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2017-2018 Season

June 14, 2018: Green Music Center concert raises funds for Santa Rosa youth orchestra’s European tour

by Diane Peterson, Press Democrat, June 14, 2018

When 70-some students from the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra take off for Europe on Tuesday, they will be accompanied by several professionals who have written works for them to premiere on their 10-day tour, including Trumpet Principal Doug Morton of the Santa Rosa Symphony and guitarist Jason Eckl of Dirty Cello.
The young adults will also have the honor of meeting American composer Gloria Coates, who lives in Germany and wrote a special piece for the ensemble after learning about how their community came together to help each other after the wildfires last October.
“I was already working on a concept for the piece when the fire disaster struck,” Coates explained in an e-mail. “I decided to create a positive music by taking a simple five-tone scale and transforming it into a new sound complex of many scales and microtones. This echoes ... the people joining together and creating a new and vibrant community.”
Behind the young musicians — ranging from ages 10 to 23 — stand a raft of supportive parents, who spent countless hours driving them to lessons and rehearsals, supplying food for Sunday night practices, volunteering for concerts and working with the Santa Rosa Symphony League to help create “A Night in Vienna,” the major fund-raiser for the tour.
Some of those parents will be going along as chaperones while others — too excited to stay home while their kids go to Europe — have planned itineraries that follow the students as they perform in historic halls from Salzburg and Vienna to Budapest. These shadow parents, however, are only allowed to attend concerts. Otherwise, the kids will be operating independently.
“I’m excited for them to have their own experience,” said Julie Forrest of Windsor, who will follow her two children — bass player Isaac, 16, and violinist Pippa, 13. “They will feel confident and independent, and I’m so excited for them. It’s so magical to feel that way, like you’re experiencing another world for the very first time.”
To launch the 10-day tour, the youth orchestra under Conductor Richard Loheyde will give a Bon Voyage concert at 3 p.m. Saturday, June 16, at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall showcasing the repertoire they will perform in Europe. Loheyde’s programming goal was to create a strong connection between the music and the composers of the various cities they are going to visit.
“In Vienna you have to play Strauss, so we’re doing the ‘Thunder and Lightning Polka,” Loheyde said. “And we also have to do Brahms as well, so that’s why we programmed the Academic Festival Overture ... and Lizst is closely associated with Hungary and Budapest in particular, so we’re doing his Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.” “I’m super excited about the Lizst, and probably my favorite piece is the Academic Festival Overture,” said Isaac Forrest. “It’s so fun to play. It’s a big German college drinking song.”
As a nod to Mozart, who was born in Salzburg, Morton wrote a piece for the youth orchestra based on the composer’s timeless “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” melody and will join the tour as well. His work, “Variations on a French Folk Song,” is an homage to Beethoven, Mozart and American composers Copland and Gershwin.
Also joining the tour will be Dirty Cello, a blues and bluegrass band led by Santa Rosa Symphony cellist Rebecca Roudman. The band has collaborated with the youth orchestra before — they performed a Blues Concerto together in November — and the band’s guitarist, Jason Eckl, wrote a Klezmer Heritage Concerto for the tour featuring the cello as the lead instrument.
“It is based on the Eastern European Jewish heritage that he and I share,” Roudman said in an e-mail. “It weaves the traditional sound of Klezmer music with the classical orchestra sound.” Coates, who is an internationally recognized composer, finished writing “Stardust and Dark Matter” about a month ago. The challenging, contemporary work includes a mosaic of interesting sounds and sound effects.
“There’s a basic, pentatonic scale that gets passed around to different voices in the orchestra,” Loheyde said. “Just when the audience gets the hang of it, there are these other elements that come in ... these glissandos and microtones and special effects like snap pizzicato.”
Bassoonist Chloe Watson, who won the orchestra’s Concerto Competition, will be featured at the Bon Voyage concert performing Hector Villa-Lobos’ “Cinrada das sete notas” (Serenade of seven notes) but will not go on tour.
Rounding out the eclectic program will be Bernstein’s Overture to “Candide” and Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 and 2.
“Peer Gynt is so fun to play and listen to,” said Pippin Forrest, who is the second youngest to go on the tour. “Candide is fun, but it’s fast and a little bit abrasive to the ear, especially when you sit next to the cymbal player.”
One of the highlights of the tour. Loheyde said, will be a workshop for the students with Principal Second Violinist Christoph Koncz of the Vienna Philharmonic. The musicians are also looking forward to performing side-by-side with another ensemble, the Musikveirein Rabenstein, which is connected to a music school in Vienna.
“That will be fun to meet kids that play our instruments,” said Principal Oboeist Chiara Rackerby, 17. “I feel like we’re going to make a lot of awesome friends.”
Her father, Tom Rackerby of Healdsburg, has never been to Europe before but has signed on as a chaperone so he can keep an eye on his daughter along with his own group of kids.
“I’m one of those over-protective dads — you’ve heard of helicopter parents. I’m the drone parent,” he quipped. “It’s going to be neat to have these kids go to Vienna and see how people are immersed in the music.”
Christina Freenor of Cloverdale is also excited for her son, bass player Francis Freenor, 14, who is going on the tour. She plans to follow the tour and attend all the concerts with her husband and sister-in-law.
“To be honest, I think it’s better for him, as an only child, to be able to explore without us,” she said. “I just couldn’t stay here. There’s no way I could try to relive the concerts through his explanations.”
While the Forrest family has been scrimping and saving in order support the kids’ music and the tour, they feel the sacrifice is more than worth it.
“I’m a teacher, so I will say that music, especially classical music, supports your learning in ways you don’t get anywhere else,” Julie Forrest said. “It’s a way of life ... it’s part of the way they see the world now.”
Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

May 23, 2018: Windsor student musicians to embark on European tour

by Heather Bailey, The Windsor Times, May 23, 2018

Five Windsor school students who play with the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra (SRSYO) will go on tour with the orchestra in June. The tour will include performances in Salzburg, Germany, Vienna, Austria and Budapest, Hungary.

Violist Sammie Moore, violinists Mina Burns and Pippin Forrest and concert bass players FJ Freenor and Isaac Forrest will perform with SRSYO in these three European cities known for great music and classical roots.

Students leave June 19 and return June 28. They will be in Salzburg for three days, performing in the Grosse Saal of the Mozarteum, in Vienna for three days, performing with the local youth orchestra in Rabenstein and attending a workshop with Christoph Koncz of the Vienna Philharmonic and in Budapest for two days performing in the Ceremonial Hall of Budapest.

Moore is a WHS graduating senior and has been an important member of the WHS String Orchestra. She plays both violin and viola. With WHS, she played the violin and served as principal violinist (also called concertmistress). With the SRSYO, she plays viola.

Burns will be a junior next year and plays in the first violin section of the WHS Strings Orchestra. Burns studies with Sonoma County Philharmonic concertmistress Pam Otsuka.

Pippin Forrest will be an eighth grader at WMS next year where she will continue playing first violin. She studies privately with Bay Area musician Ivy Zenobi. Freenor will be a sophomore and Isaac Forrest will be a senior next year at WHS. Both played bass at WMS with strings teacher Steven Hoffman. Freenor continues to study privately with Hoffman and Isaac studies with Santa Rosa Symphony bassist Karen Zimmerman.

“This European concert tour is a trip of a lifetime for me,” said Moore. “What a terrific graduation gift.”

Brother and sister Isaac and Pippin said it will be extra special to go on tour together. “I am incredibly excited to share this amazing experience with my little sister and as well as with my extended orchestral family,” said Isaac.

The 70 SRSYO students, from all over Sonoma County, ranging in age from 10 to 23, will have the opportunity to experience Vienna, the birthplace of western classical music; Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart; and Budapest, formerly two cities, Buda and Pest, located on the Danube River.

April 29, 2018: Santa Rosa symphony, community bid fond farewell to departing conductor Bruno Ferrandis

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, April 29, 2018

Bruno Ferrandis, the tall, lanky Frenchman who loves Mahler, Russian music and ancient languages, will conduct his final concerts as the music director of the Santa Rosa Symphony on May 5-7, bidding “au revoir” to Sonoma County after an historic, 12-year tenure.
  Beloved for his charm and sense of humor, his big heart and his small ego, the maestro will say goodbye with Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 — the composer’s farewell symphony, written after his daughter’s death — and the U.S. premiere of Czech composer Michal Rataj’s “Temporis,” featuring the cymbalom, an Eastern European hammered dulcimer.

“There will be a surprise in that concerto,” Ferrandis told the Santa Rosa Symphony League during a lunch earlier this month. “I’m always experimenting with new things.”

The eclectic and versatile conductor, who ushered the orchestra through its transition from the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts into the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall in 2012, said his future plans include guest conducting, opera conducting and perhaps helping to create a new ensemble. He also hopes to spend more time with his daughters: Cassandre, 15, and Alma, 9.

“After 12 very intense years, I want to enjoy my daughters more,” he said. “I want to rest.”

Like the orchestra’s newly appointed music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, Ferrandis was the symphony board’s unanimous choice as the orchestra’s fourth music director back in July 2006. His appointment came before the recession of 2008 and before the construction of the long-awaited Green Music Center was delayed indefinitely. Then he started commuting from Paris to Santa Rosa every month or so during the season, enduring tight security, weather delays and jet lag on both sides.

“I have plenty of energy left, but year after year, the trip was the most difficult part,” Ferrandis confessed in a phone interview in 2016, after announcing that he would step down at the end of the 2017-2018 season.

Born in Algiers, raised in Nice and having ancestral roots in both Spain and Italy, Ferrandis said he has always felt at home in the Mediterranean climate of Sonoma County, where staff, musicians and subscribers welcomed him warmly and the landscape looked familiar.

“The visits into the most beautiful villas around Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Road, and the little Geyserville and Sebastopol, the elegance of Healdsburg, the visits to the shores of Bodega Bay — all that made me feel really at home,” he said. “Plus the extreme kindness and sense of hospitality of the people here in Santa Rosa.”

When asked for some highlights of his time here, Ferrandis singled out the symphony’s “extraordinary” education department, especially its “Simply Strings” program; the friendships he established with staff and audience members “year after year,” and the orchestra itself which has grown into what he described as “a very capable entity,” attracting high-caliber new musicians.
From the start, Ferrandis was always excited about the potential of the Green Music Center’s main venue, an intimate hall built in a shoebox shape to enhance the acoustics.

“I remember myself sitting outside, on the lawn, listening, and one viola player was warming up,” he said. “I could hear so precisely what they were practicing, as if I was very close to them.”
But once the orchestra moved into the hall, the musicians had to adapt to the new space, and he recalled that was often difficult to make everyone happy.

“We got into the problem of heights of risers, and no risers vs. risers,” he said. “Compared to the LBC, we have physically a lot less room on stage, and also the problem of having a chorus so high up. We conductors have to move a lot, and the orchestra has got to listen a lot.”

Little by little, however, the issues were resolved under Ferrandis’ calm and reliable leadership.
“Everyone has told me the orchestra sounds incredible,” he said. “I believe yes, the orchestra has grown a lot.”

As for musical highlights, the maestro listed the many works he programmed over the years by living composers, especially the premieres; all the romantic works from the Germans, Russian and Czechs; Mozart and Haydn; “of course” the French, Italian and Spanish composers; quite a few U.S. composers; the “extraordinary soloists”; and all the requiems and oratorios performed with singers.

“So many incredible memories,” he said. “And from time to time, some great wine tasting in Sonoma.”

When he came back to lead a special concert in November to raise money for the October fire victims, Ferrandis was taken on a tour of some of Santa Rosa’s burned-out neighborhoods, including Coffey Park, where Patron Services Manager Brenda Fox lost her home.

“Brenda took me to visit the sites and to the forest,” he said. “I’ve never seen so much vast destruction in all my life.”

On a lighter note, Ferrandis also rang up the symphony’s newly chosen music director Lecce-Chong to congratulate him on being chosen as his successor.

“He is the most wonderful human being,” Ferrandis said. “He’s young, and that’s a big asset today, in the conductor’s profession. It’s good for the orchestra to rejuvenate.”

Although Ferrandis programmed the upcoming season in 2018-2019, Lecce-Chong will conduct three of the seven concert sets. Ferrandis was invited to return as a guest conductor for the final concert featuring Russian-American pianist Olga Kern and an all-Russian program.

“By fate or by choice, I ended up with a program that I like,” he said. “One thing I wish for Francesco is, please, conduct the music that you love. That’s how you transfer the love to the orchestra.”

But Ferrandis stopped short of giving any other programming advice to Lecce-Chong, another Renaissance man who has studied piano, violin and composing.

“He’s very creative, and I hope he can express his creativity,” Ferrandis said. “I will help him and give him anything he needs ... but the programming is his own journey.”

Ferrandis will be feted after each concert on May 5, 6 and 7 with benefit receptions in Prelude Restaurant featuring hors d’oeuvres, wine and the chance to say “Merci beaucoup” to the maestro in person. Tickets are $100 and must be reserved in advance at 707-546-8742 or

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

April 4, 2018: Meet the Maestro: Santa Rosa Symphony names new music director

by Charlie Swanson, North Bay Bohemian, April 4, 2018

Ever since late 2015, when Santa Rosa Symphony conductor and music director Bruno Ferrandis announced his plan to step down from the podium after the 2017–18 season, the symphony has searched the globe to find his successor.

Last week, they selected 30-year-old Francesco Lecce-Chong, who begins his tenure with the orchestra next season.

"I'm feeling fantastic," Lecce-Chong says.

Born in San Francisco, Lecce-Chong is a rising star in the classical world. He is currently also conductor of the Eugene Symphony in Eugene, Ore., and this summer he wraps up his stint as associate conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Last October, Lecce-Chong came to Santa Rosa to meet the community and conduct the orchestra for three concerts as an audition. That audition ended with heartbreak when the last concert was canceled after the fires broke out in October. "I came to care so much about the community and the people here," says Lecce-Chong. The fire "was one of the most awful things I've ever experienced."

Now that he is returning to the region as the Santa Rosa Symphony's music director, Lecce-Chong says he is committed to helping the healing process after the fires. "That's what a symphony does so well, what music does so well," he says. "It gives us a chance to bring people together, and I'm grateful for that opportunity."

Lecce-Chong is also excited about expanding the community's access to music. "I'm passionate about making sure that people of all ages and all backgrounds have a chance to experience what we do," he says.

That sentiment is a major component of the symphony's mission, and Lecce-Chong praises its youth orchestra as well as its various school and after-school programs. "It's important that we not only invite kids to the concert hall, but that we go to them and offer our services," says Lecce-Chong. "I want to be with an orchestra that has those priorities."

Santa Rosa Symphony president and CEO Alan Silow calls Lecce-Chong the total package. "He's incredibly talented and exuberant on the podium, inspiring both the orchestra and the audience," Silow says. "And he has a genuine passion for what we do in music education. He's eager to support that and build on that mission."

Silow also notes that Bruno Ferrandis is marking his farewell with the symphony's last two shows of this season. "This will be a great last opportunity to be with Bruno."

April 2, 2018: Santa Rosa Symphony’s Next Music Director

by Jeffrey Freymann, KDFC The State of the Arts, April 2, 2018

After five sets of concerts auditioning candidates to be Santa Rosa Symphony‘s next Music Director, it’s now official: it will be Francesco Lecce-Chong, who last year was picked to lead the Eugene Symphony in Oregon. He’ll start next season conducting three programs, and will program and conduct more sets the following year. He’s already served as Associate Conductor for both the Milwaukee and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestras, and brings a special interest in community outreach and music education programs.
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He had a chance in October to very quickly try to bond with the players, and let them know about him. “I really enjoyed myself. It’s like the most intense seven-day speed dating, where you just… You try to meet every single person you can, and get to know the community, and make sure they have a really clear idea of who you are as well… Every community is so unique, and really the first thing I did in Eugene, and certainly the first thing I’ll do in Santa Rosa, is just get to know the community and the organization.” His concerts came right before the fires, in fact, the final concert was cancelled because of them. He says it was heartbreaking to see the community that had been so welcoming to him have to leave their homes, and struggle with the aftermath. Even though his time with the musicians was brief, he was very impressed. “It’s an orchestra that has a lot of personality, they know how to have a lot of fun, and they love what they do, and you know, that’s pretty much all you can ask for as a conductor.” He says he’ll likely begin with works that are better known, so both the players and audiences can see his style and personality. “That’s really kind of how we’ll grow together, as far as the sound of the orchestra, the ensemble of the orchestra. But then really exploring the diversity of repertoire that we have available.” He says he’s gone through the history of his orchestra in Oregon to find pieces and composers who haven’t been performed, and has begun to program them – along with young American composers, who he’d like to see better reflected in the concert hall. Lecce-Chong adds that, from a young age, he’s been a champion of classical music, despite having non-musical parents. “When I was like ten, when I was playing piano and violin and clarinet, and composing, and playing in youth orchestra, and I had to advocate to my parents for what I wanted to do. And all my friends, and everyone around me, I was in a constant conversation about this is why I love it so much. I think that’s kind of naturally carried over very well into what I do now, really being an advocate for our artform.”

March 30, 2018: Newly picked Santa Rosa Symphony conductor likes to take risks, have fun

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, March 30, 2018

When Francesco Lecce-Chong auditioned for the Santa Rosa Symphony music director post in October, he didn’t set out to impress the musicians.

“All you can do is go in there and be yourself,” the 30-year-old conductor said in a phone interview earlier this week. “You’re simply there to help them make great music. So if you make it about yourself, it’s never going to work. But it still may not work ... and that’s OK.”

Despite being the youngest candidate and the first to audition this season — both potential liabilities — Lecce-Chong, who was born in San Francisco and grew up in Colorado, was chosen earlier this week as the fifth music director of the Santa Rosa Symphony in its 90-year history, succeeding Bruno Ferrandis.

Those involved in the two-year search process say they were struck by the young conductor’s enthusiasm and collaborative spirit, which he demonstrated both on and off the podium. A strong background in education and community outreach seemed to seal the deal.

“We found excellence, passion and dynamic style in his conducting, a background of superior training and broad musical knowledge, genuine sincerity and humility in his personality, and a respectful and collaborative interaction with our professional musicians,” said Jim Hinton, Music Director Search Committee chairman.

Suddenly, after spending three years in Pittsburgh as associate conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony and music director of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony, Lecce-Chong (pronounced LECH-ey-chong) has landed with both feet back on the West Coast.

His star has been on the rise. Last spring, he was chosen from 250 applicants as the music director of the Eugene Symphony in Eugene, Oregon, and started conducting there this season. A few months later, he was offered representation from IMG Artists, one of the premier global artist management firms.

This season, the maestro of Italian-Chinese descent has brought new ideas to the Eugene Symphony in an effort to expand access to music and develop more connections among the listeners. In the lobby of the performing arts center, for example, he put up a big white board for the audience to write down their impressions during intermission.

“People should not go to the concerts in spite of 1,000 other people but because of it,” he said. “The energy and the people in the hall affect how we perform ... the listeners are active.”

When Lecce-Chong talks to the audience in Eugene, he likes to focus on their own dialogue, letting them come to their own conclusions rather then telling them what to think. On the podium, he is also interested in drawing musicians into the process.

During his first rehearsal last fall, for example, Santa Rosa Symphony Board of Directors Chairman Jamei Haswell noticed that he would often turn to Concertmaster Joe Edelberg and ask what he thought about a certain approach.

“I don’t think any of the other maestros did that,” she said, referring to the tryouts of the five music director finalists over the course of five months. “Even asking for an opinion was a wonderful thing to do.”

Edelberg, for his part, praised Lecce-Chong for his “inspired and inspiring musicianship, good will and natural leadership.”

“He has many, many ideas about how a symphony orchestra and a community can work together,” he added. “I am excited about working with him.”

Lecce-Chong, who was trained as a pianist and a conductor, said he favors a collaborative approach because the musicians’ personalities are integral to the end result.

“For me, making great music is one of the most important things I do, but it’s also who I make it with,” he said. “It’s taking the energy that’s there — the strengths, weaknesses and personalities — and that all goes into a performance.”

In addition, he likes to invite the musicians to perform a high-wire act with him, pushing their musicianship to the heights of expression while striving to stay spontaneous and in the moment.

“I like my performances to be risky — that’s part of the joy,” he said. “You don’t play it safe in the way you try to express yourself. It’s about saying something so genuine, that sometimes a mistake might happen, but you’re still communicating something important.”

During the Oct. 7 concert, Lecce-Chong broke a baton and suffered a clothing malfunction — his shirt came untucked in front — during a passionate rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. Keeping his cool, Francesco, playfully shrugged off the glitches, accepting a new baton and leaving his shirt untucked.

“That was my test to see if we could all relax and have fun,” he said. “Can the orchestra laugh it off, and can we have some fun? OK, good.”

Lecce-Chong, who has an apartment in Eugene, plans to establish a second residence in Santa Rosa next summer in advance of the 2019-2020 season, when he will conduct six out of seven concert sets.

For the 2018-2019 season, which were planned by Ferrandis, outgoing music director, he will conduct only three concert sets because of previous guest conducting engagements. When Lecce-Chong was here last fall for his live performance audition, about 40 family members came to the Saturday night concert to serve as his cheering section.

He was scheduled to conduct his final concert on Oct. 9, the day the wildfires tore across large swaths of Sonoma County, drastically altering lives and landscapes. After the concert was canceled, his parents drove up from San Francisco and picked him up, along with guest pianist Joyce Yang, and drove them both back to the city.

Before he left, however, he handed the keys to his hotel room to Haswell, who had lost her home in the early morning hours, and told her that she and her husband could have a place to stay that night.

Despite moving on to other cities and concert venues, the maestro has checked back in regularly with Haswell and others over the past six months as he had trouble getting the natural disaster out of his mind.

“I have never witnessed this kind of devastation before on a personal level,” he said. “It was simply heartbreaking to see all the people who had so warmly welcomed me into their community now displaced and having no idea if their homes had survived.”

As part of his mission in Santa Rosa, the conductor said he hopes to continue to find ways for the symphony to be a part of the city’s rebuilding.

“Music helps us connect with each other,” he said. “It strengthens community through hope, inspiration and connection.”

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

March 29, 2018: Eugene Symphony Music Director Takes on California Post

by Bob Keefer, Eugene Weekly, March 29, 2018

Francesco Lecce-Chong, Eugene Symphony’s still-new music director and conductor, has been named music director of the Santa Rosa Symphony, the California orchestra announced late on
Tuesday, March 27.

That doesn’t mean we’re losing the popular young conductor. Lecce-Chong’s Santa Rosa appointment, which begins in the fall, won’t interfere with his work here, a Eugene Symphony spokeswoman tells EW. “This doesn’t affect his commitment or his schedule here,” Lindsey McCarthy says, adding that Lecce-Chong will still be conducting 10 of the upcoming season’s 12 concerts, as planned.

He was known to be a candidate for the Santa Rosa job while he was also being considered for the Eugene post. He guest-conducted a program with the Santa Rosa orchestra in October, during the area’s catastrophic fires. Lecce-Chong, who was named music director of the Eugene Symphony last April, will replace Santa Rosa’s Parisian music director Bruno Ferrandis, who is stepping down at the end of the season after leading the Santa Rosa orchestra for a dozen years.

March 29, 2018: Santa Rosa Symphony names Francesco Lecce-Chong Music Director

by Pizzicato, March 29, 2018

Californian Santa Rosa Symphony announces Francesco Lecce-Chong, 30, as its fifth Music Director, beginning with the 2018-2019 season. Born in San Francisco, Lecce-Chong is a native of Boulder, Colorado, where he began conducting at the age of sixteen. He is a graduate of the Mannes College of Music and Curtis Institute of Music. Lecce-Chong is also Music Director of the Eugene Symphony, in Eugene, Oregon, where he currently resides.

This summer he concludes his position as Associate Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Principal Conductor of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra.

March 29, 2018: ​Santa Rosa Symphony names Francesco Lecce-Chong music director, effective in July

by League of American Orchestras HUB, March 29, 2018

“After a two-year international search, the Santa Rosa Symphony has chosen the fifth music director of its 90-year history: 30-year-old Francesco Lecce-Chong, a trained conductor and pianist of Italian-Chinese descent, to succeed Bruno Ferrandis,” writes Diane Peterson in Tuesday’s (3/27) Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, CA). “Lecce-Chong was born in San Francisco and raised in Boulder, Colorado. He was the first to audition with the symphony during the 2017-2018 season … The 10-member Music Director Search Committee … unanimously recommended him to the Santa Rosa Symphony’s 38-member board of directors…. The board’s vote was also unanimous…. Lecce-Chong’s three-year contract with the Santa Rosa Symphony begins July 1…. In April, he was chosen as the music director of the Eugene Symphony in Eugene, Oregon.” He will hold both positions simultaneously, and will complete his associate conductor post at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra this summer. “Lecce-Chong studied composing as an undergraduate at New York’s Mannes School of Music and has a strong interest in new music…. This season in Eugene, the multifaceted conductor has led early music works from the harpsichord twice, including a sold-out concert last month titled ‘The Four Seasons of the McKenzie River,’ [a] multimedia, collaborative project.” 

March 29, 2018: California’s Santa Rosa Symphony Appoints New 30-Year-Old Music Director

by The Violin Channel, March 29, 2018

The Santa Rosa Symphony in California, United States, has today announced the appointment of 30-year-old Italian-Chinese-American conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong as their new Music Director – effective from the 1st of July this year.
He will replace Maestro Bruno Ferrandis, who will leave the ensemble at the end of the current season – after 12 years at the helm.
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“About 30 board members voted … and it really is remarkable that the vote was unanimous …” orchestra board chair Jamei Haswell has told local press.
“He wowed us in so many different ways … he was absolutely spectacular on the podium, and he communicated well with our donors and audience alike,” he has said.
“The candidates were all top notch … I’m still a little bit in shock … I can’t tell you how excited I am, and more grateful than ever to have the chance of going back to Santa Rosa,” the Mannes College of Music and Curtis Institute of Music graduate has said.
Francesco, in addition, currently serves as Music Director of the Eugene Symphony and as Associate Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony.

March 27, 2018: Symphony names Lecce-Chong as new music director

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, March 27, 2018

After a two-year international search, the Santa Rosa Symphony has chosen the fifth music director of its 90-year history: 30-year-old Francesco Lecce-Chong, a trained conductor and pianist of Italian-Chinese descent, to succeed Bruno Ferrandis.

The youngest of the five finalists for the role, Lecce-Chong was born in San Francisco and raised in Boulder, Colorado. He was the first to audition with the symphony during the 2017-2018 season, but his time was cut short when his third concert on Oct. 9 was canceled because of the October wildfires.

Still, the talent displayed in the first two performances, his strong interpersonal skills, collaborative approach and interest in the community made him the top choice of the 10-member Music Director Search Committee, which unanimously recommended him to the Santa Rosa Symphony’s 38-member board of directors earlier this month. The board’s vote was also unanimous.

“About 30 board members voted, and it really is remarkable that the vote was unanimous,” said Jamei Haswell, chairman of the board and a search committee member. “He wowed us in so many different ways. He was absolutely spectacular on the podium, and he communicated well with our donors and audience alike.”

Alan Silow, president and CEO of the Santa Rosa Symphony and a member of the search committee, said Lecce-Chong (pronounced Lech-ey Chong) was the top choice among both orchestra members and the community, who were surveyed for their feedback.

“He really is the whole package,” Silow said. “I feel like Francesco crosses every ‘T’ and dots every ‘I’ on all of those important components: outreach, education ... talent and exuberance on the podium, and also a real desire and commitment to this orchestra and to this community in particular.”
Lecce-Chong emerged as one of the front-runners from an initial field of 70 candidates, whittled down to 10 finalists by June 2016, and then five. The search committee, which first met in December 2015, included five symphony board members, four orchestra musicians and Silow.
Each finalist spent a little over a week in Santa Rosa this season, conducting rehearsals and three performances while meeting with community leaders, board members, staff and musicians.

“The candidates were all top notch,” Lecce-Chong said in a phone interview from Miami. “I’m still a little bit in shock ... I can’t tell you how excited I am, and more grateful than ever to have the chance of going back to Santa Rosa.”

Lecce-Chong plans to move to Sonoma County next summer, partly because his parents and extended family live in San Francisco and partly for professional reasons.

"I always want to have a residence with any orchestra I am music director of,” he said. “It’s a matter of principle for me.”

Lecce-Chong’s willingness to relocate to Sonoma County, although not a requirement, may have swung the pendulum in his favor.

“He offered some innovative new programs for music education and community outreach, and the fact that he wanted to live here was icing on the cake,” said Haswell, who lost her home in the October wildfires. “My gut was that Francesco, if he lived here, would be something that our symphony and community really needs, especially right now.”

Lecce-Chong’s three-year contract with the Santa Rosa Symphony begins July 1. He will only be able to conduct three concert sets in the 2018-2019 season because of previously scheduled guest conducting engagements. After next season, however, he will conduct six out of the seven concert sets, just like his predecessor Ferrandis, who was appointed in March 2006 to succeed Jeffrey Kahane.

“What will be important for me as a young conductor is that I will do three performances of each program,” Lecce-Chong said. “That’s how an orchestra and conductor grow together.”
Lecce-Chong’s star has been on the rise. In April, he was chosen as the music director of the Eugene Symphony in Eugene, Oregon. A few months later, he was picked up for representation by the international performing arts management firm IMG Artists.

Although rooted in the standard orchestral and operatic repertoire, Lecce-Chong studied composing as an undergraduate at New York’s Mannes School of Music and has a strong interest in new music. While serving as associate conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra from 2011 to 2015, he curated and presented two works commissioned by the orchestra as well as two U.S. premieres.
This season in Eugene, the multifaceted conductor has led early music works from the harpsichord twice, including a sold-out concert last month titled “The Four Seasons of the McKenzie River.” The multimedia, collaborative project featured projected photos of the McKenzie River taken by members of the community accompanied by a live performance of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.”
“I can’t take credit for (planning) it, but what I took away from it is doing community-based projects is incredibly powerful in the way they bring interest and community into the hall,” he said.

Lecce-Chong plans to complete his three-year post as associate conductor with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra this summer. A few weeks ago, he bid farewell to the Pittsburgh Symphony Youth Orchestra, where he has served as music director.

The conductor said he is looking forward to being based on the West Coast next season, dividing his time between Santa Rosa and Eugene instead of flying back and forth between coasts.
After spending a week in Santa Rosa last fall, Lecce-Chong was excited to learn about all the community outreach and the educational resources of the symphony, which has built a multitiered corps of youth orchestras.

“I’m looking forward to being able to contribute to that and inspire it,” he said.
He also was impressed with the intimacy of the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall at Sonoma State University, where the symphony serves as the resident orchestra.

“This was my first chance to perform in a hall of that size, seating 1,500,” he said. “I think that’s the sweet number ... where the audience is a part of what’s going on onstage in a physical way.”

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

March 27, 2018: Eugene Symphony conductor Lecce-Chong adds Santa Rosa Symphony to his music director duties

by Morgan Theophil, The Register-Guard, March 27, 2018

Eugene Symphony music director and conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong has been chosen as Santa Rosa (Calif.) Symphony’s music director for the 2018-2019 season.

Lecce-Chong still will fully maintain his current role as music director and conductor with the Eugene Symphony.

The 30-year-old conductor will begin his tenure in Santa Rosa conducting the October, November and January concerts in the upcoming 2018-19 season, taking over as the symphony’s fifth music director in the 90 years.

“Francesco’s appointment in Santa Rosa further corroborates what all of us in Eugene have come to know since he joined our organization last spring,” said Scott Freck, Eugene Symphony executive director. “We know that Francesco will achieve great success in this new opportunity and bring even more ideas and energy to his role here at Eugene Symphony.”

Concluding his positions as associate conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and principal conductor of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra this summer, Lecce-Chong said in a phone interview Tuesday that working with both the Eugene and Santa Rosa symphonies will coincide with ease.

“I think in this case it’s particularly complementary, with the way the two orchestras are geographically and the way in which I’ll be able to grow in both places and use what I learn in one place for the other place,” he said. “It’s really quite remarkable in that sense.”

Lecce-Chong said that changes to his role with the Eugene Symphony will be virtually unseen, as he will conduct nine of the 12 concerts as planned in the Eugene Symphony’s 2018-2019 season, which begins Sept. 27.

Lecce-Chong will maintain his current residence in Eugene and will take up a second residence in Santa Rosa next summer.

“This is really an opportunity for me to work with different artists, more guest artists, discover new music, new projects and new collaborations,” he said. “And I’ll be able to bring ideas from my time so far in Eugene to Santa Rosa, and eventually have that go the other way as well.”
For example, Lecce-Chong said he has been excited to introduce family concerts to the Eugene Symphony, the first of which is scheduled for April 29, and the Santa Rosa Symphony has been performing a three-concert family series for some time.

“This is something I’ve been working really hard about and something that means a lot to me, and this will allow me to see in Santa Rosa how their family concerts are working, what’s been great, what have they done that’s been really successful, and then bring some of those ideas to Eugene,” he said.

While allowing ideas to migrate between the two symphonies, Lecce-Chong said he is planning to recognize and maintain the community-specific elements that exist in the separate places.
“There are a lot of unique things (in Santa Rosa) just like there are a lot of unique things in Eugene, and I really do believe that programming and projects should be very community-involved and very community-specific,” he said. “So while elements might inspire things in both cities, I certainly don’t intend to make it in any way the easy way out.”

The announcement comes after more than a two-year long international search by the Santa Rosa Symphony.

“I feel like I’ve grown light-years this year in Eugene, just being given the opportunities and the leadership role that I have, and to be this supported is remarkable for a young conductor,” Lecce-Chong said. “That’s something that I want to build on, not something that I want to end any time soon.”

March 27, 2018: Santa Rosa Symphony Chooses Its Next Music Director

by Michael Zwiebach, San Francisco Classical Voice, March 27, 2018

The Santa Rosa Symphony announced today that they had selected Francesco Lecce-Chong as the orchestra’s next music director. The announcement comes at the conclusion of a year-long process that saw five highly-regarded contenders appear with the orchestra. Lecce-Chong will take up the position full-time in 2019–2020, to allow him to fulfill prior commitments, but he will conduct three concerts in 2018-2019.

The San Francisco-born, Boulder-raised, 30-year-old conductor is already making an international career. He has been the music director of the Eugene Symphony for almost a year, where he follows in the footsteps of the likes of Marin Alsop and Giancarlo Guerrero among others who became sought after conductors. He will retain that position. He is Associate Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony, and has guested with National Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and St. Louis Symphony, as well as upcoming debuts with the Louisville Orchestra, the Louisiana Symphony, and the Xi-An Symphony.

SRS Principal Oboe and Music Director Search Committee member Laura Reynolds says, “Francesco is an inspiring presence on the podium, with deep commitment to the craft and a musical sense, or spirit, if you will, that invites players into a collaborative space to create our sound. I very much look forward to working with him!”

SRS Board Chairman Jamei Haswell says, “The Board’s vote was unanimous. He has the perfect balance of on-the-podium skills and off-the- podium passion for community outreach and music education. Francesco is an excellent communicator.”

Lecce-Chong becomes the orchestra’s fifth music director, succeeding Bruno Ferrandis, whose tenure comes to a close at the end of this season.

Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.

February 6, 2018: Santa Rosa Symphony conductor candidate Michael Christie relates to players, audience

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, February 6, 2018

Conductor Michael Christie has amassed an impressive resume since he received an “outstanding potential” prize at the First International Sibelius Conductor’s Competition in Helsinki at the age of 21.

Now 43, Christie is at the top of his game, having forged an international career in Europe, the U.S. and Australia while proving himself a musical adventurer through his innovative programming with the Minnesota Opera, where he has served as Music Director since 2012.

Last July, for example, he conducted the premiere of “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs” at the Santa Fe Opera, a project that drew upon talent from the Minnesota Opera. According to the MinnPost, Christie “presided in the pit ... giving careful guidance to the pulsating yet delicate electro-acoustic score by the 40-year-old Mason Bates.”

Stints at symphonies such as the Queensland Orchestra (2001-2004), Phoenix Symphony (2005-2013) and the Brooklyn Philharmonic (2005-2010) round out the career of this former wunderkind, not to mention his 13-year tenure as music director the Colorado Music Festival in Boulder and guest conducting gigs all over the world.

Christie — the fifth and final music conductor candidate to try out with the Santa Rosa Symphony this season as a successor to Bruno Ferrandis — will lead the orchestra this Saturday, Feb. 10, through Monday Feb. 12 in a colorful program of Bernstein, Prokofiev and Dvorak at the Green Music Center. He also conducted the orchestra in January 2015, when he arranged for fiddler Mark O’Connor to perform with his wife in the first half of the program before tackling his own Fiddle Concerto after intermission. The concert ended on a colorful note with Copland’s “El Sálon México.”

“I’m not afraid to look at how the menu of the concert is set up,” Christie said in a phone interview in September. “I really felt like, ‘Let’s wrap it up with something quick, splashy and fun for the orchestra.’”

A former trumpet player, Christie is known for his clear conducting of even the most challenging scores and for his strong rapport with musicians.

“Having played in lots of orchestras gives me a good idea of what the orchestra musicians are experiencing, especially those who are far away from the podium, ” Christie said. “Unlike a keyboard player, I have a pretty good sense of the canon ... and I’ve tried to implement successful rehearsals.”

Christie likes to make small tweaks to traditional program formats in an effort to create a better experience for audiences. He likes to provide variety in programming and to balance the expectations of every audience member in the hall, a challenge he finds as rigorous as it is rewarding.

“When you have about 1,500 people in a space, everybody comes there wanting their own experience,” he said. “Some people just want music. Some people want to know what’s going on. Trying to find a balance is really fascinating for me.”

Here is an edited version of our interview with Christie, who lives in Minneapolis with his wife Alexis, a pulmonary critical care doctor; daughter, Sinclair, 9, and son Beckett, 3.

What will the symphony musicians enjoy about working with you?
I’m very much about making the experience of the concert fun and entertaining, and having an open mind about what people should experience. I’d like to think that I would be able to give the musicians a broad view of the repertory, and hopefully, get them as engaged as possible with the audience there, who really struck me. They’re magnificent. I really felt like the audience was very actively engaged in what was happening, and I felt like they had great pride in the orchestra.
So they can expect artistic leadership and also community leadership ... it’s the music director’s job to be a bit of a curator and help people find different ways through what we’ve selected, and a lot of that is how we interact with the audience and break down the barrier by speaking to them. With the hall and the surround seating, we already have the benefit of people being able to surround the orchestra.

What ideas do you have to engage and grow the audience here, and can you give an example of what you’ve already done with other orchestras?
I have for a long time done interviews of guest artists immediately after they’ve done their concerto, usually at intermission, and give the audience a chance to ask questions. Let’s say there is a 20-minute intermission. The soloist and I will stay out there, and for 10 minutes, we do a Q & A. And the people who want to get a drink and go to the bathroom can leave.

I also did some crazy things. For anyone who wanted to sit on the stage, I’d have them leave their ticket stubs with the usher, and we’d draw their names. It gives people a chance to be a little bit closer to what’s happening.

I’ve got a few other arrows in my quiver that I know work and am really eager to fine-tune them with another group ... There are a lot of compelling artists that do things that aren’t just violin and piano concertos. I worked with a life-size puppeteer, Basil Twist, and he brought all these puppeteers and did a presentation of (Stravinsky’s) “Petrouchka.” I wanted the audience to see that the music is a ballet and is meant to be danced.

In this day and age, everything is so much about the user experience, and as an arts organization, we have to leave a little bit of time in our thinking about designing that user experience ... you have to be sensitive about what actually makes that experience great.

What is your programming philosophy and how do you plan to keep concerts exciting for everyone?
My philosophy overall is that variety is key. Especially with music that the audience might not know. I try to imagine my wife sitting in the audience. What would she get out of this? If the music is obscure and crazy ... then I won’t pick that piece. I try to marry variety with that first listening. What will people get out of it if they only hear it once?

As the music director and curator, you are laying out people’s trail through a museum, and it has to be there for a specific reason. Is it worth doing for them and for us as performers?

Where do you see classical music going in the future, and how would you take this orchestra in that direction?
The future is very community specific ... that’s why I’m putting my chips in the experience basket, because I really believe that there’s not many other opportunities for people to experience live performances of instrumental music.

We can’t just say “Love us because we’re playing Brahms.” It’s got to have more meaning. I just had the feeling, from that week with the orchestra and the audience, that there’s a real sense that people are engaged in the arts there. So you really feel that energy.

There is so much presented in that hall, so it’s not like this is a surprise. It’s a matter of how we do it going forward? It’s going to be a mix of the standards and this enormous palette we get from all over the world and helping people understand what’s going on. That’s an enormous component to being successful.

What instruments do you play and how does that experience serve you in your role as conductor?
I got my degree in trumpet performance at Oberlin, and I’d like to think that ... playing in lots of orchestras gives me a good idea of what the orchestra musicians are experiencing ... and I try to be aware of their needs.

One of the challenges for many California orchestras is that they only play together a couple times a month. How do we establish the relationship with them and decide how we’re going to do things in the hall? How do we get quickly into the mindset of that space?

Those musicians are busy and racing all over, and when they arrive, how do they have confidence in the conductor? For a goal, you want the Santa Rosa Symphony experience for our musicians to be the very best of all the orchestras that they play in.

Why do you want to come to Sonoma County, and how much time can you spend here?
First of all, I was really struck by how the audience and the orchestra felt with each other in that space. It was a very fertile ground.

It’s been a lot of fun being in opera, but at the same time, I’ve got 20 years worth of great orchestral experience, and I want to keep refining that.

The music director needs to be as involved as possible. So I will learn more about what the optimal time commitment would be as the process unfolds.

Being an American music director is a very involved experience. It’s a wild job in a lot of ways. You have to be able to sell the vision and be an ambassador, performer, fundraiser and a bit of a psychologist, not only for the musicians but for the board. You’re a planner and a collaborator with the staff. It’s not a job that anybody gets trained specifically to do. If I got the position, this would be my sixth music director position in my life.

Conducting is your favorite thing. What is your second favorite thing?
amily is at the forefront of everything, but among non-family things, I love flying. It’s a source of great joy, especially as a hobby. I have a Mooney, low-wing, single-engine prop plane. I did my flight training in my early 20s, and got my license when I was 24. If I can fly without stopping for fuel, then I can beat the airlines. But as soon as you have to make a stop, the curve works against you.

Can you talk about the program you’ll be leading?
One of the big things I wanted to do was to be part of Bernstein’s centenary (he was born in 1918), and it’s important for any orchestra to nod its cap and appreciate how important he was. I thought it would be fun to present a piece that is a little bit off the beaten trail (“On the Waterfront”.) It’s jazzy and very lyrical, and there’s a lot of rhythm, which directly correlates with “West Side Story.” It speaks to variety, because he’s a well-known composer, but let’s look at him from a little bit different angle.

The orchestra assigned everybody soloists and gave us some choices about what the soloists were willing to do. The Prokofiev (Piano Concerto No. 3 (performed by Anna Fedorova) is great for the audience and has a lot of vibrancy, and it’s a great showpiece for the pianist.

Then they asked us to look at the repertory from the last five years and pick a standard piece that hasn’t been done in that time frame. That’s the motivation for the Dvorak (Symphony No. 9). That’s what people could imagine me thinking of doing in future programming.

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or

January 11, 2018: Meet Santa Rosa Symphony conductor candidate Graeme Jenkins

by Diane Peterson, Press Democrat, January 11, 2018

Like Santa Rosa Symphony’s outgoing Music Director Bruno Ferrandis, music director candidate Graeme Jenkins is based in Europe but has spent a great deal of time in the U.S.
Also like Ferrandis, Jenkins knows his way around the string bass and has deep roots in opera, serving as the music director of the Dallas Opera for nearly 20 years. But the similarities between the Frenchman and the Brit stop there.

The 58-year-old Jenkins, a choral and orchestral conductor who specializes in Mozart and the Viennese classics, will lead a program of Haydn, Mozart and Bartok from Saturday through Monday, Jan. 13 to 15, at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall.

The mostly Classical-era program will provide a palate-cleanser from the music performed so far this season, which has leaned heavily toward big, Romantic works by composers such as Berlioz, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff.

One of his most famous mentors — Sir Peter Hall, a theater, opera and film director who died in September at age 86 — set Jenkins on the “less is more” path a long time ago, and he has never veered very far from it.

“Sir Peter Hall really insisted on integrity to the piece, and that is the heart of what I do as a conductor,” Jenkins said. “So that the music speaks its truth to the audience.”

Jenkins, who has conducted all the major UK orchestras and other opera companies such as the Vienna State Opera, uses restrained gestures when he conducts to communicate the sound that he wants to the orchestra.

“If you watch the greatest conductors ... they shape the music with their hands,” he said. “If you want (Gustavo) Dudamel — somebody doing huge and flamboyant gesture — that’s maybe what Santa Rosa needs. But if you want someone to delve deep into the music, that’s where I might fit in better.”

A self-made musician, Jenkins is the son of a banker and a hard-working housewife and fell under the spell of music as a young boy. He was able to excel, he said, due to Britain’s top-notch musical education system. His training started at Dulwich College, a private boarding school in South London; and continued at the University of Cambridge, where he read music; then at the Royal College of Music in London, where he studied conducting.

“I come from a family where there wasn’t much music, but for some reason I loved classical music,” he said. “I’m a product of education bringing people to music.”

His career took off when he was appointed Music Director of the Glyndebourne Touring Opera from 1986 to 1991. “I was very, very lucky,” he said. “After doing a festival in Brighton, the Glyndebourne Touring Opera asked me to come there, and I was there for seven years, with (Bernard) Haitink and (Sir Simon) Rattle.”

Jenkins is the fourth and penultimate candidate to audition with the Santa Rosa symphony this season to take Ferrandis’ place. A final decision made by the board will be announced in March.
Here is an edited version of our interview with Jenkins, who lives in Dorset, England, with his wife, Joanne. The couple has two daughters: Martha, 27, and Isabella, 25.

What will the symphony musicians enjoy about working with you?
I hope, in that week, that some form of spark will come between the rostrum and the musicians. Without talking, without enormous movements from me, the music will speak for itself.

From the very first down beat, I’ll know if there’s the concentration and level of professionalism that wants to go further. I’ll start with the Bartok (Concerto for Orchestra) and those quiet phrases, and I’ll know from the intonation from cellos and bass how we’re going to get on.

In my first job, I was wonderfully tutored in committee, letting everybody talk, getting the feeling of the room, and then suggesting an approach ... it’s much better to have everybody involved. That’s the same way when you conduct an orchestra. Yes, you dictate the tempo, but you need to nurture the person in the back of the second violins and the new student in front, and remind the jaded members that the music is life-giving and remind them what it was like when they first did it.

What ideas do you have to engage and grow the audience here, and can you give an example of what you’ve already done with other orchestras?
That’s very hard to answer without being in California and seeing what is needed. I’ve seen what the planning has been and the educational works that have already been done. It’s actually sitting down with the board and audience and asking, “We have this marvelous orchestra, what do you want to do with it and how can we grow an audience?”

In Dallas, it was very much working together with board members and audience and singers. It’s pointless saying, ”We must do this,” without knowing and nurturing what is going on there.

What is your programming philosophy and how do you plan to keep concerts exciting for everyone?
It’s making every piece you do as exciting as possible. To take the orchestra to the absolute limits of what they can do and beyond. We must not become a museum culture. We must find new composers and new works. Why was it Haydn wrote 104 symphonies? Everyone wanted to hear something new.

Now the obsession is to hear everything everybody knows already. I don’t go into the same restaurant and eat the same meat with the same sauce. I want to try all kinds of things ... There are many different shades of cabernet sauvignon, depending on how much time in the barrel and the bottle. It’s the same with music. You want to try and develop different great varietals of the time.

Where do you see classical music going in the future, and how would you take this orchestra in that direction?
Classical music is in a difficult place at the moment, in that media does not take it seriously and everyone is calling it elitist. For me, it’s never been elitist. In Germany, every child at age 4 goes to see a production of “The Magic Flute.” It’s not difficult. And what is vital is that one keeps the support from the board and community to keep prices low so that anyone who wants to can afford to go.

The traditional standard repertoire should not be unknown. One should know the works of Mozart and Beethoven. But in America, that’s a challenge. So one has to tell the audience, “What we’re doing is really important, and you must come and hear it.”

And if one is to do an hour-long Shostakovich, you have to say “This is what you need to know,” and do a symposium ahead of time.

Why do you want to come to Sonoma County, and how much time can you spend here?
What I’m good at is running things. I enjoy guest conducting, but I enjoy being part of an organization and working with people. Although I have conducted orchestras, I have never been a music director of a symphony orchestra.

I would hope I would continue the work that Jeffrey Kahane did. I would certainly have a part-time residence there ... you’ve got to get to know the community, get involved with the student groups and talk to board members.

I think it’s important that I continue my European career as well. But what I adore about America — what is still great — is that if you say to a group of people, “Come on, we need to do this,” they will back you, and there’s still an extraordinary enthusiasm about ‘Go West, young man,’ and let’s achieve something.

What instruments do you play and how does that experience serve you in your role as conductor?
I kicked off on the piano, harpsichord and organ ... and I also played the double bass and did timpani, so I have a rudimentary knowledge of strings, then timpani and percussion. Once I got into Cambridge, I was a choral scholar, and I sang Evensong (evening prayer) every night of the week. That taught me how to sight read, and I know how to accompany the voice. You try to create an orchestral sound with the piano when you accompany people, so you really learn how to make it sound like an orchestra.

Conducting is your favorite thing. What is your second favorite thing?
I adore salmon fishing in the rivers. (In August) I was recording Verdi in Glasgow for Decca, and then I had a week fishing on the east coast of Scotland. I’m very new to this, but I’ve had casting lessons and now I get my fly into the river. No Internet. No noise. Incredibly beautiful scenery ... it’s really important, in this stressful world, that one can go completely away from things.

Can you talk about the program you’ll be leading?
I chose an extraordinary symphony (No. 100) that was premiered in London by Haydn ... Music is so often telling a story, and in Haydn’s “Military” Symphony, there’s a story in the second movement; perhaps Mozart’s best piano concerto (No. 21, to be performed by pianist Orli Shaham); and an extraordinary piece by Bartok (Concerto for Orchestra) written in New York City during an unhappy and difficult time of his life. He was thinking of his homeland and wonderful times back in Hungary. On the West Coast of America, that music will speak for myself.

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

November 26, 2017: Santa Rosa Symphony conductor candidate Andrew Grams a multitasker at heart

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, November 26, 2017

Baltimore native Andrew Grams started multitasking at an early age. While studying conducting at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, for example, the Juilliard-trained violinist was also hopping on trains to perform with the New York City Ballet Orchestra.

So the diverse challenges of directing a modern symphony orchestra — equal parts baton technique, public speaking and community outreach — do not daunt the 40-year-old conductor, who currently serves as the fourth music director of the 67-year-old Elgin Symphony Orchestra in Elgin, Illinois, just 35 miles northwest of Chicago. The orchestra is roughly the size of the Santa Rosa Symphony and draws upon musicians from all over the region.

Grams will lead the Santa Rosa Symphony this Saturday through Dec. 4 at Weill Hall during a program of Berlioz, Ravel and Rachmaninoff entitled “A Luscious Euro Sound.” The conductor is the third of five finalists trying out this season to succeed Music Director Bruno Ferrandis (other interviews and reviews so far can be viewed at

In addition to his in-depth string knowledge, Grams is known for creating a close relationship with the community, which has translated into a successful run so far with the Elgin Symphony.

“As time goes on, I have found more and more of my time being used in community development and relationship building rather than sitting in one’s cave, poring over scores and searching them for the deepest meaning,” Grams said in a phone interview. “I’ve dedicated myself to that in Elgin … and I am happy to say that over the course of my four-year tenure, we have grown both audience and revenue every single year.”

The Elgin Symphony Orchestra sold the highest average number of classical concert tickets in its history during the 2016-17 season, according to the Chicago Tribune. Grams believes the success of the orchestra is in part because of his personal accessibility.

“One of the things that I like to do is to get rid of the idea, the stigma, that exists in most people’s minds about what going to a symphony is,” he said. “I strive in my communication ... to make everyone know that music is for everyone. All should feel welcome.”

Grams, who served as assistant conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra for three years, guest conducts all over the world, from the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Orchestra London to the Oslo Philharmonic. His conducting style is elegant and animated, ranging from power punches to smooth balletic sways.

Here is our edited interview with Grams, who was named the 2015 Conductor of the Year by the Illinois Council of Orchestras:

What will the symphony musicians enjoy about working with you?
I create a working atmosphere that is positive and encouraging. The most important thing, and the thing that translates into an exciting performance, is when everybody strives for something that lies just beyond their easy grasp. It’s about trying to find that expressive region, where people are doing everything correctly …but striving for higher levels of the particular qualities required by the music, whether it be clarity, atmosphere or sustained intensity.

What ideas do you have to engage and grow the audience here, and can you give an example of what you’ve already done with other orchestras?
Since I’ve only had one orchestra, my experience is limited … but I am a person who is encouraging and inviting and warm and welcoming. I strive in my communication, whether it be in print or one-on-one conversations or speaking to the audience from the stage, to make everyone know that the music is for everyone … and if you come, you can come as you are and the only thing we ask is to come with open ears. Everybody has permission to not like what they’ve heard and to feel as if they can express that.

One of the things I’ve tried to do is to make sure I and the community establish trust. I am going to make sure they hear what they really like to hear, and also, that if I give them things that they don’t recognize, that they trust me that I’m not going to throw them into the deep end of the pool without some sort of floaties on the arm … And I always try to give the audience a framework for understanding.

What is your programming philosophy and how do you plan to keep concerts exciting for everyone?
This goes hand and hand with community relations and with me being who I am. I like to program stuff that I think is cool … a lot of the stuff that I think is cool, everybody else thinks is cool as well. So I’m not introducing wildly new, crazy, off-the-wall things.

I’m not saying we won’t go to places that will stretch people’s ears. But my programming starts off with, “Let’s all get to know one another.” And that goes for me and the orchestra. How an orchestra plays together is a very intimate thing, and it’s easier to understand one another when you are on familiar ground.

Where do you see classical music going in the future, and how would you take this orchestra in that direction?
I see the future being very bright, because many of the generations younger than mine have grown up with access to the widest gamut of music and information. And I think that a lot of the young people, those we generally call millennials, have grown up with a curiosity about the world.

The struggle comes because that curiosity does not always come with longtime loyalty. And so, we’re going to have to spend a lot of time learning about each other, and we are going to have to be flexible with our offerings, looking at it from a perspective that is not backward-looking. Tradition does have its place, and it’s important, but it cannot be adhered to without regard to new trends.

Why do you want to come to Sonoma County, and how much time can you spend here?
There are many things I find attractive. One is being wanted and considered, which is a great honor and privilege. It’s an affirmation of the quality of my work.

Another thing is the Green Music Center, since it is modeled on Ozawa Hall out of Tanglewood, which was one of the first truly special halls that I ever had the privilege of performing in when I was a Tanglewood fellow. I thought it was one of the greatest places to work ever.

California is a state that I have spent some time in, but the West Coast has a very different feel to me as a person who has spent a number of years in the Midwest and is originally from the East. It would be very, very exciting to get to know people who are there and who inhabit such a beautiful area, who live and work and craft things …whether it be wines or artisanal this, that and the other. All these things you really only find in California, with abundance.

Frankly, I really like working with the musicians of the Sacramento Philharmonic, and a lot of them play in Santa Rosa, so this will also be very nice.

I would spend a significant amount of time outside of concerts getting to know the community, from the City Council to all of the people who are in charge of a community. That’s extremely important. It’s time well spent. An orchestra should have relevant offerings for its community that support the community … you can’t know that until you know the community, and you can’t know the community by standing on the stage.

What instruments do you play and how does that experience serve you in your role as a conductor?
I play the violin, and I can get around on a French horn and trombone, albeit somewhat badly … one of the most terrifying experiences of my life was playing second horn for Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony. The trio is for the first row of woodwinds and second horn, which functions as a third bassoonist. You feel extremely naked.

Conducting is your favorite thing. What is your second favorite thing?
As I’ve gotten older, I cherish the opportunities to be still and do nothing. It’s difficult to do because there are so many distractions, but one of the things I like about flying … is that it is time that I don’t have to do anything. I don’t watch movies, I don’t listen to music and I don’t read. I sit still and enjoy the sounds of air rushing over the skin of an aluminum tube flying at 3,000 feet.

Can you talk about the program you’ll be leading?
This program offers a lot of expression. All three pieces have just a tinge of sadness and a little bit of tragedy.

The “King Lear” Overture (by Berlioz) is wildly exuberant and manic — hey, it’s King Lear — but there’s a bit of tragedy, too.

In the Ravel Piano Concerto (No. 2), the second movement is absolutely beautiful, a quasi-sarabande, with lovely expression, but it doesn’t make you smile. It’s not a smiley E major, which is just amazing that he was able to do that.

Rachmaninoff is never a smiley composer — there’s the “Dies Irae” (a leitmotif for fate and death) — and it really is a culmination of a lot of drive and thrust and intensely held feelings, but it’s never completely exuberant and bright and sunny.

The program has a sadness in the smallest possible dose — it colors everything just a little bit.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

October 18, 2017: Santa Rosa Symphony to welcome conductor candidate Mei-Ann Chen

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, October 18, 2017

Conductor Mei-Ann Chen is no stranger to the Bay Area classical music scene.
For the past four or five years, Chen has led the San Francisco Symphony in its annual Lunar New Year concert, relying on her extensive knowledge of the Asian repertoire.
In January 2016, she served as a guest conductor for the Santa Rosa Symphony, where she led An-Lun Huang’s festive “Saibei Dance” along with works by Dvorak and Tchaikovsky.
That concert made a positive impression on symphony musicians and subscribers alike. So it was not surprising when the symphony announced last fall that Chen had been chosen as one of five conductor finalists to audition for a chance to succeed Music Director Bruno Ferrandis.
After her first orchestra rehearsal as a violinist at age 10, Chen said she ran home to tell her parents she wanted to be a conductor. Since then, she has single-mindedly pursued her “impossible dream,” teaching herself conducting when she could not find a teacher.
“I was a stubborn little girl,” she said. “I wanted to play the largest instrument in the room … so I memorized all my parts and fixed my eyes on the conductor.”
Born in Taiwan, Chen studied music in Taipei and was ready to enter college when she was granted an audition with well-known British conductor Benjamin Zander, who was leading the New England Conservatory Youth Philharmonic on a tour of Asia. After hearing her play, Zander offered her a scholarship to the New England Conservatory. She received a double master’s degree in conducting and violin from the conservatory, then went on to get a doctor of music arts in conducting from the University of Michigan.
From 2002 to 2007, Chen served as the Music Director of the Portland Youth Philharmonic in Oregon, then was appointed assistant conductor of the Atlanta and Baltimore symphonies. From 2010 to 2016, she served as music director of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. Since 2011, she has led the Chicago Sinfonietta and spends half the year guest conducting all over the world.
First responders
This weekend, Nov. 4-6, all eyes will be on Chen as she returns to the Santa Rosa Symphony podium to lead Shostakovich’s “Festive Overture,” Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Armenian pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, Jennifer’s Higdon’s “blue cathedral” and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4, “Italian.” The symphony has dedicated its 90th season to the first responders and those who have lost homes in the wildfires and will provide free tickets for the remaining concerts to both groups.
Here is the edited version of our interview with Chen, who was named one of Musical America’s 2015 Top 30 Influencers.
What will the symphony musicians enjoy about working with you?
I like to think of the symphony orchestra as an enlarged chamber group. I grew up as a violinist ... so I really view the musicians as my fellow musicians who are making chamber music with me. I hope that they feel inspired. It is daunting to have a unified interpretation between 60 to 80 musicians ... They are not just there to follow my directions. We make the music together.
What ideas do you have to engage and grow the audience here, and can you give an example of what you’ve already done with other orchestras?
What we have learned in Chicago is that sometimes the audience may not know they enjoy certain things. So you have to build that trust. If you talk about fate, you’ve got Beethoven No. 5, Tchaikovsky No. 4, but there may be other works they may not know and love and enjoy. So I try to build in audience engagement with the concert theme.
We did a really out-side-the-box program in Chicago, collaborating with a wonderful marching band called Mucca Pazza (Mad Cow), and we created a battle of the bands program. In addition, before and during intermission and post-concert, we created a battle of the beers to tie into something that’s very specific to the region. It might get people really curious about what the symphony is doing.
Everybody knows Dvorak’s New World Symphony, which was inspired by ... spiritual, gospels and Native American music.
The world premiere was 1893 in Carnegie Hall. After the slow movement, the whole audience in Carnegie applauded nonstop for several minutes. So I brought in a youth choir and gospel choir to sing spirituals between the movements, before and after the slow movement ... It is a risk to interrupt the music. But in both Memphis and Chicago, the audience had four standing ovations, because the spirituals were so moving, and it gives you a deeper appreciation of those melodies. I think what the audience informed me is that it’s very educational for them to put things in context.
Grow audience
In symphonic engagement, if you don’t grow your audience, you are decreasing your audience ... the Chicago Sinfonietta is one of the few orchestras in the country that is growing. When we did Ravel’s “Daphnis and Chloé,” it was with a video suite by an astronomer, José Francisco Salgado. Recently, we did a 10-year-anniversary program with his work, and it included a movement from Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique,” where he showcased a video he made called “Around the Earth in 90 Minutes.” And he created a video for Holst’s “Planets.” That was one of our most attended concerts, because the whole family came, with kids ranging from very young to high school and college.
What is your programming philosophy and how do you plan to keep concerts exciting for everyone?
I would listen to your community. I don’t want to assume I know Santa Rosa ... Can we commission a piece that is quintessential to Sonoma County and capture that in a multi-media way that other orchestras could play?
Programming is very much like designing a menu. It has to be balanced. It has to be visual as well as tasteful. And it has to work with each other. We have what we call the meat-and-potato portion of our repertoire — some of the old masters that stand the time of time — those are absolutely core not only to the health of our musicians’ artistry, but as an important part of drawing in audience who grew up hearing this repertoire.
Dvorak’s New World Symphony is an old work, but how can we shine a new light on it? We can also create a narrative and a connection. You’ve got to make it digestible but enjoyable and in some way thought-provoking.
Where do you see classical music going in the future, and how would you take this orchestra in that direction?
The important word is relevance. When it doesn’t reflect our community, it’s going to lose its appeal. And
relevance depends on what is relevant to Santa Rosa. Not every program has to have more educational components, but every program has to be a discovery of something. It’s about how to attract people who are curious and want to talk about the symphony. That has a very direct impact on your ticket sales and on how well the orchestra is going to thrive.
Three performances
You already have an incredible community, in terms of support for the symphony ... you have really amazing support, coming in for three performances, with all three almost packed. Keep cultivating it and make sure it’s an accessible art form for as many people and age groups as possible.
Why do you want to come to Sonoma County, and how much time can you spend here?
Of course I had heard about the county and the wine before my first visit. But it was nothing compared to when I was actually there ... It was shocking how good everything was, not just the food but the quality of life there. I would move there in a heartbeat. I love Chicago, but I started my career in the Pacific Northwest, and I miss that part of the country in terms of getting close to nature, and protecting nature and the environment.
I would be based out of your area because there’s another side ... it’s so much closer to Asia. I could take a direct flight to Taiwan, and it’s only 11 or 12 hours, vs. 16 or more from Chicago.
You are a violinist. What other instruments do you play and how does that experience serve you in your role as a conductor?
If you look at the orchestra, the number of string musicians is likely to be over half, so being able to speak string language is very helpful ... they know I can push for string colors that may be very unique.
That’s not to say I didn’t take up other instruments. I knew I wanted to be a conductor at age 10, so I took classes with the wind, percussion and brass instruments. I grew up in the orchestra and feel very much at home.
When I see myself disappear, in the sense that we are all onstage, moving and making music, smiling at each other, that’s really beautiful ... I call it the circle of energy. For me, it is about being the music. We are trying to be that music, whether it’s sad or joyful or shocking or telling a story. We are the embodiment of the sound.
Conducting is your favorite thing. What is your second favorite thing?
No question. It’s detective novels ... there’s a lot of parallels between studying a score and solving a crime. The composers left clues for us to figure out their piece. It’s solving the puzzle and the mystery.
Artistic voice
Can you talk about the program you’ll be leading?
I wanted to create a very interesting, four-piece program that is a journey. In the first half, both composers (Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky) are trying to find their artistic voice. The Shostakovich was a commission for the October revolution, and it was modelled after Glinka’s Overture to “Ludmilla,” which was important. I just loved this piece.
In the second half, Jennifer’s “blue cathedral” is one of the most performed contemporary works ... I have championed her works, and this one has never been done in Santa Rosa.
And then there’s Mendelssohn’s “Italian” symphony ... It’s really interesting for me to see this cross-cultural German capturing the Italian spirit. He had a very short life and was fortunate to travel in his early 20s, and that’s where a lot of his inspiration came from ... he has a special place in my repertoire.

October 2, 2017: Santa Rosa Symphony begins its public 'auditions' with conductor candidate Francesco Lecce-Chong

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, October 2, 2017

As the Santa Rosa Symphony rehearses for their 90th anniversary season opener this coming weekend, the musicians, management and subscribers are also preparing for a unqiue twist on the season: a speed-dating marathon with the five music director finalists who will publicly “try out” on the podium over the next five months. One of them will be chosen to replace outgoing Maestro Bruno Ferrandis, who resigned earlier this year to live in Paris fulltime and pursue guest conducting opportunities throughout the world.

Think of “The Dating Game” meets “The Bachelorette,” with a few surprising twists from Amazon’s “Mozart in the Jungle” thrown in for fun. The process is a bit nerve-wracking for everyone, as first dates tend to be, but it holds the promise of fresh, exciting energy hitting the concert stage this season and beyond.
Take Francesco Lecce-Chong, who will conduct a program of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Mason Bates during the Santa Rosa Symphony’s opening concert set this coming weekend. Just 30 years old, the graduate of New York’s Mannes College of Music got his start as associate conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and has already earned critical acclaim for leading dynamic, forceful performances. After being chosen as one of five finalists for the Santa Rosa post, he was snatched up by the Eugene Symphony in April as its new music director.

Lecce-Chong plans to finish up his current commitments in Pittsburgh within a year (he’s assistant conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and music director of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra) and has already moved to Oregon.

Although it may not be rocket science, music directors today need to know their way around a wide range of skillsets, both on the podium and o. Some may stand out for their beautiful conducting style and efficient rehearsal techniques. Others may shine brightest as a public speaker, touching the audience and the community at large with their passionate oratory.

Then there is the charisma factor, similar to “sex appeal,” and equally hard to dene. This kind of leader can lift an organization to a new level with electrifying concerts worthy of buzz, engaging education and outreach projects that keep new audiences coming back and fundraising efforts that help oat all of those boats.

To give you a preview of the five finalists, we interviewed each candidate over the phone, asking each of them the same questions in an effort to reveal their unique personalities and musical approaches. We will publish their responses before each of their appearances and collect all the interviews on our website, so you can check back before a final decision is made in March.

Here is an edited version of our interview with Lecce-Chong, who has worked with orchestras around the world, from the San Diego Symphony to the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.

Q. What will the symphony musicians enjoy about working with you?

A. I think I take a very collaborative approach to what I do. Obviously, the conductor has to make decisions. But there is a way of working that encourages people to be themselves and bring out their own character in the music, and to work together to create something bigger. I’m not trying to convince the orchestra of my vision. I’m trying to help us come together about what this piece is about. To be able to harness that and make sure you are still creating a cohesive sound and journey in the piece is very important as well.

Q. What ideas do you have to engage and grow the audience here, and can you give an example of what you’ve already done with other orchestras?

A. It’s such a tough issue ... and there has not been a golden bullet solution found. Every community is individual and has its own mix of people and partnerships and economy. I think there was a time where orchestras all tried to do the same thing and come up with the same solution. I think that is not the case now, which is wonderful, and orchestras realize they need to create unique programming for their community and to connect with it.

Most of my work has been on the education and community side of things ... There is something spectacular about bringing music to people who might not be able to find it on their own, and on the education side, bringing it to people who are hearing it for the first time.

A classical subscription concert is not going to be the same as a youth orchestra concert, but there’s no reason why it can’t be as connected ... and why not have interaction with the audience?

But the most important thing for me is that you have to know your community ... All the fancy stuff we’re doing — Is there enough diversity? Are we reaching out? — all those are important, but we need everyone to buy in. So the job of the music director is to galvanize that, and the really successful ones have done that.

Q. What is your programming philosophy and how do you plan to keep concerts exciting for everyone?

A. What’s unique about being a music director is that you are responsible for curating 300 years of music ... and sometimes if we get caught up in our vision, we end up missing out on some of that amazing repertoire.

Initially, my strength was Beethoven and Brahms and Schumann and Mahler, all the core repertoire ... but I was an undergraduate composition major. So I have an interest in new music and what is happening in the music world today ... and it doesn’t all sound the same. There’s a lot of great music being written now, and we should be exploring all that’s happening.

The most recent thing I studied was play conducting (conducting from the harpsichord.) All music through Haydn was led by someone on an instrument. That repertoire changed for me once I stopped trying to conduct it ... and it’s a passion of mine to have this spontaneity in the music.
Every performance is different, and it’s amazing and so enlivening. So it’s been great to throw that into the mix.

At the end of the day, I want to create a concert environment that is fun, exciting and encourages dialogue, where people feel free to not like something on the program .. . just like we go to movies we don’t like, and we complain about it, but we don’t stop going to the movies.

Q. Where do you see classical music going in the future, and how would you take this orchestra in that direction?

A. I’m not worried about the orchestra world. I know there’s a lot of bad news about orchestras, that we are struggling, and it’s part of us being a little late to the change. We got comfortable, and now we realize we are a service organization. We provide arts and culture to everyone, not just those who have the money or time to afford it. That was a tough switch to make. I’ve come full circle on that. Things are a little difficult now, but we’re poised to move forward, and the Santa Rosa Symphony is in a fantastic position, with all these multi-tiered youth orchestras under them, and these in-school music programs that are incredibly important.

The more I learn about the Santa Rosa Symphony, the more I see it as doing all the right things and really poised to be on the forefront of classical music. They have a wonderful concert hall, an orchestra that is performing triples (three concerts in a set), which is incredibly unusual even among large orchestras ... but doing something like that is how an orchestra grows and improves, and it also leaves a lot of room for growth.

At the end of the day, the future of orchestras is going to rely on their community. Hopefully, we will continue to have these big angel donors, but we can’t only rely on that. We have to remember our purpose, in today’s world, is to inspire and enrich people’s lives, and to bring people together and connect.

Q. Why do you want to come to Sonoma County, and how much time can you spend here?

A. I was born in San Francisco, and my parents just moved back to the Bay Area. I have so much family there. A lot of them will have the chance to see me conduct in October ... that also makes it easy for me to say that I will have a residence in Santa Rosa.

Obviously I had a long talk with Alan Silow to make sure I could still be a candidate after I got the job with the Eugene Symphony ... We’re long past the days where the conductor can just y in. I want to fulfil a vision of being a leader in the community and be able to make things happen outside of rehearsals and concerts.

Q. What instruments do you play and how does that experience serve you in your role as a conductor?

A. As a pianist, it allows me to work with vocalists and play chamber music, and anytime I do 17th- and early 18th-century repertoire, I get to be part of the music-making. My background as a composer makes a big difference in how I look at new music, and how passionate I am about making sure we bring out music that is good and connects with our audience.

I played violin, viola and clarinet all through high school. The benefit of knowing you want to be a conductor that young is that you realize that you need to be proficient at a couple of instruments.

Q. Conducting is your favorite thing. What is your second favorite thing?

A. My life has escalated so fast over the past couple of years that it’s been difficult becoming well-rounded. The one thing I haven’t had to let go is that I love reading. I’m an avid reader of early modern literature .... any big, thorny novel is a great way to kill a couple of hours at an airport.

Q. Can you talk about the program you’ll be leading?

A. I’m really excited to bring the Mason Bates piece ( “Garages of the Valley”) since he’s from the Bay Area ... and I was there when it was being written. (Pianist) Joyce Yang (who will perform Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3) was one of my rst soloists in Milwaukee, so I’ve known her very well. And the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 is a great way for me to work with the orchestra, to get to know them and let them get to know me.

If you plan to attend this concert, please feel free to share your thoughts with us through an e-mail.

francesco lecce-chong
Age: 30. Born April 20, 1987
Home base: Eugene, Oregon.
Partner: His girlfriend is a harpist with the New World Symphony in Miami
Current positions: Assistant Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Music Director of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the Eugene Symphony.

Performance dates: 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Oct. 8 and 8 p.m. Oct. 9. Lecce-Chong will give a free, pre-concert interview one hour before each performance. To view a video of the conductor, go to

Where: Weill Hall, Green Music Center, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park

Tickets: From $29

Reservations: 707-546-8742 or

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56. 

June 23, 2017: Santa Rosa High trumpet player David Green wins trip to play Carnegie Hall

by Diane Peterson, Press Democrat, June 23, 2017

So far, the trumpet has taken Santa Rosa High School sophomore David Green on quite a ride. It started in 2015 with a tour of Asia with the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra and its conductor, Richard Loheyde. “I kept going from there,” Green said.

His mother, Cherie Green, described it another way: “He was hooked.”

The musical adventure continued last summer when he was chosen to participate in a three-week, intensive training program in New York for the inaugural National Youth Orchestra 2 (NYO2). As one of four trumpet players and one of the three youngest musicians there, he took workshops and performed with members of the Philadelphia Orchestra while visiting the Met Opera and the Juilliard School in between subway rides and bites of giant New York pizza slices.

“We ate lunch with the Philadelphia orchestra musicians and constantly asked questions,” Green said. “I learned an insane amount … at the end, we spent three days in Philadelphia and performed at Verizon Hall (home of the Philadelphia Orchestra).”

This summer, Green will head back east from June 30 to July 23 for another three-week stint with the 78-member NYO2, where he will once again bond with fellow musicians and participate in private lessons and chamber music, rehearsals and performances under the guidance of members of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

“This year, we’re going to Philly first and will perform in Verizon,” he said. “Then we’re going back to New York to play in Carnegie.”

Green and his colleagues in the NYO2 will not only get to make their debut at Carnegie Hall, performing side-by-side with the Philadelphia Orchestra, but will accompany special guest vocalist and bassist Esperanza Spalding, a young, fast-rising star of the jazz world. They will also have an opportunity to interact with some of the local, young musicians.

The NYO2 program, aimed at musicians ages 14 to 17, is an extension of Carnegie Hall’s National Youth Orchestra of the USA, a three-week training residency that provides similar training to young adults ages 16 to 19, who also get to go on a tour of the music capitals of the world. Both Carnegie Hall programs are free and aimed at expanding the pool of young musicians across the country equipped to succeed at the highest level.

Green fits that description to a T. His goal is to study trumpet performance at a university or conservatory, then win a seat as a principal trumpet in a major orchestra. Green started taking trumpet lessons in third grade and has never looked back. He now practices three hours a day in addition to daily rehearsals for the SRHS band, bi-weekly practice sessions for the SRJC Jazz Band and weekly rehearsals of the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra.

“He’s uncommonly focused on a single goal,” said Mark Wardlaw, head of instrumental music at SRHS, who has taught Green since middle school. “He’s unwaveringly committed to the discipline that pursuit requires … his private trumpet teacher, the highly respected Daniel Gianola-Norris, once told me that David ‘makes me realize what it is to be truly talented.’”

Trumpets have been played throughout history for religious and cultural rites and as well as for all kinds of military communication. Eventually, the brilliant color of the instrument made its way into concert and jazz halls, where its piercing power in the high register has been artfully mastered by trumpeters ranging from Wynton Marsalis and Alison Balsom to Dizzy Gillespie and Arturo Sandoval.

“Your lips have to buzz really, really fast to hit a high note,” Green explained. “It takes perfect position and control.”

That’s actually been a challenge for Green, who a few years ago, was told by one of his teachers that he had to change his embouchure — the way he applies his mouth to the mouthpiece of the instrument.

“You want the white flesh to be supporting the rim of the mouthpiece, and the lip should be inside,” he said.
“It’s been really hard. I took a few days o, and it was back to long tones and low notes, and I’m still working on my range.”

Although born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Green and his family moved to Santa Rosa when he was just 1 years old. His father, Don Green, is chief of occupational medicine at Kaiser, and his mother, Cherie Green, is a physician and full-time faculty for the Santa Rosa Family Medicine Residency program. He has a 12-year-old sister, Sophie, who plays the oboe.

While attending Matanzas Elementary School, Green started taking private trumpet lessons and participated in the school’s well-regarded band program under music teachers Andy Darrow and Isaac Vanderveer.

“No drums, that was my only restraint,” said his mother, Cherie.

In the fifth grade, he joined the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Preparatory Orchestra and started studying with that ensemble’s brass coach, Daniel Gianola-Norris, who is also a member of the Sonoma State University Faculty Brass Quintet.

After working his way up to the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Repertory Orchestra, where he played principal trumpet, he attended the Cazadero Music Camp in the summers of 2013-2015 and made it into the All-State Junior High School Jazz Band in 7th and 8th grades, where he won a $500 scholarship.

After getting into the SRS Youth Orchestra, he started taking online lessons with David Bigler of the Philadelphia Orchestra in order to prepare for the concert tour of China.

At the NYO2, he will be working with conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, a native of Costa Rica who serves as music director of the Nashville Symphony and principal guest conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra.

“He was really funny and had a lot of good analogies,” Green said. This summer, in addition to NYO2, he plans to go to the Interlochen Trumpet Institute and work with Santa Rosa Symphony Principal Trumpet Doug Morton and David Burkhart of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on upcoming auditions, including one for the San Francisco Youth Orchestra.

Next year, he will be old enough to try out for the National Youth Orchestra of the USA, which will be touring to Asia with San Francisco Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas.

One of the secrets to his success is time management and efficiency.

“I plan out my day and set goals, and I try to get three hours a day of practice,” he said. “Last summer at NYO2, trumpet player David Bilger gave an inspiring master class about being a musician. He said, ‘The better you get, the better the job gets.’”

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56

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