1-on-1 with Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra’s new musical director Andreas Delfs

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra has a new music director: Andreas Delfs.

The German-born conductor will be the 13th musical director for the orchestra. Officially, he’s the “music director designate” until September 1st.

He replaces Ward Stare, the Pittsford native who started with the RPO in 2014. Stare was the youngest to ever hold that role, and he is still not even 40 years old.

Delfs’ bio was provided by the RPO:

A native of Flensburg, Germany, and graduate of the Hamburg Conservatory and Juilliard School of Music, Andreas Delfs has established himself as a pre-eminent force in the classical music world and one of the finest conductors of his generation. He has held chief artistic posts with orchestras in Europe and North America. At the age of 20, he became the youngest-ever Music Director of the Hamburg University Orchestra and Musical Assistant at the Hamburg State Opera. Throughout his 12 seasons as Musical Director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Delfs drew larger audiences to Uihlein Hall, selling out a record 40 concerts there during the 2000-2001 Season. Delfs led the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra as Music Director (2001-2004) and artistic consultant (2004-2006).

Delf has an extensive discography, including all five of the Beethoven Piano Concertos; opera and choral works such as Hansel and Gretel, and the Mozart Requiem; and new works for the classical repertoire such as Roberto Sierra’s Missa Latina, which was nominated for a Grammy Award.

Delfs has over 20 years of guest conducting experience with the RPO. Over that time, no matter who the players are, he says he and the orchestra have a special unspoken connection, and share a love of finding the deeper meaning behind the music.

Delfs inherits not just an orchestra that is new, but also a whole host of challenges that come with dealing with a pandemic.

He further praised Rochester’s art community, and he aims to prioritize partnerships with other arts organizations in the Rochester area.

News 8 had a couple minutes to talk with the maestro following the press conference. Here’s our 1-on-1.

Dan Gross: When you were on the podium, you talked a lot about the connection you have with Rochester and the musicians. What about it is so special and what about that drew you here to take this full-time position?

Andreas Delfs: The connection is kind of natural; because I’ve lived for 25 years, about 90 minutes from here. I have a very special affinity to upstate New York. I cannot tell you why that is because I’m born and raised in Germany. But I remember from the first time I came here, I felt very much at home.

As far as the musicians go with, that’s much harder to explain why; sometimes you conduct an orchestra for the first time, and you immediately they pick up your vibes, and you don’t have to talk so much. Sometimes it gels and sometimes the chemistry’s right, and (that’s with)very few orchestras in my career. It was as powerful and immediate as it was with the Rochester Philharmonic.

And what’s even more important: it stayed that way through the years, it never tapered off. It was always this very good connection. So as I said before, to come here where we know each other already well, and really love to make music with each other is hit the ground running, and that’s what we need.

DG: So you talked a lot about “getting under the hood,” playing beyond just playing the dots between the black lines. Can you talk more about what makes the Rochester Philharmonic so special in the ability to not just play the notes, but play music as well?

AD: Well, of course the conditions for this ability is that you have to have an orchestra that is technically so brilliant that you don’t have to spend most of your hustle time, just getting it together. As this orchestra, the sky is really the limit in their abilities… And one can talk about emotions. One can talk about images. One can talk about history. One can sometimes just remind the musicians of something. I’ll tell you an example:

When I just taped the famous Holbrook suite by Grieg, I reminded the musicians that this is not dark deep Scandinavian music, but it’s comedy music. It’s about Louis Kohlberg, a great Rite of comedies and funny characters. And sometimes like saying something like this is worth two hours of rehearsal time that you otherwise would have said louder, faster, slower, softer, shorter, longer, and that kind of ability to communicate with feelings, images, um, analogies perceptions is something that makes it possible with brilliant orchestra like this to really bring out the meaning of it.

DG: If you could kind of conceptualize what you want to achieve with the programming that you’re trying to do, what would that look like for you?

AD: My number one goal with the programming for the 2021 season is I want to have a lot of pieces on there that make people fall back in love with music, because they haven’t been here in this hall for a year and a half. I really want them to hear some of the pieces that they love and that they really have missed.

But I think my number one goal is I want to have a welcoming season. I want to make sure that everybody feels welcome. You will find a number of programs that although they are symphonic subscription concerts, they pieces on it that are welcoming for families; you will easily identify the pieces that are great starter pieces. So that are great pieces for young people to come and enjoy the symphony.

Maybe for the first time we have a lot of diverse music this year. We have a lot of female composers. We have African-American soloists. We have really a wonderful spectrum of inviting and immersive music. I want to make a program — not just this next season, but always — where I feel the doors are wide open with a new music or not, whether you’re young or old, no matter what gender, no matter what ethnicity you’re welcome here. And of course we will do everything on top of that to make sure we advertise that feeling of inclusion, but my program start with “you’re welcome.”

DG: And how are you tackling trying to make music during a pandemic?

AD: I like (that) the musicians to be very flexible. And that’s one of the important things. We never really know how many musicians are allowed on stage right now, when we stream our concerts. For example, we had to very quickly change program.

Last week, we were planning something who was wins, and then the numbers went up again. So we had to say very quickly: “no, let’s do strings only because you can imagine the strings can keep the masks on during taping while the wind players cannot.” So this flexibility — and also calendar flexibility — that I can say, “okay, I can come to this later,” is very important. As long as we are really clear and can play on the stage with everybody and everybody in the hall, there will be many in-between steps and we are ready.

We later announced a complete plan B, just based on the fact that we might not be able to give everything we promise next season. So we will be ready to react to that. But I think the number one thing is that it will change in many little different steps.

I can imagine that we will start back on the stage was a smaller compliment of musicians, and maybe a smaller group of audience, as I’ve seen in Europe right now, when I’m guest conducting and step-by-step, we’ll come back. So we have the flexibility we are prepared and whatever we can do at a given time, we will do.

DG: I’ll get you out of here on a two-parter. So what did you think of the arts community here and how do you plan to connect the RPO with it in a different way than what was done before?

AD: Wherever I lived and worked as a music director, I was very keen on including other arts institutions, whether that was art galleries and connecting our program ideas, whether that was actually performing groups like theater groups, dancing groups, singing groups… I always made sure we had concerts together and at least once a season or so would really have a project together.

That is something I think we need to do because all the artistic groups are keen and neat to work together. If we all work in a little ivory tower, then it’s hard for everyone. So collaboration is a big thing.

I just can tell you the people that I’ve met so far, you just saw on the screen, Jeff Tyzik, who’s probably the best pops conductor — or I shouldn’t even say that like a great musician of lighter music — in this country that we have him here and can work together. I’ve met a couple of others leaders in the community that are involved with arts groups.

I think if we, the leaders of those groups work together and become friends, and I will, after this interview go with the real estate agent and look for a house right in the middle in Rochester. If we connect and become friends and work together, then I think there are golden days ahead for the arts in Rochester.

DG: I lied. I do have one more thing … have you had a garbage plate yet? That’s kind of a Rochester initiation.

AD: I know what it is, but I haven’t had it yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

RPO Concertmaster Juliana Athayde also said in a statement provided by the RPO:

“The musicians of the RPO are thrilled with the appointment of our new Music Director, Andreas Delfs! Working with him as a guest conductor over the years, the orchestra has already formed a special relationship with Maestro Delfs with many memorable performances. As we approach our centennial season, we are excited to have his artistic leadership as the guiding light for our great orchestra. Andreas comes to us with a storied career, nationally and internationally, and our community will benefit greatly from his selfless musicianship, palpable artistry and tireless advocacy for the arts. What a wonderful chapter for the RPO as we look to the future!” 

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