Santa Rosa Symphony’s going big this year
Santa Rosa Symphony Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong is thrilled to welcome audiences back to the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall for the 2021-2022 season, and not just because their energy lifts the orchestra to new heights.
After pulling off a season of virtual concerts with smaller orchestras in 2020-2021, Lecce-Chong is excited to be able to present an ambitious array of music that goes above and beyond what the orchestra would normally present in one season.
Among other things, he is looking forward to sharing four major world premieres and launching a second multiyear project, Rachmaninoff and the Hollywood Sound, which brings together some of the composer’s larger works with smaller works by influential Hollywood composers of the past and present. The idea is to illustrate their shared lush, lyrical sound.
“The four major world premieres is beyond what we would have normally attempted to do. ... It just happened the way that COVID messed with our schedule,” he said. “We’re probably going to be the most exciting orchestra in the Bay Area for the next season, because no one else is going to do this.”
In addition, Lecce-Chong has programmed some powerful warhorses he described as “heavy hitters” because they call for a large orchestra and a big sound. Think Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 in December and Ottorino Respighi’s “The Fountains of Rome” next year in June
According to Lecce-Chong, it’s all part of making a statement: We’re big, we’re back and we want to celebrate.
“What is it that orchestras can do that no one else can do?” he asked. “A whole orchestra onstage, perfectly in sync, of one mind — this is what you missed about hearing an orchestra live, and the hall is going to shake a bit.”
The new Classical Plus Series includes tickets to all seven concerts plus access to the first three concerts on YouTube. The Classical Hybrid Series includes access to the first three concerts on YouTube only and ticketed seats to the last four concerts.
Earlier this month, the conductor revealed some of his thinking behind the upcoming season and touched on a few of the highlights. These responses have been edited for length.
Q How do you feel about the virtual components that build upon what you learned last year?
A This season, I was hoping to have a virtual component, and we all knew we wanted it. ... It’s allowing subscribers to have different ways to interact with us. Yes, we need to do it for our community, but potentially it is the future. With most things in life, you have a digital opportunity to interact with it, and a concert should be no different.
I think the classical music world has had this idea that somehow recordings are going to get in the way of people wanting to come to live concerts. I think it’s the reverse. The more they can interact with us when we’re not onstage, the more they will want to come hear us.
It won’t make a difference as far as what’s happening onstage. In the past year, I could record the program in any order and put it together with these great interviews. Now we’re going to capture the concert experience. It puts a little more pressure on our video team, because they have one shot at this. We will record the first concert on Saturday night. That way the video team can do a test run on Saturday afternoon.
I think everybody wins. Yes, it’s an effort. A lot more people are involved now, but we get to try something new and that will be important going forward.
Q Can you talk about some of the world premieres the orchestra will bring to light this season, starting with The Fretless Clarinet Concerto for Klezmer Clarinet and Orchestra by clarinetist David Krakauer and Kathleen Tagg, which will be performed by Krakauer in November?
A It’s a commission that is very close to home for me, because I’ve been involved since the inception of that project. He’s always been one of my musical heroes. ... He was my chamber music coach at Mannes (School of Music), and I got to work with him for many years.
We got to work together with the Reno Orchestra on “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind.” He’s the clarinetist who always does this piece. He is one of the greatest klezmer clarinetist in the world, if not the best.
I knew he was a composer and writes a lot of multimedia shows because he plays jazz, klezmer, rock ’n’ roll. He can play anything. So I asked him, “Have you ever thought about writing yourself a clarinet concerto?” And he said, “No one has asked me.” And I said, “I can fix that. Let’s make this happen.”
This is a concerto that for him is very autobiographical. It’s a very personal piece, and it’s meant a lot to him. I just got the score this past week, and I’m beyond thrilled. It’s absolutely a dream.