MSO program will ‘send a message’
Special to The Commercial Appeal
The creation of the program for Saturday night’s Memphis Symphony Orchestra concert was a collaborative effort, says guest conductor Alastair Willis.
But it is, in fact, very much a reflection of his sensibilities as he makes his debut with the MSO. This is also an audition of sorts for the 38-year-old former associate conductor of the Seattle Symphony, who is one of three candidates being considered to replace David Loebel as conductor and music director for the MSO.
The starting point for determining the program was the guest soloist, mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson, who has appeared with some of the world’s top orchestras and conductors.
“She was offering a few pieces I could choose from,” Willis says, and the decision was made to perform Mahler’s “Ruckert Lieder.” “So we needed to build a program around that.”
Willis talked to some MSO players last December when he first came to visit, and he checked out past programs.
“They hadn’t done much Brahms in the last few years, so it seemed that a Brahms symphony would be a good idea. It was just a question of which one, and I chose the First Symphony — a good place to start and a wonderful way for all of us to get to know each other very quickly.” That left the opening number to be decided. “I wanted to send a message straightaway of bigger intentions,” he says, to give everyone a sense of what it might be like if his stay were to become permanent. “I looked for a composer that had some connection with the community.”
As it happens, the contemporary composer Jennifer Higdon grew up outside of Knoxville. Her tone poem “blue cathedral” will have its first Memphis performance Saturday although it has been done frequently elsewhere since its premiere in 2000.
“Her roots are in Tennessee and she is one of the foremost composers alive today,” Willis says. “I’m excited to see what the audience is going to make of it and what the orchestra is going to make of it.”
Willis will discuss the program at a pre-concert talk at 7:15 p.m. on the mezzanine west level of the Cannon Center.