Christophe Chagnard, the Northwest Sinfonietta's co-founder and music director, has announced he will step down in February 2015. We asked Chagnard a few questions about his time with the Sinfonietta, the season ahead, and his musical future.
Q; You’ve been conducting the Northwest Sinfonietta for 23 years. What events during that tenure stand out most in your memory? What makes you most proud?
A: I have always felt that sharing music with the Northwest Sinfonietta was a special occasion. There have been plenty of iconic moments: Mozart's Clarinet Concerto with Richard Stoltzman the weekend following 9/11 played to a packed Pantages Theater (I had been told that no one would come and we should cancel); conducting Mozart's Requiem for the first time and every time since; an all-Stravinsky program with dancers among us on stage and brilliant choreography by Donald Byrd; Beethoven's 9th Symphony at Benaroya Hall with eleven Cubans playing with us, received by a standing ovation from 1500 enthused supporters; and most recently, the spiritual transcendence of Bach's St. John Passion. I am most proud of Kathryn Habedank, the NS co-founder, for her courage, resilience, and complete dedication in the early years, when few believed that we would thrive beyond two or three seasons.
Q: Tell us about the last season you’ll be conducting with the Sinfonietta.
A: I will be conducting three very special concert cycles in October, November, and February. The October program, Gypsy Nights 2,, was inspired by our first exploration of the Bohemian style in April 2010. Those concerts were the second-best attended (only after Beethoven's 9th) and the energy was irresistible. This year we will feature Bulgarian violinist Bella Hristova, whose Slavic passion will ignite this dramatic music!
The second program will also be dear to me as we will present two new works composed by Greg Youtz and Samuel Jones. The Youtz piece is written for NS and is based on Mozart's "Paris" Symphony and the music of Gluck, to honor his 300th anniversary. My dear friends Sam Jones and Julian Schwarz will be formidable partners with the performance of Sam's Cello Concerto.
It was Mozart who inspired the creation of NS in 1991, so it is fitting to conclude my NS journey with his music. Mozart is the only composer I know who excelled at all musical forms, and I find that he is at the apex of his art in opera. I have selected some of his finest arias and overtures, and three marvelous singers to celebrate my 24 years and say goodbye through music.
The Northwest Sinfonietta.
Q: In the future, the Northwest Sinfonietta will rotate through a handful of conductors each season. What do you think that will be like?
A: It is essential for orchestras to get different perspectives from the podium, a practice which is the norm for full-time orchestras. With a smaller season, NS has had fewer opportunities to host guest conductors, so having multiple Artistic Partners each year will be an all-new adventure. I expect great excitement and commitment from NS members who will have adjust to each personality, technique, and vision while keeping the orchestra's identity that has made NS so special. NS has always been very adventurous, and this change marks a new and welcome leap of faith. There are very few orchestras that have adopted this leadership model, so this is uncharted territory and one that holds great promise.
Q: In addition to conducting and performing classical music, you also play jazz. What do you think are the biggest differences between these two genres?
A: Improvisation. It is interesting that improvisation, which used to be an integral part of classical musical training until the late 19th century is now associated with genres such as jazz and traditional music. The ability to react and create the music of the moment over any given harmonic structure is one of the most challenging and fulfilling creative acts I know. When I came to the U.S. in 1983, I studied jazz at the Berklee College of Music and quickly focused my interest on composing and conducting. I left my guitar in the closet for more than 15 years. When I picked it up again, it was more generous than ever and immensely gratifying. I realized how much I had missed that spontaneous freedom. With improvisation back in my life, I feel complete as a musician.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: Since composing and conducting Opre Roma in 2010 and Embargo, Suite Cubana in 2012, I have felt a creative thrust in me that I can barely keep up with! I am currently working on Terra Nostra, a commissioned piece for symphony orchestra to be premiered in June 2015. The stipulation was that it has to be about climate change, so what a challenge! I just renewed my contract with the Lake Union Civic Orchestra, and I feel immensely proud of that partnership and the steadfast growth of its musical path. My band TOUCHÉ (an eclectic music sextet) just finished recording a new CD which is very good, particularly the original compositions which define our style. I also plan to guest conduct, and pursue non-musical, global interests, which in Seattle are plentiful. I have always greatly admired the unique ability that Americans have to re-invent themselves with such an insatiable optimism, and now it's my turn!