The Calgary Philharmonic shoots . . . it scores!!! Pt. 2

Bust shot of man, bow tie and tuxedo, baton raised
Our new Associate Conductor, Adam Johnson. Photo by Trudie Lee.

When the first part of this CPO (Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra) story was created, I didn’t know it was a ‘Pt. 1’. But, given recent events, clearly it was!

“I’m the new Associate Conductor of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra,” replies Adam Johnson, when I ask him for an official title of his new position, as announced during the April 25th performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana; a crazy piece of music for anyone to coordinate for the concert stage, let alone the new kid!

“Yeah, there’s a lot of moving parts to it, for sure, having 24 different movements in it, and with each movement there’s a lot of different tempos, and so many parts within each of them, it is quite the mental gymnastics to keep it all in line for the hour.

“And what I found in particular a challenging aspect of the job, is that we do a dress rehearsal the day of the performance. So we had gone through it all from 11:00 until 2:00 . . . and I get to the end of the rehearsal, and I’m mentally (and physically) exhausted. It felt like running a marathon before having to go run a marathon! (But then later that night,) when you’ve got a sold-out hall, that’s really fantastic for everybody, because there’s so much energy. . . it allows for some very special things to happen.

“We couldn’t have been happier with the reception to the piece: it was amazing!”

We discuss the interplay of the work and the audience and the performers, the irreverence of the first promoting the spontaneity of the second, which perhaps leads to the enthusiastic responses of the third. As you’ll hear in the #PlayoffsMoment video (just below this, go look), and as has been mentioned in Pt. 1, the CPO audience is DEFINITELY present in the hall!

“A big part of our thought process is ‘How do we keep engaging with new audiences?’ and also ‘How do we always remain relevant to the community?’ (For example,) that encore that we did (#PlayoffsMoment), from strictly an artistic standpoint, some may agree with doing that, some may not. But we wanted to make it a unifying thing with the community: to bring different groups together. And now, hundreds of thousands of people have seen that (just checked two different postings, and there’s 80,000 views with only those examples!) and have seen the CPO that might not have otherwise.”

Empty hall with man conducting quintet onstage in rehearsal
At work with Adam and friends. Photo by Jesse Luimes

Adam, quite appropriately given his expanded role with the CPO, becomes a community-promoting spokesman at this point, but I’m hoping if you’re reading this article, you’ve already heard enough of that from your less-than-subtle author.

However, I haven’t explained (because I didn’t know) how the orchestra conductors rotate around in the musical universe. As our Philharmonic’s Music Director, not only is Roberto Minczuk directing the CPO’s harmonic travels, he must also spend a large portion of HIS time traveling to conduct in the music world’s other significant venues, as those directors will guest conduct here. Additionally, most orchestras will have a Resident or Associate Conductor (not always both), and the Resident absorbs musical mastery from the influx of conductors they assist locally. They also conduct the slightly less preeminent concerts, like community shows, orchestral-pops, or educational concerts. They are gaining, with this larger volume of local performances they must handle, the skill and experience to be offered the Associate position, as Adam has for 2015-16.

“So in my time here (two years) I’ve approached the 70 concert mark, which is one of the best programs in North America for that! Because typically (we) do more observing than we do practical work. That’s something that’s really terrific about this program with the CPO, is that they entrust the young conductor with so many concerts and so much work.”

Adam mentions that, when the current Associate Conductor of the New York Philharmonic came through Calgary guest conducting recently, he was amazed at the opportunities to conduct that Adam described having. Our guest was not given nearly as many chances to practice his craft with the high-priority soloists and conductors constantly coming through the Big Apple.

“Here, I think the orchestra’s just the right size, because it’s a big orchestra, and plays at an international standard, but it’s not SO big that there aren’t opportunities (for a Resident or Associate to conduct).”

Adam also mentions his happiness in getting his first professional appointment in the province of his youth (he grew up in the Jasper area), so friends and family are able to participate in his career joys.

And so are we: break a leg, Mr. Johnson!

Posted by Allen Thai

Author: Carey Rutherford

Swallowed by the mutual loves of words and music (but far too chicken-shit to perform them with a band), Carey’s writing career started slowly as a freelance writer in 2003, starved him nearly to personal bankruptcy until 2008, and changed directions while writing for FastForward, Beacon Calgary, GayCalgary, and Examiner magazines. With the death of many old-school periodicals, and the explosion of musical diversity in Calgary, the modern approach to writing about live music performance in the Calgary region presented uncluttered landscapes for the focussed passion that Carey’s conversations with musicians, drag queens, festival producers and small animals has uncapped. He was moulded by the brilliance of paper-based periodicals old and new (Life, rolling Stone, Swerve! and Adbusters etc.), and sees the info-verse as needing creative, empathetic, but clear-eyed Agents to communicate these performances.