American conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong will be visiting Toronto for a very special Halloween themed concert “Symphonic Spooks” with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra as part of the Young Peoples’ Concert Series. Why am I excited about this news? Francesco may just be one of the youngest conductors in the world. At 20-something, he’s lead some of the world’s most highly regarded orchestras. His energy and passion for music makes him definitely one to keep an eye on in the music industry realm.
I had a chance to ask Francesco a few questions as he gets ready to take command in Toronto.
How old were you when you first realized that you wanted to be a conductor?
I was 16 years old and playing violin in my local youth orchestra in Boulder, Colorado. At the time, I was also studying piano and composition. Realizing how involved I was in music, the conductor offered to teach me. I knew even from my first raw (but enthusiastic!) attempt in front of my friends that I wanted to be a conductor – and I have been very fortunate to be able to continue down that path ever since then.
What was it like when you auditioned for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra?
The MSO was my very first audition so I was naturally terrified at the prospect of it! However, when I actually started conducting, I was able to trust my musical instincts and enjoy working with such an incredible ensemble. I still cannot believe how lucky I am to have found an orchestra like the MSO to begin my career.
What do you want people to know about being a conductor?
What I love about conducting is working with musicians. The strange part of being a conductor is you do not make any music yourself so you must create a relationship with the orchestra of mutual respect and trust. In the end, it is the players that are creating the music and the daunting task of the conductor is to bring together their great talent and artistry. I find myself always inspired and motivated by being around my colleagues. Spending time working together is the best part of being a conductor.
What are some of your favourite classical composers and music you love to lead?
I will always love the standards that I spent so much time studying in school. Of those, I would say the symphonies of Brahms are my favorite works to conduct. There is something incredibly comforting in being surrounded by his orchestral sound. As a “composer-on-break” at the moment, I enjoy working with other current composers and bringing their music to audiences. The American composers John Adams and Jennifer Higdon are two of my biggest inspirations.
You’re coming to Toronto to lead one of the Young People’s Concerts, what do you want people to know about this concert?
Because it is a Halloween-themed concert, I played with the idea of “musical costumes” for the orchestra. All the music is full of magical stories and creatures like Ravel’s “Beauty and the Beast”, Stravinsky’s “The Firebird”, and even music from the Harry Potter movies. Joining the orchestra will be the Tha Spot Halloween Dancers who have choreographed dances throughout the program. Between the music, dancing and costumes, I am looking forward to having great time with everyone!
Have you been to Toronto? What else will you be doing while you’re here?
I spent a couple free days in Toronto last year and had a fantastic time. Outside of music, I am a bit of a foodie so the city had plenty to offer and I am looking forward to exploring more this time around. I also love art museums so I hope I will have time to finally visit the Art Gallery of Ontario.
What is your favourite quote?
I recently finished all of Virginia Woolf’s novels and this is still my favorite quote. I can think of no better justification of why we need the arts in our lives – for the “uncharted” stuff.
“The strange thing about life is that though the nature of it must have been apparent to every one for hundreds of years, no one has left any adequate account of it. The streets of London have their map; but our passions are uncharted.” Jacob’s Room – Virginia Woolf
Symphonic Spooks is part of the Young People’s Concert series. The concerts will be held on October 25 at Roy Thompson Hall. Ticket prices are $18 to $29 each. Our family loves these concerts as they are so much fun and a great way to introduce young children to the world of live and enriching music performances. Tip: Go an hour early for some added fun and feel free to dress up in costume!