Dear Friends,

I hope this update finds you well and moving into 2019 with peace. The second half of 2018 leading into 2019 has been quite an exciting time.

In December, I was delighted to share in the four GRAMMY nominations for The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, including Best Opera Recording. More on that and other opera highlights below. That same week, I was thrilled to announce my new position as Music Director of the New West Symphony.

The new position realizes a task I thought almost too difficult in the current US classical music scene: an American conductor having a foot firmly placed in both the symphonic and operatic worlds. As much as opera has been very welcoming to me, it was starting to feel as if 20 years of symphonic experience, and a burning desire to help it thrive, was either going to have to wait for a hold on conducting opera, or an unforeseen scenario presented itself.
The unforeseen scenario was a terrific concert in October conducting the New West Symphony in Ventura County, California, and their desire to find a Music Director not only with certain experience but also a desire to tackle issues the industry faces. Here is the New West Symphony's official announcement. This opportunity promises an exciting partnership with General Manager Sasha Gurevich, who I look forward to reconnecting with after our mid-90s Tanglewood days (as well as Florida Philharmonic days), and Executive Director Natalia Staneva. With Sasha and Natalia, who are both longstanding staff members (Hallelujah!), and their fantastic board and staff, I finally feel the shared vision and camaraderie that will ultimately drive us toward our goals.

Work with the NWS team has already begun. We have a concert in April ( Chopin and Schumann) which was already scheduled for this season, and I have started crafting programming and artistic vision details with the staff for the coming seasons. I have always believed in an artistic vision that Engages, Enlightens, and Entertains. With some of the ideas from previous Music Director positions that support this mantra, we will implement initiatives early on that will move us toward tailored, connected programming for this warm and resilient community. A couple of these initiatives have been waiting for a moment like this and I can't wait to share them over the coming months and years.
While the NWS opportunity was hatching, I was able to spend a festive December week with the Slovenian Philharmonic in Ljubljana, Slovenia. They have a wonderful orchestra and I would definitely recommend this region if you are looking for a new place to see.
Back to opera! My first visit of the season was to Indiana University for their turn presenting Mason Bates and Mark Campbell's The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs as co-producers of the opera. My hat goes off to this incredible opera program for 1) producing more opera per season than all but the largest opera companies in North America and 2) for offering such a real world performance dynamic for their talented students.

There were a few takeaways from this experience. Although most stories in the operatic world are told from the vantage point of a mature adult, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs is unique in that much of its narrative is being communicated by 18-30 year old characters, the same age range as most of the IU performers. The performers’ interpersonal dynamics added to the development of the piece throughout the rehearsal process, and this is something I will be paying even more attention to in the future. It seems obvious, but the production team that came from the original Santa Fe group remarked that this dynamic should be preserved, regardless of the performers’ level of experience, in order to tell the story in an authentic way.
Another takeaway was that the opera world is beginning to conduct a much-needed assessment of diversity through its ranks. From what I've seen in the current professional scene and now at a major university (and confirmed by others at institutions across the country), the focus needs to be on the PIPELINE in order to address what will clearly be a multi-generational effort.

It's quite clear to me that the time period years before our heavily emphasized Young Artist/Resident Artist Programs and the decade following is when the most advocacy, recruitment, and support for singers from diverse backgrounds should take place. I look forward to addressing this issue in future leadership positions in opera.
In November, Stage Director Brian Staufenbiel and I reunited to bring our recent Das Rheingold production to Opéra de Montréal. I love working with this company and admire their tenacity as they build an ambitious artistic vision. I can definitely say it's a lot more fun doing a massive opera like Rheingold the second time! I can't wait for the third, fourth, and fifth times, as well as the other chapters of The Ring.

I've been fortunate to work with a number of stage directors who feel the music drama intensely AND want an artistic partner in the creation process. Brian is one of those with whom I feel that close affinity.
At the moment, I'm immersed in La Traviata for Lyric Opera of Chicago, which I am conducting February 16 through March 22. Verdi is endlessly fascinating for me. This is one of those scores that can be read a bit differently every time you turn a page. On one hand, just do what he's written on the page. On the same hand, doing so unlocks so many shades and intensities that make the heart and mind spin with excitement. I am grateful to have the opportunity to work with this fabulous opera company.
There are always milestones in one's life. I feel like this six month period has been one of those milestones and it has been great to seize it!

Keep an eye out for the February announcement of 2019 GRAMMY winners. Fingers and toes are crossed for our recording of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs from the 2017 premiere performances at Santa Fe Opera, which has been nominated for Best Opera Recording (awarded to the conductor, producer, and principal soloists) and three other categories. Congratulations are in order for all the nominees in these categories. Everyone has done amazing work.

On a personal note, we were so pleased to welcome several traveling families to our home over the holidays. For several weeks we had twelve in the house and it was fun having huge family meals and showing friends the city we are so proud to live in. We would have loved some more snow but there were some days that adequately demonstrated Minnesota's reputation for bright blue skies belying staggeringly cold air.

There are many performances ahead this year. I hope to connect with you at some point down the road!

Very best wishes for a marvelous 2019,

Upcoming Events

February 16-March 22, 2019 - Lyric Opera of Chicago
Verdi's La Traviata
Lyric Opera House
Chicago, IL

​April 6-7, 2019 - New West Symphony
Chopin and Schumann
with Yulianna Avdeeva, piano
Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, Thousand Oaks, CA
Oxnard Performing Arts Center, Oxnard, CA

​April 13, 2019 - Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera
Verdi's Rigoletto
Sacramento Community Center Theater
Sacramento, CA

May 11-19, 2019 - Michigan Opera Theatre
Ricky Ian Gordon's The Grapes of Wrath
Detroit Opera House
Detroit, MI

June 5, 2019 - Civic Orchestra of Chicago: Season Finale
Featuring singers from Lyric Opera of Chicago's Ryan Opera Center
Chicago Symphony Center
Chicago, IL

June 28-July 21, 2019 - Des Moines Metro Opera
Puccini's La Bohème
Blank Performing Arts Center
Indianola, IA

June 5-July 3, 2020 - San Francisco Opera
Mason Bates' The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA
Ron Merlino, MusicVine
646*825*9585 |

Christina Jensen, Jensen Artists
646*536*7864 |