The New Haven Symphony Orchestra returns for live performances at the Shubert Theater for the fall season starting October 3, conducted by Alasdair Neale.
Neale, who joined as Music Director in 2019, recently renewed his contract for another three years, ahead of a planned move to Paris.
The Connecticut Examiner spoke with Neale about his hopes for the fall season, his thoughts on his tenure so far at the symphony, and his decision to move to Europe.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Your fall season begins October 3. How long has the whole orchestra not played together?
We haven’t all played a note together for a year and a half. Some musicians have played together on a limited basis, but as an orchestra we haven’t been on the same stage together since March 5, 2020. It’s a long time to be apart. It has been a real artistic and emotional desert for an orchestra not to feel these sounds together on stage.
I have a feeling that there is going to be a special degree of electricity in the air for this first concert on October 3rd, when after so long we can finally make music together.
What have you learned from the past year and a half not being able to play together?
I have learned something that I have always suspected is that live music is incredibly important and there is no substitute. It certainly helps to do things online and we’ll continue to make it part of our portfolio, but I think we’ve all missed the human touch. For us as musicians that means being there in person, and that’s the thing I can’t wait to restore more than anything else. This intravenous communication goes right into our bodies, from the stage to the audience, and that’s what I’ve been missing and looking forward to the most.
What do you have planned for your return on stage?
We start with a very exciting concert. It’s a mixture of super familiar, with Beethoven’s Fifth, and at the other end of the scale, a piece that has just been performed, called Fanfare for Uncommon Times, by Valerie Coleman. The track is a Fanfare for the Common Man riff, but the outlook is very 21st century American. It was conceived during the pandemic and social justice movement last summer, and the article reflects that. I came across the play while reading a New York Times review this summer of the Caramoor Festival, and it immediately struck me as a play that would be a perfect fit for our return to the stage.
We also play Ethiopia’s Shadow in America, a piece by Florence Price, which brings me back to the last gig we played as an orchestra in March 2020. Her music is now back in the fold, and it is being re-examined and celebrated. after his music had truly faded into oblivion in the years following his death. It’s also a celebration of one of the new faculty at Yale School of Music, Tai Murray, who previously performed with the New Haven Symphony, so we’ll welcome her to the stage and to the community. of New Haven.
You just renewed your contract for another three years, but you also announced that you will be leaving New Haven for Paris in June 2024. Tell me about this decision.
The pandemic changed us all, and in my case, it prompted a reassessment of my work-life balance and what was important to me and my husband, who is retiring in less than a year. It was a fork in the road, and it gave us the opportunity to think in a perhaps bolder way than we could have otherwise. Although we are not old, we are no longer young, and with this realization that life can be shorter than any of us imagined, this is the time when we can still do that kind of movement. There is also the aspect of being so far from my family in the UK for my entire adult life since moving to the US. I want to be closer to my mother, who is now 80 years old, and for whom traveling is not as easy as it used to be. With a busy career in America, I can’t be there for her if she needs me, and I want to be able to do it.
What’s your favorite part of your time as Music Director?
I was only able to do the first two-thirds of my first season before the pandemic hit, but during that time there have certainly been some very exciting times.
My first gig as Music Director was a bit more exciting for everyone. We played Rachmaninoff’s second symphony, and it was a really exciting experience for us. It was the start of our new relationship together, and it just happens to be one of my favorite symphonies, so it just had that very special glow.
You started your tenure with a listening tour to find out what New Haven wanted their orchestra to be. What did you learn about what the community is looking for and how have you tried to achieve it?
We have heard loud and clear that in order to engage with the communities that make up our city, we shouldn’t expect people to come to us. We need to reach out to people outside the immediate area of the concert hall. The way to do this is to be open to community partnerships, and that requires action on our part. It’s not just about standing idly by and expecting people to come to us, which, when you think about it, is actually a very arrogant approach. It was the real advantage of being the new kid on the block. I had very little to say but a lot to learn, and I just needed to listen to people.
We are institutionally committed to keeping these conversations going and coming up with exciting new ways to make the orchestra fully engaged with the community. We have been thinking and listening a lot about this throughout the pandemic and have renewed our commitments to engage with new audiences and forge new community partnerships. In the end, I will have been a music director for five years, and I hope that will be enough time to make a difference.
On a practical level, how will you know if you have made a significant difference in this regard?
I would love if the audience we play for looks more like New Haven and really reflects the community. It’s a big goal, and realistically it can’t happen overnight. Still, I would love if you would take a snapshot of the audience from my last gig as Music Director and compare it to the audience from my first gig, you would see a different line-up. This is something that the organization as a whole will have to commit to. Each orchestra is a community orchestra. Its purpose is to serve people. Therefore, it must be reflected in the people who come in and hear you.
What role does stage performance play in achieving this goal?
This is a more gradual process due to the audition method, but we will try to take proactive steps to encourage a more diverse pool of applicants whenever a position becomes available in the orchestra. We are certainly determined to be represented in the concert lineup as well as guest performers, and you’ll see proof of that in the way this season is constructed and future seasons will be as well.
Adult tickets: $ 15-74
Youth 17 and under: Free with an adult ticket
College students: $ 10
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