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Q&A: Ludovic Morlot, Music Director, Seattle Symphony

Ludovic Morlot will guest conduct the UW Symphony on Feb. 28 at Meany Hall.

Ludovic Morlot will guest conduct the UW Symphony on Feb. 28 at Meany Hall.

Ludovic Morlot has made a big splash in his first few years as music director of the Seattle Symphony, drawing praise for triumphantly leading his ensembles through notoriously difficult works. Later this month, Morlot will lead another orchestra in a challenging piece when he guest-conducts the University Symphony through Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé. Blog Down to Washington caught up with Morlot after rehearsal, and he agreed to answer a few questions about the concert, his thoughts on conducting a student orchestra, and the importance of music in our lives.

Blog Down to Washington: Some of the audience members will be Arts Dawgs pass holders. As part of this series, they’ll be seeing a dance recital, live theater, a museum exhibition—that is, these are people who are interested in the arts, but not necessarily coming from an orchestral music background. Do you have any advice for people who are maybe not as experienced with classical music when they come to this concert?

Ludovic Morlot: I think that if this is the first time they experience live symphony music, they should feel very lucky. One of the things I’m trying to do with the Seattle Symphony is to really create that first opportunity to experience live sound as early as possible in our lives. Once we’ve created that memory, it doesn’t really matter if you like Ravel or Mozart or Pink Floyd, or whatever.

Beyond that, there is the element of experiencing a live performance. Music is a performing art—Classical music is not something you hang on a wall. Each time you start a concert you have to start from scratch. You don’t know if the oboe reed is going to be splitting well that night or if something’s going to go wrong—it has that element of adrenaline that one would identify with any other performing art: dance, theater, even sports, to some extent. So this is what I think would be easy for people coming from different backgrounds to identify with: that experience of live performance. The excitement and the energy that we can create on stage is what I hope people can get out of it. And the sheer beauty of the music, of course.

I know that this concert also features many different soloists from the University, so it’s an exciting night just for that, and there will be great variety, with [a concerto by] Prokofiev and Ravel’s Left Hand Concerto, so my collaboration with the orchestra is only a small part of this big deal.

BDTW: You’ve been in Seattle almost two years now. How do you like it?

LM: Oh, I love it here. It’s just been quite a journey, quite a busy one. I love being able to finally start a collaboration with the UW, and I know that there’s more to come, so I’m really excited. The work we do with the orchestras in the University is a combination of really trying to tell a story, put on a good concert—that’s very important—but it’s also a work in progress. This is what I want to emphasize: the concert is one thing, but beyond that, is establishing as a working relationship over the years. [Ravel’s  Daphnis et Chloé] is complex stuff—the students are not going to go out after three rehearsals and perform Daphnis at the best level you can possibly imagine, but what seems very important is how we can evolve from one week to the next together and how the students can take some information home so that their individual level of playing is transformed—overnight, really.

BDTW: Is that the difference between working with students and professionals?

LM: Well with professionals it’s actually a little bit of the same tune. As a music director, not only do you want to do a great concert, you always envision where you want the orchestra to be five years now. So it’s not different; the only difference is that my relationship with this orchestra here is very new. It may start at a different level, but the focus is the same. I feel privileged and excited about this collaboration.

BDTW: It’s clear you see these collaborations as an important part of your job here in Seattle

LM: Exactly. It’s about creating a memory and an understanding and making sure all these young people sitting in the orchestra know the power of music—the mission for all of us is that it becomes infectious. You know, it doesn’t really matter what level you play, just the fact that it’s part of your life makes a big difference.

 

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Recap: “Faculty Dance/Collaborations” from UW Dance

Cast members from "The Rite of Spring"

Pamela A. Gregory (front) and Kristin Hapke (back) in “The Rite of Spring” // Photo courtesy Steve Korn

When my coworkers hatched the plan to set me up on six dates and write about them in conjunction with the UWAA’s Arts Dawg program, I became anxious.

I wasn’t stressed about finding dates or subjecting myself to the public scrutiny; rather, I realized that I didn’t know much about the performing arts. I’ve only attended a handful of plays and couldn’t tell you how the Renaissance era set the stage for the Baroque period of classical music. (In fact, I had to look those eras up on Wikipedia.) I respect the arts and admire artists, but rarely enough to make them part of my Friday night.

Naturally, I came into the first of six Arts Dawg performances – the dance production Faculty Dance/Collaborations – knowing next to nothing about dance. In a way, I was the ideal customer. When the UWAA and ArtsUW partnered to create the Arts Dawg program, the goal involved introducing patrons to the wide variety – and high quality – of fine and performing arts offered by the University of Washington.

My date for the evening expressed similar sentiments at the Arts Dawg-only pre-show reception in the Meany Theater lobby. She admitted that she wouldn’t think to attend a dance performance while planning a night out, so she was intrigued by the new experience.

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Preview: “Faculty Dance/Collaborations” from UW Dance

The cast from "The Rite of Spring"

The cast from “The Rite of Spring”

Collaboration in the UW Dance Program is nothing new. Most UW Dance productions feature partnership with one or two departments, said Betsy Cooper, M.F.A. ’97, director of UW Dance. But no program in recent memory has featured as much teamwork as the next UW Dance production, Faculty Dance/Collaborations. “Dance is a particularly collaborative art form,” she said. “To see the majority of us in the performing arts coming together and working on this level, I’m excited by that.”

Faculty Dance/Collaborations, the second UW Dance Program production this season, spotlights contributions from community performers, the School of Drama, the School of Music, and the Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media. “I think the level of collaboration is unique,” Cooper said. “Everybody has come together.”

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Going backstage with Arts Dawg

I never imagined that my coworkers would try to set me up on a date, let alone six dates. Not just that, but that I would be tasked with blogging about each date. But, over the next six months, that’s exactly what will happen.

The idea started when a few of us in the Alumni Association talked about the Arts Dawg ticket package as a great date night. With six great campus arts events, pre-show receptions, and backstage talks with the brains behind the productions, the package would be a treat for any arts-loving couple.

That’s when my coworkers suggested that I take a date to each performance and write about the experience afterward. After a bit of cajoling, I went with along with the idea.

You’re probably wondering who I am by now. My name is Matt, and I recently moved to Seattle from the Portland area, where I spent the previous seven years with my local newspaper. I enjoy hiking, watching the TV series “Community,” and going to Paseo Caribbean Restaurant in Ballard.

Along the way, I will write about the dates, sure. But more importantly, I will write about the Arts Dawg experience, which includes six great performances.

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