By Scott Gudell
Arriving at the podium to conduct a prestigious orchestra such as the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra can occasionally take a circuitous route. Take the case of second year (as in “still new”) Music Director Arild Remmereit. He was born and raised in a secluded northern Norway town of 3000 people, was passionate about rock music, pop music and the electric guitar at a young age, and later traveled with jazz great Joe Zawinul.
At about the same time, he started to become more and more passionate about symphonic music. He eventually studied in Europe and spent time working with prestigious conductors such as Leonard Bernstein, who was often in Vienna, and Zubin Mehta, whom he met up with in Vienna and Florence. We had a chance to talk with Mr, Remmereit, recently, to discuss his second season with the RPO, and beyond.
Mr. Remmereit has presented works by well known composers as well as those that have had comparatively limited exposure. His recent presentation of Howard Hanson’s Symphony Number 1 (The Nordic) is a great example. Even though Hanson was the director of the Eastman School of Music for decades, the RPO has not performed his pieces that often. So how does Mr. Remmereit and the orchestra prepare for the performance?
“I am aware of Howard Hanson’s performance with the Rochester Eastman Orchestra and I’m just so happy that I found that recording. First of all, I’m spellbound by the quality of the recording…how well they play and how it’s prepared and I’m spellbound by the energy in Hanson’s production. Maybe by being of the north myself, Scandinavian, I recognize certain rhythmical elements that are Scandinavian folk elements and melodies. I felt I had that link to the music. When I heard Howard Hanson doing this, I felt confirmed that I was on the right track.”
Remmereit’s goal wasn’t to copy Hanson, but he states, “It felt so right. So ultimately the goal is to be true to the original written score of the composer as well respecting the recorded version one might encounter.
“My passion and my love were…linked to rock and roll and pop music and it developed into jazz and so on. As a conductor, I have performed with great jazz players and great jazz musicians…and I feel like I can relate to them in an authentic way and I feel like I can be a bridge to good music of all kinds…it doesn’t have to be so called ‘classical’, ” Remmereit says. He actually prefers the term “symphonic” music and eschews the description “serious” that some European countries use.
Next up for the RPO is this season’s presentation of a Mahler symphony. In this case, Symphony Number 5, and it will be performed at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre on October 18 and 20. As with much of Mahler’s work, this symphony is grand, bold and complex in nature. Presented properly, a Mahler symphony can be one of the most dramatic live events, rivaling a Wagner opera in many ways. The number of musicians required to perform the Mahler symphony can easily add 25 to 30 additional musicians to the stage, bringing the total number of musicians to approximately 100.
So how does the conductor and the orchestra prepare for such a large scale production?
“My preparation is not limited to ‘now.’ It’s music I’ve been living with for many, many years. Having studied in Vienna, it is a repertoire that we are drilled on through studying and you hear performed there all the time…If it’s a complex piece, I should start looking at it maybe a year prior to performing it. With experience, you get the ‘feel’ on how to conduct the piece. Then the musicians, along with the concert master review the score a month or so in advance. Rehearsals are scheduled while individual sections such as the strings may coordinate their efforts separately.”
And what about Mr. Remmereit’s goals for himself and the orchestra?
“The goals are three: artistic excellence with the return to Carnegie Hall (in the near future) as the symbol rather than a trip, to sustain the orchestra’s artistic excellence and to perform with these great musicians and to bring a wider variety of community members to our concerts…and to also link what we do to the community in new ways.”
He also places a strong emphasis on performing works by women composers as well as introducing “The Underground Railroad” project that will highlight and salute pieces written by African American composers.
In keeping with his passion for jazz, Remmereit also talks about his love for the music of jazz fusion pioneers Weather Report and about his touring with Weather Report founder Joe Zawinul all over Europe. Joe Zawinul performed large, intricate pieces and Remmereit suggests that he would like to introduce this type of music to Rochester audiences through the annual jazz festival.
So the future holds an intriguing combination of sights and sounds for concert goers. Women composers, African American works, the presentation of seldom heard, yet dynamic pieces, and splashes of jazz here and there, anchored by grand presentations such as the Mahler.
Rochester has an orchestra, and a Music Director, offering a great deal of creativity and variety. If you haven’t seen the orchestra recently, why not start with a Mahler symphony as presented by Arild Remmereit and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra as they celebrate their 90th season?