In the lovely courtyard of the Hotel Misión Carlton on a sunny Thursday afternoon, this week’s featured guest artists in the OFJ, American conductor Michael Christie and Claire Huangci, young American virtuoso pianist of Chinese heritage, spoke at a recent press conference about the particular joys and challenges involved in putting together this week’s program, the first in the orchestra’s Rachmaninov cycle which is being offered this season.
After a brief but informative introduction by General Manager Arturo Gómez Poulat, Michael Christie began the conference by expressing his pleasure in being able to conduct his Mexican debut here in Guadalajara with a varied and interesting repertoire, the Symphony No. 59 (“Fire”) by Franz Josef Haydn, a Guadalajara premiere; the First Piano Concerto by Sergei Rachmaninov, and the Symphony No. 4 (“Italian”) by Felix Mendelssohn.
Maestro Christie praised the effort put forth by the orchestra in its preparation of two works which have never been performed by the majority of the musicians, the Haydn and the Rachmaninov (whose second and third concertos are popular and often performed but the first and the fourth little known) and the orchestra’s flexibility in adapting to the style of a new guest conductor in a work which is quite familiar to them, the Mendelssohn “Italian”.
Mendelssohn, says Christie, is “the bridge between Classicism and Romanticism”. Whereas the Haydn Symphony is performed by a reduced orchestra, perhaps a third of its seventy-five members, the Mendelssohn needs to achieve a similar sense of intimacy with nearly all of the orchestra onstage. At the same time, it offers delightful lyricism and great beauty, depicting with its melodies a place rather like Guadalajara, where the sun is shining and people are out on the plaza.
Claire Huangci told the group that this is her first time in Mexico and that her impressions have been very good. She is happy to introduce us to Rachmaninov’s first piano concerto, which she claims is every bit as beautiful as the well-known second and third concertos, and she is honored to be the opening pianist for the orchestra’s Rachmaninov cycle.
Members of the press were eager to ask Michael Christie, famed for his contributions to audience development in various arts organizations, how he believes that orchestras can attract new audience members, especially the young. He replied that in our times music is always available to us, on our cellphones, for example. We can choose exactly what we want to hear when we want to--but this music has been manipulated electronically. When we attend a live event, be it pop music, classical music—even dance, it is a very different experience, because we are seeing real human beings. An orchestra concert has three pieces, performed by seventy-five real human beings united by a common purpose. Every one of the 900 people in the audience has expectations for the meaning that these pieces will have. All of us know, even those who are not necessarily trained musicians, how to recognize a good performance. The job of a guest conductor is to work with seventy-five human beings over a five-day period to achieve our common goal of a great performance—one that will keep audience members coming back for more.