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Ask Francesco

Your questions answered by Francesco

Q.  You have an interesting last name combination. Share with us how it came about. Thank you  -Anonymous

My last name reflects my half-Italian (from my mother), half-Chinese (from my father) heritage.

Q.  What is your favorite piece to conduct, and why? -Nathan

I'm not sure if there's an exact piece, but I will say that conducting Brahms is the most beautiful feeling. More than any other composer, Brahms' orchestral music experienced from the podium, surrounded by all the instruments and rich harmonies, is a unique sensation.

Q.  Hello Francesco, at today’s concert (10/7/18) I felt the orchestra was different (better) especially in the Brahms. I’ve never heard them play in such a collaborative balanced manner with the soloist. My question – who are you focusing on to make it more precise and sensitive? It’s wonderful!  -Judy Walker

I'm so glad you felt this! It truly is a group effort and the credit goes to the musicians for bringing that level of musical sensitivity and ensemble. In getting to know the hall, I had to experiment with asking the musicians to play in different ways to create the clarity I wanted, so their flexibility and extra attention to the smallest details are what really made the music come alive!

Q.  Can one relate music to sports? How? Example?  -Frank Ngo

Funny you should ask because one of my great teachers once compared conducting to football. He said that in rehearsal, my mental mindset had to be like a football coach - deciding on the plays and preparing the team for the game. Then, in the concert, my mindset needed to switch to being the quarterback - leading on the field and adjusting in the moment. That advice has always served me well.

Q.  What are your five most inspiring compositions to date?  -Shannon

This is constantly shifting for me since I'm always inspired by whatever great work I'm currently studying - but I would say that the most inspiring works for me that I'm conducting this season (2018-19) would be:
Bernstein: Symphony No. 2 "The Age of Anxiety"
Mahler: Symphony No. 4
Scriabin: The Poem of Ecstasy
John Adams: Doctor Atomic Symphony
Verdi: Requiem

Q.  How many concerts will you conduct next season (2019-2020)?

I'll be leading six of our seven classical series concerts as well as a few extra programs like a family concert.

Q.  Conducting looks very physically demanding. Do you need to work out to keep in shape for conducting?  -Anonymous

The best decision I made last fall was to start seeing a trainer. Having a workout specially designed for me has helped immensely and I feel a lot stronger in my upper back, shoulders, and neck. Previously, I used to have to consistently lie down on ice after concerts and often I'd still be sore for days. Most musicians I know have some kind of workout routine and now I know why!

Q.  How often do you rehearse with the orchestra for each performance?  -Susan (volunteer usher)

Nearly all orchestras in the US from regional to major orchestras have four rehearsals and it's the same here in Santa Rosa. Occasionally, a particularly difficult concert may require an extra rehearsal, but as a conductor, you get used to the four rehearsals and I'm very comfortable planning out how to use that much rehearsal time in the most efficient way.

Q.  Why did conductors become a part of the orchestra?  - Anonymous

In the 1600s and 1700s, conducting was not really considered a job. An orchestra needed a "leader" to keep everyone playing together and that person usually played violin or harpsichord (predecessor to the piano). It was only as music got more complex and required more musicians that it was clear a conductor was needed. For this reason, when I perform music by composers like Bach, Handel and Haydn, I usually lead from the harpsichord with a smaller group of musicians.

Q.  Why do you not use a baton?  -Connor Clark 

It depends on the piece. With a small orchestra, I don't like to use a baton because it's easy to see my hands and using a baton feels a bit "aggressive" to me with a small group (this is entirely personal preference). A baton helps magnify a conductors gestures so it's especially important with more musicians. That's why I conducted the Mozart in January without a baton and then used one on the Mahler. But it's different for every conductor.

Banner Photo by Anatasia Chernyavsky
Photo by Colin Talcroft

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Santa Rosa Symphony
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