believe in them, that they are better than they think they are and can do more as a group of musicians than any of us can do by ourselves.”

Audiences at the Texas Music Festival will no doubt appreciate Mitchell’s warm, down-to-earth demeanor, which serves him well in his roles as a conductor of major orchestras, advocate for contemporary composition and a mentor to younger musicians.

“I have many of the same tastes and inclinations as my peers,” says Mitchell, whose résumé includes appearing as a contestant on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. “Each fall I get beside myself when the NFL comes back. I was so excited when season six of Veep premiered a couple months ago. I just happen to have this sliver of something that I do, that I have chosen to make my life’s work, which is classical music.”

To read the complete profile, please click here.

Audio: "Special Interview: Former Longhorn conductor Brett Mitchell talks Texas Music Festival"

Photo by Gregg Barckholtz

Photo by Gregg Barckholtz

Brett Mitchell spoke with KMFA 89.5 (Austin) about his upcoming performances with the Texas Music Festival and his decade of musical experiences in Texas:

Thirty-seven-year-old conductor Brett Mitchell has served as both the assistant and associate conductor of the venerable Cleveland Orchestra for the last four years. Prior to that, he spent six years in Houston where he was the assistant conductor of the Houston Symphony and later, for a brief time, was music director of the Moores Opera Center at the University of Houston. Effective next month, he’ll start a new job as music director of the Colorado Symphony. But before Denver, Houston, and Cleveland, Brett Mitchell was a Longhorn. He received both masters and doctorate degrees from UT’s Butler School of Music, where he was a student from 2001 to 2005. Coincidentally, Mitchell also made his Cleveland Orchestra debut in Austin when they were here on tour back in 2014.

Mitchell returns to Texas this month for a week-long residency with the Texas Music Festival at the University of Houston. He’ll conduct Elgar, Shostakovich, and Salonen in two concerts. Rideshare host Chris Johnson called him last week to catch up while he was in Florida for a residency with the Sarasota Music Festival.

To hear the complete interview, please click here.

Review: "Students and faculty continue to impress in Sarasota Music Festival's second weekend"

Brett Mitchell led the Sarasota Music Festival Orchestra in works of Stravinsky and Mozart at the Sarasota Opera House on Saturday, June 17. (Photo by Peter Lockley)

Brett Mitchell led the Sarasota Music Festival Orchestra in works of Stravinsky and Mozart at the Sarasota Opera House on Saturday, June 17. (Photo by Peter Lockley)

The Sarasota Observer has published a review of Brett Mitchell's recent performance with the Sarasota Music Festival Orchestra:

Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor ended the evening, showcasing both the increasing artistry of the orchestra and introducing a new conductor to the Festival. Brett Mitchell, conductor of the Colorado Symphony and a slew of guest engagements, is a real find. His spare yet eloquent technique brought forth all the lovely contours of the work without sacrificing any of the precision. Often conducting phrases more than measures, Mitchell and the orchestra created a beautiful, moving and mature performance that made it even more difficult to realize this is nominally a student festival orchestra and not an ongoing entity. Yes, it was that good!

To read the complete review, please click here.

Video: Brett Mitchell and Alexander Kerr discuss Sarasota Music Festival's "Mostly Mozart"

Guest conductor Brett Mitchell and violin soloist Alexander Kerr appeared on ABC 7's Suncoast View to discuss the Sarasota Music Festival's orchestral concert on Saturday, June 17. On that program, Mr. Mitchell will lead Stravinsky's Dumbarton Oaks, Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3 with Mr. Kerr as soloist, and Mozart's Symphony No. 40. To watch this segment, please click here.

Review: "Cleveland Orchestra: 'West Side Story' at Severance Hall"

Brett Mitchell leads The Cleveland Orchestra in Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story at Severance Hall. (Photo by Roger Mastroianni)

Brett Mitchell leads The Cleveland Orchestra in Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story at Severance Hall. (Photo by Roger Mastroianni)

Cleveland Classical has published a review of Brett Mitchell's recent performances of West Side Story with The Cleveland Orchestra:

After the deaths of Riff and Bernardo during the rumble in West Side Story, Ice tells the simmering Jets to “keep cool, boy.” Associate conductor Brett Mitchell minded that advice early on Sunday afternoon at Severance Hall when his video monitor gave up the ghost right after intermission. Calmly watching two technicians grapple with that show-stopping problem, he quipped to the audience, “We could just tell you how it ends.” After some tugging on wires, the monitor came to life and the 1961 film version of the show went on to its inevitable, tragic climax amid the symphonic splendor of live music from The Cleveland Orchestra.

Mitchell’s role was crucial and tricky. Thanks to the way movies are made, vocal and orchestral tracks are recorded separately, making it an easy matter to nix the prerecorded orchestra but complicating things for the guy on the podium. It’s one thing to coordinate music between pit and stage in a Broadway musical and quite another to sync live musicians with the inexorable timing of a film. That’s where Mitchell’s video monitor came into play: a series of “streamers” (warnings of upcoming events) and “punches” (dots indicating precise moments of coordination) marched across his screen, superimposed on the movie, giving him both conductorial flexibility and the possibility of exactitude. It was fun to watch.

Conductor and orchestra did an admirable job of playing excitingly and expressively while matching their music to the singing and dancing on the big screen — and Jerome Robbins’ choreography makes West Side Story nearly as much of a ballet with singing and dialogue as it is a beloved piece of American musical theater.

When the original stage version of the show opened at New York’s Winter Garden Theater in 1957, an orchestra of 31 players — large for Broadway — included 5 percussionists, guitarist, and a piano/celesta player. On Sunday, the Severance Hall stage was teeming with musicians, providing an opulent symphonic palette for Leonard Bernstein’s music....

The management kept the lights down during the end titles, staving off the normal run for the exits and allowing the audience to enjoy retrospective music from the score. Brett Mitchell and The Cleveland Orchestra won a huge ovation at the end. After several bows, Mitchell responded by hoisting Bernstein’s score aloft for its own round of applause.

To read the complete review, please click here.

Preview: "28th Annual Immanuel and Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival highlights classical music rising stars in June and July"

Brett Mitchell, pictured here with The Cleveland Orchestra, will conduct two performances of works by Esa-Pekka Salonen and Edward Elgar at the 2017 Texas Music Festival. (Photo by Roger Mastroianni) 

Brett Mitchell, pictured here with The Cleveland Orchestra, will conduct two performances of works by Esa-Pekka Salonen and Edward Elgar at the 2017 Texas Music Festival. (Photo by Roger Mastroianni) 

Hot in Houston Now has published a preview of the 2017 Texas Music Festival, during which Brett Mitchell will conduct two performances of works by Esa-Pekka Salonen and Edward Elgar:

This summer, expect to be engaged, enraptured and invigorated when classical music’s rising stars perform major classical and contemporary works by luminaries including Daniel Catán, Chausson, Elgar, Mussorgsky, Rachmaninoff, Ravel, Shostakovich and Strauss at the 28th Annual Immanuel and Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival (TMF).

The TMF “Cool & Classical” Orchestra Series, set for June 10, June 17, June 23-24 and July 1, will showcase the crème de la crème of pre-professional musicians here to study and perform with world-class conductors, soloists and faculty artists at the University of Houston (UH) Moores Opera House and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.

The 2017 TMF Season will feature two TMF conductor debuts, [including] Brett Mitchell (Week 3), Houston Symphony assistant conductor 2007-11.

June 23 (Woodlands Pavilion) and June 24 (Moores Opera House)
“Orchestral Variations”

Brett Mitchell, conductor
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Young Artist Competition Winner, soloist
Esa-Pekka Salonen: L.A. Variations
TBA: Solo with CWMYA Competition Winner
Edward Elgar: Variations on an original theme, “Enigma”

To read the complete preview, please click here.

Review: "Cleveland Orchestra closes season in style with spectacular 'West Side Story' film presentation"

The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) has published a review of Brett Mitchell's subscription performance of Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story:

Call it unorthodox. Call it populist. Just don't call the Cleveland Orchestra's season finale anything less than spectacular.

Sure, by performing "West Side Story" live with the film, the orchestra is breaking a few tired, unwritten rules. Instead of its traditional subscription brochure, the orchestra is taking a page out of its "At the Movies" pamphlet.

But who cares? The reward justifies the risk. Any number of core classical works might have filled the season finale slot, but the fact is "West Side Story" suits the occasion perfectly, better than just about anything else.

It's not just the season finale, you see. In addition to Severance Hall for the year, the orchestra is also bidding farewell to associate conductor Brett Mitchell, a staunch advocate of American music and of Leonard Bernstein's in particular. In that sense, then, this "West Side Story" is also an homage to his memorable tenure.

But let's make one clear: Even out of all context, this presentation is a joy. You may know "West Side Story" like the back of your hand. You may have seen the film or show a million times. Unless you were in attendance Thursday night, however, you've truly never seen a "West Side Story" quite like this.

Talk about larger than life. The screen Thursday night was big, but the Cleveland Orchestra was even bigger. To the experience the ensemble provided, no studio or pit orchestra comes close.

Anyone who's attended an "At the Movies" showing knows of the orchestra's ability to amplify a film, to bring a soundtrack into the forefront and make every action and emotion doubly poignant. Well, imagine the effect when that score is already one of the greatest of its kind, the tale is centuries old, and the film is an acknowledged classic boasting star power on just about every front.

The success of the overture might have been expected. As a stand-alone piece, it's part of the orchestra's repertoire. The rest, though, came as a series of miniature triumphs, surprisingly bold performances that made even the most familiar of tunes sound fresh and new.

Again and again, too, there was something magical in the contrast between the realistic (for the time) grit of the visuals and the supreme elegance of the music. At times, even as Mitchell kept the players in seamless balance with the film, not even Rita Moreno or a dubbed Richard Beymer or Natalie Wood were equal to the orchestra.

To call out highlights would be to list almost every musical number in "West Side Story." Still, a few moments stand out from the pack. "America" is always a hit; in this account, it was a smash. "Tonight," too, was thrilling, and "Gee, Officer Krupke" was a tsunami of song. "Cool" never gets much respect, but in this version, it fully lived up to its name, right along with the rousing "Jet Song."

At first, Thursday night, the audience kept its clear desire to applaud in check. But that restraint did not last long. After two or three of the bigger numbers, the floodgates burst open and remained open through the credits and beyond.

Bernstein. Jerome Robbins. Stephen Sondheim. The orchestra and Mitchell. All, in the end, received due praise for a job exceedingly well done.

To read the complete review, please click here.

Preview: Cleveland Orchestra closing 2016-17 season with ‘West Side Story’

Brett Mitchell will lead The Cleveland Orchestra in four performances of West Side Story to close their 2016-17 season.

Brett Mitchell will lead The Cleveland Orchestra in four performances of West Side Story to close their 2016-17 season.

The News-Herald (Cleveland) has published a preview of Brett Mitchell's final subscription concerts as Associate Conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra:

Brett Mitchell is, unabashedly, a fanboy of legendary composer Leonard Bernstein. However, unlike Comic Con-goers — whose adoration is limited to “Star Wars” and such things — the Cleveland Orchestra Associate Conductor’s love affair begins with “West Side Story.”

“When you think about American music in the 20th century, it’s impossible not to think of Leonard Bernstein,” Mitchell said. “Notice, I didn’t say American classical music or American orchestral music. I mean, Lenny had his hands in every possible cookie jar he could.

“It’s amazing to me to think Bernstein was music director of the New York Philharmonic from 1958 to 1969. It was literally the year before he started that they released ‘West Side Story,’ which is one of the great Broadway hits of all-time. You’ve got somebody that really was every bit as comfortable in the Broadway world as he was in the classical, orchestral world.”

The Cleveland Orchestra is merging those worlds for “West Side Story,” which is the season finale of its “At the Movies” series. Performances run June 1 through 4 at Severance Hall.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Broadway production.

With Mitchell conducting, the Cleveland Orchestra will perform Bernstein’s electrifying score (including iconic songs “Something’s Coming,” “Tonight,” “America,” “I Feel Pretty” and “Somewhere”) while the remastered film is shown on a high-definition big screen with the original vocals and dialog.

When looking over the score, Mitchell said the challenge for the Orchestra stems around the material, which is very much symphonic but also based in dance music and jazz. The latter finds the musicians coming out of their collective comfort zone.

“It’s very much letting our hair down, and it’s a whole lot of fun for all of us,” Mitchell said. “The great joy for me in particularly doing film projects like this with the Cleveland Orchestra is that there is no more-flexible orchestra in the world. We’re basically kind of retrofitting the accompaniment onto these pre-existing sung vocal lines.

“Having an orchestra like the Cleveland Orchestra — that has no problem playing as quietly and as subtly and as sensitively as possible — that is really a boon for me on the podium and fantastic for the audience. It’s great to do a project like this because it really lets both the Orchestra and the film shine.”

What makes this program different is normally the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra performs the most challenging material that may not appeal to neophytes. This is one example where universal appeal exists for the casual music or movie fan.

“Everybody knows ‘West Side Story,’ everybody can sing a tune from ‘West Side Story,’” Mitchell said. “And the idea you can see it on the big screen, that’s fantastic. But what’s really fantastic is having one of the world’s greatest orchestras, along with a conductor who is an unabashed devotee of Leonard Bernstein, doing this project together in Severance Hall on subscription as the season finale.

“It doesn’t get bigger than that. This is not just a performance, it’s an event. I couldn’t be more excited.”

To read the complete article, please click here.

Preview: "Cleveland Orchestra bidding farewell to conductor Brett Mitchell with 'West Side Story' film"

Associate conductor Brett Mitchell is about to conclude his tenure with the Cleveland Orchestra with a live performance with film of Bernstein's "West Side Story," a project he describes as "tailor-made for my relationship with the Cleveland Orchestra." (Photo by Roger Mastroianni)

Associate conductor Brett Mitchell is about to conclude his tenure with the Cleveland Orchestra with a live performance with film of Bernstein's "West Side Story," a project he describes as "tailor-made for my relationship with the Cleveland Orchestra." (Photo by Roger Mastroianni)

The Plain Dealer has published a preview of Brett Mitchell's upcoming subscription concerts with The Cleveland Orchestra, his final Severance Hall performances as the ensemble's associate conductor:

No one conceived the Cleveland Orchestra's season finale next week as a farewell to associate conductor Brett Mitchell.

As it turns out, however, that's exactly what it is, and with "West Side Story" as the main attraction, even Mitchell himself couldn't have planned it better.

"For someone like me, it's just about perfect," said Mitchell, the future music director of the Colorado Symphony. "It's tailor-made for my relationship with the Cleveland Orchestra."

Indeed, it's hard to imagine a program more representative of Mitchell's four years at Severance Hall than a live performance of Bernstein's "West Side Story" along with the film.

During Mitchell's tenure, the orchestra's commitment to film music expanded significantly. Meanwhile, all along, he served as a staunch advocate for American music of all stripes, Bernstein's included....

"I wish I could take credit for it, but it wasn't even my idea," said Mitchell of "West Side Story," a film that also taps his lifelong love of American musical theater. "I just feel very fortunate that my musical background has prepared me for this kind of project."

It's a good thing he's prepared. Performing "West Side Story" this way, live and in synch with the film, is a task far more complicated than it would be with many other films, or conducting a traditional performance in concert or as part of a theater production.

The challenge, in this case, is the film itself. Long before anyone could have dreamed of an orchestra performing the film live, the editors of "West Side Story" spliced together tidbits from any number of recorded takes, all of which differ slightly in terms of tempo.

Following along, therefore, becomes something of a "high-wire act," Mitchell explained. "You've got to hit every single one of those transitions live. You really don't have any choice."

Not that there's any real risk of falling. During their time together, Mitchell and the orchestra have become old pros at performing film scores in this manner.

Mitchell therefore knows of what he speaks when he predicts that this account of "West Side Story," his last scheduled appearance as a member of the Cleveland Orchestra, will be unlike any other he's seen or been a part of.

"This is a really special way to experience 'West Side Story,'" Mitchell said. "When you get to hear this score with this orchestra, it's really going to highlight Bernstein's music in a way other versions simply cannot do."

To read the complete preview, please click here.

Brett Mitchell receives commendations from Cleveland mayor and Confucius Institute

Anthony Yen presents Brett Mitchell with commendations from the Cleveland mayor and the Confucius Institute on Friday, May 12 at Severance Hall. (Photo by Zhang Xuhong

Anthony Yen presents Brett Mitchell with commendations from the Cleveland mayor and the Confucius Institute on Friday, May 12 at Severance Hall. (Photo by Zhang Xuhong

Hanban News (Beijing) has published an article about two commendations bestowed upon Brett Mitchell at his final concert as Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra:

In 2015, Brett Mitchell led the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra on an international tour to Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Ningbo, and conducted a barrier-free communication through the language of music to promote cultural exchange between China and the United States.

In recognition of Mr. Mitchell's contributions to exchanges between China and the United States, and to honor his musical achievements, Anthony Yen [Chairman of the Confucius Institute at Cleveland State University] presented Mr. Mitchell with a Certificate of Appreciation on behalf of the Confucius Institute. Mr. Yen also presented Mr. Mitchell with a Certificate of Recognition on behalf of the mayor of Cleveland.

To read the complete article (in Chinese), please click here.

Review: Brett Mitchell's final performance with the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra

Brett Mitchell led his final concert as Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra on Friday, May 12 at Severance Hall. (Photo by Roger Mastroianni)

Brett Mitchell led his final concert as Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra on Friday, May 12 at Severance Hall. (Photo by Roger Mastroianni)

Cleveland Classical has published a review of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra's 2016-17 season finale, which also marked Brett Mitchell's final performance after four seasons as the group's Music Director:

The Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra played an ambitious program of works by Joan Tower, Maurice Ravel, and Sergei Prokofiev at Severance Hall on Friday evening, May 12, the last concert of their 2016-17 season. It was a bittersweet occasion. Not only did the Orchestra bid farewell to a group of graduating seniors, but it was conductor Brett Mitchell’s 29th and final concert with COYO, marking the end of his four-year term as Associate Conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra before taking up duties as Music Director of the Colorado Symphony.

Given the unsettled political climate in the United States, American composer Joan Tower’s Made in America seemed a particularly apt bit of programming. A 15-minute tone poem that draws on ongoing struggles in American history, its music is urgent and often quite dissonant. But phrases of America the Beautiful emerge from the musical texture, reminding the listener of the country’s strengths. COYO was up to the work’s challenges....

Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G is a minefield, full of exposed entrances, tricky ensemble, and important solos in the orchestra, with plenty of opportunities for things to go awry. On top of all that, the music needs to sound elegant and effortless. The stakes are high. Catharine Baek, a 17-year-old junior at Willoughby South High School and winner of the 2016-17 COYO Concerto Competition, was a fluent soloist. She had the fistfuls of notes well in hand, and she caught the spirit of Ravel’s difficult solo part.... It was an enjoyable reading. Brett Mitchell and COYO were supportive accompanists throughout.

Mitchell stretched the young performers to their limits in Prokofiev’s wartime masterpiece, Symphony No. 5. The opening movement features both soaring lyricism and Prokofiev’s own brand of high drama, reaching a volcanic fortissimo at the final chord. The second movement Allegro (essentially a scherzo) is full of chattering winds, with only a brief moment of repose at its center. Although the sense of the Adagio is funereal, Mitchell emphasized its mercurial mood changes, from calm to bombast. The fourth movement finished with a madcap race to the Symphony’s end.

To read the complete review, please click here.

Audio: "Brett Mitchell's final concert with the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra"

Brett Mitchell and COYO musician Catharine Baek at the WCLV studios on Wednesday, May 10. (Photo by Mark Satola)

Brett Mitchell and COYO musician Catharine Baek at the WCLV studios on Wednesday, May 10. (Photo by Mark Satola)

Brett Mitchell spoke with WCLV's Bill O'Connell about the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra's upcoming 2016-17 season finale, which also marks Mr. Mitchell's final performance as the ensemble's Music Director. Mr. Mitchell was joined in the interview by COYO member Catharine Baek, who won the orchestra's annual concerto competition, and will perform Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major on the concert, presented on Friday, May 12 at Severance Hall. To hear this interview, please click here.

Mr. Mitchell and Ms. Baek also spoke with WCLV's Mark Satola in an interview that will air during the intermission of Friday's concert. To hear this interview, please click here.

Preview: Brett Mitchell's final concert with the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra

The Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra and outgoing music director Brett Mitchell kicked off this season with a momentous program pairing: a commissioned work by Roger Briggs with Bruckner's Symphony No. 4. (Photo by Roger Mastroianni)

The Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra and outgoing music director Brett Mitchell kicked off this season with a momentous program pairing: a commissioned work by Roger Briggs with Bruckner's Symphony No. 4. (Photo by Roger Mastroianni)

The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) has published a preview of Brett Mitchell's final concert as Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra:

This weekend marks more than just the end of another season.

The Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra's concert Friday marks both the group's season finale and its final performance with conductor Brett Mitchell, music director since 2013.

"It's hard for me to even talk about," said Mitchell. "I will never have another relationship with an orchestra like the one I have with COYO. It's going to be very hard to say goodbye."

After four years with Mitchell, future music director of the Colorado Symphony, the group is more than ready to present a season finale featuring Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5, the Ravel G-Major Piano Concerto (with pianist Catharine Baek) and Joan Tower's "Made in America."

And that's just the capstone. Under Mitchell's watch, COYO grew by leaps and bounds, taking on such challenges as Bruckner's Symphony No. 4, Bernstein's Symphony No. 1, several contemporary scores and a tour of China. The group soon to be inherited by conductor Vinay Parameswaran will be one capable of just about anything.

For COYO, Mitchell said, what matters most isn't excellence in any one piece but rather a supportive culture. "We have to play for each other. It's not just about playing together. I'm a big fan of everybody being in it for everybody."

Mitchell, for his part, said he's just glad to be going out with Prokofiev's Fifth. If he'd programmed a work that ends with a long note instead of a bang, "I'd be tempted to hold it for five minutes," he said. "I wouldn't want to let go."

To read the complete preview, please click here.

Feature: "Brett Mitchell to lead his final COYO concert on May 12 at Severance Hall"

Brett Mitchell will lead his final concert as Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra on Friday, May 12 at Severance Hall. (Photo by Roger Mastroianni)

Brett Mitchell will lead his final concert as Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra on Friday, May 12 at Severance Hall. (Photo by Roger Mastroianni)

Cleveland Classical has published a feature about Brett Mitchell on the eve of his final concert as Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra:

“I don’t know where four seasons went,” Brett Mitchell said by telephone. On Friday, May 12 at 8:00 pm in Severance Hall, Mitchell will conduct his final concert as music director of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra before relocating to Denver to become music director of the Colorado Symphony. The program will include works by Joan Tower, Sergei Prokofiev, and Maurice Ravel.

Friday’s concert will be performance number 29 for Mitchell. He said there is something to be proud of in all of them, although the accomplishment of which he is most proud goes beyond the music. “It is the sense of family that we have built. What I find most rewarding is when I compliment someone or a section during rehearsal, the automatic response from the rest of the orchestra is to shuffle their feet and cheer.”

Mitchell recalled that following COYO’s tour to China, he reminded his players that there are no great achievements in life that can be accomplished on their own. They need their colleagues and their colleagues need them. “It’s not only about the individual, it’s everyone wanting to make their colleagues look as good as humanly possible. It’s about playing supportively so that your colleague has their moment to shine.”

Even though two of the works on Friday’s concert were programmed long before Mitchell’s new position was ever discussed, it could not have been planned any better to send him off. “Programming American contemporary music is an enormous part of who I am. It could not be more perfect than to open the concert with Joan Tower’s Made in America.”

In addition to Tower’s work being a great composition, Mitchell feels it is important to program music written by women, especially when working with young people. “It’s important to remember that COYO is comprised of 50% young men and 50% young women..."

Mitchell will literally be going out with a bang with a performance of Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5, the first of the composer’s symphonies to be performed by the ensemble. “I have been thinking about this because there are two ways to end a work loudly — either with a long last note, or in tempo with a big final short one like this piece. I think the loud short note is going to be good for me and the orchestra because if there were a fermata on that final bar, it would give me the opportunity to reflect and savor the moment. And the symphony would last another five minutes because I wouldn’t want to let it go. But this ending provides a great lesson for all of us. When the time comes, the time comes — it’s over and we need to move on to our next things.”

To read the complete article, please click here.

Feature: "Cleveland Orchestra associate conductor Brett Mitchell says farewell this Friday"

Cool Cleveland has published a feature about Brett Mitchell on the eve of his final performance as Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra:

Photo by Roger Mastroianni

Photo by Roger Mastroianni

Just over four years ago, Brett Mitchell and his then-fiancée, Angela, packed up their home in Houston and moved to Cleveland. While picking up their first round of groceries in University Heights, they told the cashier they were new in town. The cashier asked why they moved here. Brett said he was the new assistant conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra.

The Cleveland Orchestra?” the cashier said. “Oh my god, that’s awesome!”

Mitchell was stunned.

“I’ve never lived anywhere that takes such pride in their orchestra like Cleveland,” he said.

In July, Mitchell will say goodbye to Cleveland and replace Andrew Litton as music director of the Colorado Symphony. And this Friday, Mitchell will lead the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra (COYO) in their last concert of the season.

“I will never have another relationship with an orchestra like I do with COYO,” he said over the phone.

For Mitchell, leading some of the best young musicians in the country has had its share of rewards and challenges. Unlike most professional orchestras, youth orchestras have a high turnover rate.

“We have these kids for a maximum of six years. Once you’re done with high school, that’s it,” he said. “If somebody wins a job in the Cleveland Orchestra at the age of 28, they may well be there four decades later.”

Keeping a certain standard of excellence while adjusting to a constantly changing roster of players is a challenge every youth orchestra faces. But it’s a challenge that, when met, yields high returns.

“If you can do it like we have, then it becomes one of the most rewarding things,” Mitchell said. When players move on, he gets to watch some of them pursue careers as professional musicians.

“But it’s hard on a personal level,” he said. “It’s like saying goodbye to anybody.”

Unlike the young players he’s mentored for the last four years, Mitchell didn’t hear a live orchestra until his late teens.

“Like a lot of people born in 1979, I’m sure I’m not alone in saying the first orchestral music I ever heard was coming out of a TV,” he said. “It was Star Wars, and it was Superman, and it was Indiana Jones and it was E.T.

Mitchell’s musical upbringing is also unconventional when compared to that of his peers.

“I know a lot of my colleagues began their musical journey when they were three years old playing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’ on their violin. I wasn’t doing that.”

Instead, Mitchell was listening to the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Elton John and Billy Joel.

“It was the pop music of my parents’ generation that I grew up around.”

Mitchell grew up in Seattle. Later, after winning his first job, he became close with the conductor of his hometown symphony, the legendary Gerard Schwarz.

“Every time I would go home to Seattle to visit my family, I would get together with Gerry at his house on Queen Anne Hill, which was wonderful. I learned a ton from him,” Mitchell said.

During his long tenure as conductor of the Seattle Symphony, Schwarz was a champion of composers like Walter Piston, Alan Hovhanness, Paul Creston, Peter Mennin and David Diamond. He programmed and recorded American music that most American orchestras, for whatever reason, won’t even touch.

In a way, Mitchell, whose first season with the Colorado Symphony will include the likes of Kevin Puts, Missy Mazzoli and Mason Bates, could be the next great champion for contemporary American orchestral music....

Still, there’s no denying Mitchell will soon be leading an orchestra that, as he puts it, doesn’t “just think outside the box, but will actually go outside the box.” ...

As the music director, Mitchell sees his mission as a simple one: “We have to give people a reason to not stay at home.”

“I could put on a recording of Karajan and Berlin doing Beethoven 9, and I don’t have to put on pants and I could open a bottle of wine in my kitchen, and it’s an amazing, glorious sound,” he said.

But what you can’t get at home, said Mitchell, are thoughtful musical combinations that move you in unexpected ways.

“I love playing Beethoven,” he said. “But I think it’s a hell of a lot more effective if you play it in the context of what the Beethovens of today are trying to do.”

Mitchell recalls a concert he did with Colorado back in January.

“I programmed Kevin Puts’ second symphony. And then we took a little intermission, and then we did Beethoven 9.”

Juxtaposing the “Ode to Joy” with a present-day symphony written in response to 9/11? You can’t buy that off the record store shelf.

Things seem to happen quickly for Mitchell in the music world. Just two years into his tenure with the Cleveland Orchestra, he was promoted from assistant conductor to associate conductor. He was only the fifth person in the organization’s nearly 100 years to hold that title.

Mitchell’s audition for the Colorado Symphony was no exception. Last July, he flew to Denver to conduct a season preview concert that featured an eclectic mix of classical and pops repertoire.

“It was actually the perfect program for a music director audition,” he recalled.

Mitchell not only had immediate chemistry with the orchestra, but with the management and the audience.

The next afternoon, the symphony board chair called Mitchell to offer him the job.

“I think it was seeing me be able to work with the orchestra on all of this very different kind of repertoire” that impressed them, he said....

This Friday, Mitchell will lead COYO in a challenging program of Joan Tower, Maurice Ravel and Sergei Prokofiev. Mitchell has conducted Prokofiev’s fifth symphony a number of times, but he’s energized by the fact that it’s new and fresh to these young musicians.

“I have to remind myself it’s not just another Prokofiev 5,” Mitchell said. “This is the first time these kids are ever playing this piece. For some of them, it’s the first time they’ve ever played any music by Prokofiev. And it’s a hell of a first dive into the pool.”

Mitchell doesn’t start his new job in Denver until July 1st. But Friday’s concert will be a bittersweet occasion.

“As great as professional orchestras are, there’s something about working with young musicians exploring this music for the first time,” he said.

“You can never recapture that.”

To read the complete article, please click here.

Video: "Brett Mitchell reflects on his time in Cleveland"

Brett Mitchell speaks with WCLV Classical 104.9's Bill O'Connell on this week's episode of WVIZ/PBS's Applause.

Brett Mitchell speaks with WCLV Classical 104.9's Bill O'Connell on this week's episode of WVIZ/PBS's Applause.

This week's episode of Applause, a local arts magazine produced by WVIZ/PBS in Cleveland, features a story about Brett Mitchell's four seasons with The Cleveland Orchestra and his upcoming tenure with the Colorado Symphony, and includes a sit-down interview with Mr. Mitchell and WCLV Classical 104.9's Bill O'Connell. To watch this video, please click here.

Preview: Brett Mitchell to lead two world premieres with members of The Cleveland Orchestra

Brett Mitchell will lead members of The Cleveland Orchestra in two world premieres this weekend at Knight Concert Hall in Miami.

Brett Mitchell will lead members of The Cleveland Orchestra in two world premieres this weekend at Knight Concert Hall in Miami.

El Nuevo Herald (Miami) has published a preview of this weekend's Cleveland Orchestra concerts in Miami, including two world premieres by composers from the University of Miami's Frost School of Music, presented by members of The Cleveland Orchestra under the baton of Associate Conductor Brett Mitchell. To read the complete preview (in Spanish), please click here.

Review: "For young listeners, a poignant, relevant reminder of history"

Brett Mitchell led The Cleveland Orchestra in six performances at the Maltz Performing Arts Center at Temple-Tifereth in Cleveland. (Photo by Roger Mastroianni)

Brett Mitchell led The Cleveland Orchestra in six performances at the Maltz Performing Arts Center at Temple-Tifereth in Cleveland. (Photo by Roger Mastroianni)

Seen and Heard International has published a review of Brett Mitchell's recent concerts with The Cleveland Orchestra:

Are we doomed to repeat our history?

Not if we do the work necessary to wake people up with the arts, humanity’s mirror. In light of fractious political movements worldwide, this Cleveland Orchestra presentation of “Violins of Hope” can be seen as not merely an educational program, but a critically important call for awareness....

The music was led with poise by Brett Mitchell, the Cleveland Orchestra’s outstanding associate conductor. Mitchell started with Gerald Finzi’s gravely beautiful Prelude for string orchestra, one of the few orchestral works by the always expressive but never prolific English composer, born of a Jewish family, though himself an agnostic....

The “Allegro molto” from Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony (an arrangement of his harrowing String Quartet No. 8) brought to life the terror that came with the rise of the Nazis and their attendant monstrosities. Mitchell’s direction made the explosive movement part of the program’s whole—intense but less violent than it might be in a complete performance, and showing a shrewd sense of musical storytelling....

The actors then told the story of violinist Bronislaw Huberman, who formed the Palestine Symphony—today the Israel Philharmonic. Their first concert was in 1936, led by Arturo Toscanini, who opened with Rossini’s overture to La scala di seta. Mitchell made no attempt to imitate Toscanini’s fierce manner, again maintaining the program’s context: joyous in relief, but guarded.

The orchestra performed this important program six times to student audiences in the Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center on the campus of Case Western Reserve University, reaching three thousand elementary and middle school students, who had been prepared with in-class study guides. The seriousness and attentiveness of these young thinkers are reasons to hope that this time, history will not be allowed to repeat itself.

To read the complete review, please click here.

"Violins of Hope" concert teaches about the Holocaust

Brett Mitchell led The Cleveland Orchestra in "Violins of Hope," a series of education concerts presented at the Maltz Performing Arts Center at The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Cleveland. (Photo by Roger Mastroianni)

Brett Mitchell led The Cleveland Orchestra in "Violins of Hope," a series of education concerts presented at the Maltz Performing Arts Center at The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Cleveland. (Photo by Roger Mastroianni)

Cleveland Jewish News has published an article about Brett Mitchell's concerts this week with The Cleveland Orchestra:

More than 3,000 local students and community members listened to music, learned about the Holocaust and were taught how music can invoke hope even in the most challenging times during The Cleveland Orchestra’s “Violins of Hope” concert’s encore presentations March 8 to 10 at the Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center at The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Cleveland.

The hour-long show consisted of music played by the orchestra, interspersed with eight actors telling the audience about what Jews endured in the Holocaust and how music helped them survive.

The performance was conducted by The Cleveland Orchestra’s associate conductor Brett Mitchell and featured first associate concertmaster Peter Otto and assistant principal cellist Charles Bernard.

“They didn’t really realize how successful it was going to be, so immediately when we started it last time everybody I think had this collective feeling that there was something very special and so it would be a shame to just do it one time,” Otto told the Cleveland Jewish News. “I think even though it’s not particularly gruesome in its descriptions of what happened, it still gets the major points across and I think even for young kids the message is very uplifting because it’s ultimately about hope.”

The Cleveland Orchestra and the Case Western Reserve University / Cleveland Play House Master of Fine Arts Program in Acting put on the program. It included “Simchas Torah” (“Rejoicing”) from “Baal Shem,” by Ernest Bloch; “Kol Nidrei,” Opus 47 by Max Bruch; Overture on Hebrew Themes, Opus 34 by Sergei Prokofiev; and John Williams’s music from the film “Schindler's List.” The actors played Jewish, European characters, dressed in 1930s and 40s attire, who between songs described the role of music in Jewish life before, after and during the Holocaust.

“Music was central to Jewish life,” said one of the eight characters, who described when the Nazi’s came to power and began forcing restrictions on Jews.

“The instruments are the voices of the victims,” a character said, adding that some Jews survived the concentration camps because they were given jobs playing music. “As long as they wanted music, they couldn’t put us in the gas chamber.”

The first presentation of the program in December 2015 was attended by more than 10,000 students. For that production, The Cleveland Orchestra played instruments preserved from the Holocaust, which were collected by Israeli violin maker Amnon Weinstein. Although for the 2017 program those instruments were not available, Otto said that the program retains the always-relevant message.

“I think it’s a great educational tool for children and I think ultimately a lot of them don’t know anything about it,” said Otto, who in the original show played a violin saved from Auschwitz. “And in an environment with anti-Semitism on the rise again, I think it’s never too early to start educating people.”

To read the complete article, please click here.