Colorado Symphony Orchestra’s new conductor Andrew Litton is a modern maestro – The Denver Post

If Denver loved classical music as it loves football, Andrew Litton would be the next Peyton Manning.

The two men are leaders in their field, national figures brought to play with the home team. Each brings a considerable fan base.

Of course, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra’s new artistic conductor doesn’t quite have Broncos quarterback superstar status, and he’s not making the paycheck. It is however given the occasional sporting metaphor.

“Denver played in its weight class for a long time,” Litton said. “We are better than our reputation. “

Reputation is something Litton, 52, knows about. He is part of a generation of conductors whose lives depend on the talent the world perceives from them. And Litton has integrated into a small elite circle. His 2013 calendar the aura in front of 13 different ensembles in 20 cities, including London; Tokyo; Brussels; Edinburgh, Scotland; and Bucharest, Romania.

As the CSOof the two previous conductors, Marin Alsop and Jeffrey Kahane, he is American, New Yorker. But unlike them, he will remain a citizen of the world. He’s coming to Denver for just six shows next season – about 18 concerts in total – with an orchestra that could put on 100 performances a year.

While his predecessors made their home in Colorado and took on the traditional title of “musical director,” Litton is technically “artistic advisor,” a term coined to reflect the idea that today’s classic professionals, like gamers. soccer player, cannot necessarily give you instructions or recommend a restaurant in the city they serve.

That’s not to say they can’t lead you to a winning season – and Litton is able to take the orchestra to new places. He’ll be programming the CSO’s main music lineup and taking care of hiring, attending every audition, perhaps the most important job for an orchestra that wants to continually improve and the world to hear about it.

That’s enough for him to talk about the set as if it were his own, and in some ways he already does, even though his official first season doesn’t start until September. Litton, an occasional guest conductor in Denver, was chosen in June after a four-year search, and he was chosen because musicians voted overwhelmingly to follow his vision.

“I find it very interesting to work with him,” said the CSO player. Justin bartel. “He commanded respect from the start, and that’s what we need at Colorado Symphony. “

Bartels is the lead trumpeter, not the busiest musician in an art form that gives all the right lines to the strings. It’s only natural that he would appreciate Litton, a guy who “loves big stuff theater” – the powerful pieces that rely on the full orchestra to make a nice sound. Litton is running one here this weekend with Mahler’s Symphony No. 6.

The good thing for the CSO leadership, which has struggled with revenue issues, is that the public loves sweeping too. The recently announced 2013-14 season is packed with big Beethoven and Brahmses – and that could mean more ticket sales.

“It is a powerful force; he really is, ”said CSO Chairman Jerome Kern, the former cable television executive who runs the orchestra’s operations. “We intend to use it a lot more than we currently do.”

A natural

Andrew Litton grew up in classical music. The Littons had season tickets for the Metropolitan Opera, and when he wasn’t seated in those seats – in the front row – he hung in the pit, hidden under family friend Richard Horowitz, a longtime timpanist with the Met Orchestra.

Piano lessons started at the age of 5. He declared himself a conductor at age 10, after seeing Leonard Bernstein conduct Respighi’s symphonic poem “The Pines of Rome” at one of the legendary Young People’s Concerts at the New York Philharmonic. He went to Juliard.

Music comes naturally to him, casually. During rehearsals, it is clear bar by bar with tempo and volume requirements, under load but without the high-voltage urgency of some conductors. During performances, he’s focused but loose, and carried to tiny jumps that shake the long tails of his tuxedo.

In person, he is comfortable, inclusive, respectful. He tells his life story effectively, 10 minutes max. He aligns his goals with energy, maybe 15 minutes. He has large black eyes, a round head and a generous smile.

He’s been doing this – the musicians, the media, the music itself – for 25 years, and he’s been doing business with charm and crack. That’s what it takes in a job where you jump in, win them, and jump in.

Litton is grateful for every second. He has made peace, he said, with the sacrifices of a career that keeps him away from his wife (Jayne, who is British and violinist) and his children (Rachel, 17, Michael, 13 ) most of the year. Andrew Litton tells some great horror stories about airplane travel.

” I like my job. It’s real, and that’s what I live for, ”he said. “It helps to make up for all the hassle and all the loneliness.”

He holds four important titles, including that of musical director of the Norwegian group Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, where he has been since 2003 and has been very successful, touring Europe. King Harald of Norway knighted him in the Royal Order of Merit.

But he is also artistic director of the Minnesota Orchestra Sommerfest and award-winning conductor of Britain’s Bournemouth Symphony – all this in addition to numerous guest appearances.

Does that leave him enough time and energy to make Mile High City more than another? stopover at the airport? Will he be present for the auditions and will he have enough presence to connect with donors, audiences and players?

This is how his work here will be judged, observers say.

“Nothing is worth doing if the music isn’t beautiful,” said industry observer D. Kern Holoman, who teaches music at the University of California at Davis and recently published the practical and authoritative book. “The orchestra: a very short introduction”.

“The conductor needs to click with the audience and the patrons, of course, but what matters is the intrinsic beauty of the result, week after week.

It’s not an ideal situation, suggests Holoman, but regional orchestras, lacking the money and clout they once had, must make their peace with sharing top talent.

“Times have changed and creative solutions are the order of the day,” said Holoman. “I’m ready to believe it is.”

Testing ground

The CSO concert is Litton’s first directing position with an American orchestra since his 12-year engagement, 1994-2006, as Music Director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, one of the nation’s most respected ensembles.

It wasn’t always easy for him there. There were huge successes, Dallas’ national presence jumped under its control, and the ensemble toured extensively. At the dawn of a troubled era for classical music, the orchestra’s endowment skyrocketed from $ 19 million to $ 100 million.

But a dozen years is a long tenure for a conductor in the United States – and things have deteriorated. Football players have sports columnists and eager fans to contend with, and conductors have music critics, moody subscribers, temperamental donors.

“Over time musicians, local connoisseurs and critics complained about a lack of depth,” wrote Dallas Morning News reviewer Scot Cantrell, analyzing Litton’s departure at the time. But he noted that Dallas released a considerable number of 23 recordings and performed four dates at Carnegie Hall.

Litton has certainly answered a lot of criticism with its success in Europe. The web is full of raves, especially for his work with Bergen. Of the performance of Shosta-kovich’s Fifth Symphony at Carnegie Hall in 2007, the New York Times reviewer Allan Kozinn wrote: “M. Litton’s reading had the virtues of extremely polished surfaces with a raw, often savage emotion swirling just below.

Still, Litton seems keen to score once again as the leader of a US operation. He has nothing to prove, but the idea of ​​taking on an orchestra like the one in Denver – well regarded but not top notch – is “kind of aphrodisiac” to him. If the show jumping rises in the unofficial classic rankings, the city and the savior win.

“I need Denver,” he said. “It has the potential to make a difference. “

It is certain. “It will pay such dividends if it works.”

Litton knows how to get there. The classical music industry has changed from its days in Dallas. Now, orchestras are broadcasting live performances and selling their music on iTunes.

But the kind of success the symphony is looking for here – international respect, which means higher ticket sales, attracting better musicians – always depends on the same factors.

The orchestra must record for a respected label. He has to hit the road to become famous. These things are Litton’s specialty.

“Reality and perception are really very different,” he said. “But they have to go in tandem.”

It won’t be easy. The OSC has financial challenges. A year ago it had a deficit of $ 1.3 million. Books are balanced now, the box office is up, and so are donations. But board chairman Kern is keen to point out that the CSO is not out of the woods. If it does not receive donations, it will sink again.

In addition, it takes money to bring famous soloists, pay musicians a living wage and travel.

Litton has the recipe for success here too, and it’s not complicated. He’s going to improve the game here, he said.

To that end, he plans to increase the number of reps, to five per program, instead of four, regardless of when players are paid per session. It will be, he admits, a trip for the organization, but also a very exciting time for the Denver public. Everyone at the show jumping – the musicians, the conductor, the board – wants to prove something.

Unsurprisingly, subscription sales for 2013-14 exceeded the previous year. Reputation already makes the difference.

“If you don’t have enough rehearsals you can’t go into the details, and the details are how you build a great orchestra,” Litton said.

Ray Mark Rinaldi: 303-954-1540, or


Andrew Litton conducts the OSC of Mahler’s Piano Quartet in A minor and his Symphony No. 6., also known as the “Tragic Symphony”. 7:30 p.m. on April 12 and 13, 2:30 p.m. on April 14. Boettcher Concert Hall, Denver Performing Arts Complex. $ 20 to $ 83. 303-623-7876 or

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