As details are announced of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s first appearance at the BBC Proms, and having recently returned from the orchestra’s first overseas tour for eight years, the orchestra’s departing President Trey Devey and Music Director Louis Langrée talk to Toby Deller about the importance of international touring.
Full summer tour details here
May I ask you first about the Cincinnati Symphony’s tour to Asia last month when you visited China and Hong Kong. Why did the orchestra decide to make that trip?
Trey Devey: There were a couple of reasons. One was a practical matter: Music Hall, our performance venue in Cincinnati is undergoing a $135m renovation, so this year we are not performing in our normal hall and the temporary venue in Cincinnati is not available to us as much. We thought that this would be a perfect opportunity to take these couple of nomadic weeks and use them to build the brand of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra on an international level. The return to Asia, and in this case to China and Hong Kong – the last tour with the CSO to Asia was in Japan in 2009 – just felt like a really wonderful opportunity for the orchestra. So that was one aspect. Also, Louis Langrée is now in his fourth season with us but when we started planning this, it was at the time he was appointed as Music Director. We felt optimistic that the relationship between the Cincinnati Symphony and Louis would flourish and we wanted to show off that artistic partnership to an international audience.
Orchestras are under a lot of financial pressure; how does that influence the decision to go on tour?
TD: The pressures are always there to pull off special projects whether it’s touring, recording, broadcasting or commissioning, or anything that is special or unique. So we don’t take any of these matters lightly. But a couple of things: one is we believe that to be a global institution we need to be behaving globally. So our recording initiatives speak to a global imprint, our commissioning efforts speak to contributing to the body of music that will be performed in future generations and the touring initiatives speak to the relationship that we have and profile that we seek outside of our home city of Cincinnati. And this is important for a number of reasons: it’s important in terms of attracting the level of talent that we want, and it’s important in terms of representing all of the amazing cultural assets that exist in Cincinnati. So when we go on the road, we’re making a statement that in Cincinnati there is great art and we’re an example of the level of art that exists in our community – we take this role of being a cultural ambassador quite seriously. So that is at least some of the case for the importance of touring. We then made efforts to reach out to our philanthropic supporters and ask for their support. We’re a disciplined institution, so we had to fully fund these touring activities between fees and philanthropic support before we agreed to move forward with the tour.
Louis Langrée: Many music lovers know that in Cincinnati there is a very good orchestra but to identify what is the specific quality of the sound of the orchestra we need to travel, people need to have a live experience of us. And for us, playing in new places like Edinburgh and at the Proms is an honour, it’s a privilege to play there with so many great orchestras.
That brings us to your trip to Europe in the summer. How did that come about?
TD: Through our partners Askonas Holt, we wanted to be engaged by the most important presenters as part of the European summer festivals period. To really put together a successful tour you need some anchor dates, and for us we were hopeful that we would receive invitations to appear at the Edinburgh Festival and at the Proms. While we were in the planning stages, I made a trip to both of those venues to talk about the work that the Cincinnati Symphony was doing these days and the particular artistic identity that we were establishing, important artistic projects that we were working on that we thought would be interesting to present to these very prestigious festivals. The dates gave us the core element for a tour that will ultimately take in dates in Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Paris as well.
Can you explain how performing on tour is different from performing at home?
LL: There are many parameters. The first is that when you perform on tour you have several concerts of the same programme. But of course when you are in the same city you can’t serve the same dishes every week, which means that every week you change programmes. On tour you repeat the same repertoire in different venues which means you can go deeper in your relationship with a piece. Everyone feels more free with a piece, and can experience different possibilities in our interpretation of it. And because we play in different acoustics, the qualities of flexibility and of instant reaction are challenged and that’s very exciting for a musician. There is nothing more boring than doing always the same thing! You also go deeper in the relationship with the musicians: on tour you live on a completely different schedule because you are far from home, you are far from the daily things you have to do. So all these differences make you in a way more focused on what you have to do with the orchestra.
Finally, how did you come up with the repertoire for the forthcoming tour?
TD: Louis’s first interaction with the Cincinnati Symphony was in a programme of Schumann and Brahms and the performance of the Brahms First Symphony was very special. Cincinnati is a German city, it has deep German roots, and what happened in that performance really pulled out the best of what’s inherent in the Cincinnati Symphony. We’re performing that in the concert at the Edinburgh Festival. Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony, we took that successfully to the Lincoln Center in New York for their 50th anniversary season and he’s another composer that has really resonated between Louis and the orchestra. So those pieces will anchor the second halves of those programmes at Edinburgh and the Proms respectively. In the first halves, because we’re an American orchestra, because Aaron Copland had a deep association with the Cincinnati Symphony and because a work of his called Lincoln Portrait was given its premiere by the Cincinnati Symphony, we just felt that would be a great piece to show our American identity. It’s also a piece that Louis did in his inaugural concert as Music Director. We’re opening both of those performances with a piece by Bernstein, On the Waterfront – Bernstein also has an association with the Cincinnati Symphony. It’s music that for a variety of reasons this orchestra performs very well.
LL: You also have to adapt to the requests of the people who invite you. For instance, in Paris we will be part of an American weekend so we will perform American music, including Gershwin. What could be better than An American in Paris played by an American orchestra in Paris conducted by an ex-Parisian living in America? It’s the perfect piece!
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Music Director Louis Langrée, appear at the Edinburgh Festival on 25 August and at the BBC Proms on 27 August, as part of an extensive summer tour, to be announced shortly.
Full summer tour details here