The How to freshen up a classic?
How to fold in the new with the familiar and beloved, in a fresh way — so that it’s welcome, fitting, evocative, seamlessly satisfying, plus speaks to society’s needs?
Welcome to the jigsaw puzzle that comes with building a season of spectacular concerts for symphony lovers. MSO Conductor and Music Director Crafton Beck has done it once again, fashioning a “Season of Fresh Voices” that puts MSO musicians in a fresh spotlight, brings exciting new compositions to audience’s ears for the first time, and homes in on relevant new connections for a fresh ear on revered masterworks.
“In many ways, this is the very essence of my job,” Beck says, and the most important thing he does, maybe with the exception of standing on the box in front of the orchestra. An orchestra without a music director is akin to a church without a minister. “Someone needs to take responsibility for the vision.”
Season-building starts more than a year in advance, with a blank page, a ton of journal notes and a wealth of knowledge, not only about the repertoire but also about what’s happening in society and in artistic circles around the world, particularly with other orchestras.
“I always get reminded of what our mission ultimately is, and that’s to educate, and to bring great music expression to the city of Jackson and to the state,” he says. Quality of life issues come into play, as MSO serves the human spirit through art. All of this feeds into the general overarching approach, as MSO becomes a voice in the conversation, about the needs of society at large and in our own community.
“This is becoming more and more important for arts organizations in America in the last 10 years,” Beck says. “In order to be relevant, you’ve got to know what the conversations in society are.”
Getting into particulars, he takes a look at what other orchestras, ballet companies and theaters — in London, Berlin, New York and more — are doing. This season? Last season? “What are artists attending themselves to culturally and socially and politically in the world today?”
Relevance doesn’t just come in the form of contemporary music. Just look at this season’s opening Bravo concert in that’s Totally Tchaikovsky. “There’s no one who expresses despair and hope, and almost ecstatic joy, really, better than Tchaikovsky does.”
Alongside aims of addressing current times is this very practical consideration: Is it time? “There’s a great deal of repertoire that we won’t do, because we’ve done it in the past five years.” If 10 or 12 years have passed, that repertoire gets back in line for performance, particularly for the huge masterworks.
A diverse lineup is key, continuing MSO’s broadening spotlight on African American composers, women composers and more. “There’s amazing data that 50 percent of the emerging music in America today is being written by American women composers, which is a beautiful thing,” Beck says. Hear that in several concerts this season: Chamber IV, Vibrant Echos at Tougaloo’s Woodworth Chapel with Valerie Coleman’s Umoja, Caroline Shaw’s evocative soundscapes in Chamber III, and more.
Inspired programs deepen the concert experience. For example, “We’re pairing Debussy’s La Mer with a contemporary conversation of water in the Mississippi River,” Beck says of Bravo IV, which also includes James Lee III’s Visions of Cahokia inspired by Native American Mississippian cultures and selections from Duke Ellington’s ballet score The River. Aaron Copland’s clarinet concerto opens the evening. “There’s no American repertoire that laments more than that,” Beck says of its start, then the piece shares its jazzy dance of sheer joy at the end. The program, then, becomes a conversation about the presence of water in our midst, touching on its role at the heart of a civilization, in the ritual of baptism, as a connector, as a purifer, and more. “These pieces are back to back, and one informs the other.”
Zoom out, and every bit of all of this informs decisions of who and what goes where and when, for another season of vibrant individual concerts in Bravo, Chamber, Pops and now the Symphony in the Community series.
“I love what he’s done this season,” says MSO President and Executive Director Jenny Mann. “He has put together the most wonderful array of beloved classical works mixed with new music and soloists from within our orchestra that make absolutely every concert interesting, enjoyable and relatable, and you will leave with an experience that’s made you think, feel, hear and find joy in. It’s a beautifully done season.”
Season Tickets and season ticket renewals are on sale now. Renew so you won’t miss a minute. Single ticket sales open August 15.