When you’re a conductor and step in front of an orchestra for the first time, you learn a lot in those first few minutes.
“It’s like an exercise in speed-dating,” says José-Luis Novo, the sixth and final candidate for music director of the Fresno Philharmonic. “You have to figure out things very quickly so I can make it a successful date. And you have to do it in a way that is not obnoxious. If you are arrogant about it, they can cut you off in no time.”
Novo, who is music director of the Annapolis Symphony, is spending the week meeting board members, musicians, the media and audience members, all leading up to a Sunday concert with him on the podium.
For our get-to-know-the-candidate lunch, we once again wanted something authentic, not swanky, so we picked El Premio Mayor Taqueria for premium Fresno tacos.
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Our little lunch group with Novo on Wednesday included me, features editor Kathy Mahan, orchestra executive director Stephen Wilson and a special guest: José Ledesma, a music-education major and percussionist at Fresno State. Our discussion ranged from the star system in classical music (it’s falling apart) to the dangers of cooking while listening to Stravinsky.
You can check out part of our discussion on the following Facebook Live video:
Some highlights from our discussion:
Percussionists have all the fun: “The percussion section is still so open to innovation, as opposed to the strings and woodwinds, who have so much history and so many traditions that they don’t have room to innovate. The percussionists are really up for discovery.”
On the fact that there is always someone in the audience watching every instrumentalist on stage, even the ones who think they’re hidden: “That’s a very important point to remind the musicians in the orchestra: The audience is really interacting with them, and sometimes they get isolated in their own world of performing. The audience perceives the music not only by the sound they produce but also their body language.”
About Sunday’s concert program: It’s an homage to Marc Chagall, because this year is the 130th anniversary of his birth. “Chagall did a lot of his artwork based or in connection with symphonic music, so we used that link. He did the set designs and costumes for ‘Magic Flute’ and ‘Firebird,’ and he did major work with some of Ravel’s major works. We thought it was a great idea to have a program that was so vibrant in colors.”
Is there a difference between West Coast and East Coast conductors? “I’m not sure if I know there is a difference in conducting, but I think there is one in the lifestyle. Generally speaking, and I usually don’t like speaking generally, people on the East Coast are more work-driven. People on the West Coast, California in particular, I think are a little more relaxed and enjoy life a little more. And I happen to like that aspect probably because of my own culture in Spain. We can work hard, but it’s not fun to work hard if you don’t enjoy yourself in the process.
Last TV series binge-watched: “Breaking Bad.”
What does he listen to while driving? “I don’t listen to classical music driving the car or cooking. I only listen to music (when I’m) focusing on listening to music. I don’t do it as a side activity because I get distracted. If I’m cooking and I put on a really great piece of music, my dish is going to come out awful. Or if I’m driving I’ll get into an accident. That’s why I don’t do it. I listen to the news.”
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