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Reflections on repertoire with WYSO and Les Préludes conductor Tito Muñoz

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By the end of camp, Tito Muñoz will have conducted three ensembles: WYSO, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the massive Les Préludes ensemble.

His experience at Interlochen hasn’t been like most WYSO conductors’ – he didn’t have to say his goodbyes after just one week.

Muñoz returned to campus to conduct WYSO’s final concert and Les Préludes.

He visited IPR to discuss this week’s repertoire, which includes Ottorino Respighi’s Pines of Rome, Arturo Márquez’s Danzon No. 2 and Valerie Coleman’s 7 O’Clock Shout.

Listen to the full interview or read the edited transcript below.

Attend the concert in person or listen to IPR’s live broadcast.

The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. ET.

On Ottorino Respighi’s Pines of Rome

Respighi moved to a different city in Italy in 1913, from Bologna to Rome, and he was just inspired by what he saw. He saw these trees and all of these things that evoked images. And he was like, “I'm going to write about this, this is so fascinating.” And in fact, it gave him the inspiration to write Fountains of Rome, which made him super famous. And then he wrote Pines of Rome, and actually, he told his wife after the last rehearsal of pines of Rome and the first performance that the last movement especially gave him so many chills because it was the first time that he wrote a piece that he really felt was exactly what he thought it was, exactly what's coming across to the audience and, to him, exactly what he meant it to sound like. And then he wanted this slow military march to cause a rumble in the room, to cause a rumble in the city. And so he added that very low organ pipe to create this weird rumble underneath while all of that is happening. It's also the first time ever, I believe, in the history of music that a composer asks for pre-recorded tape. Right before that fourth movement starts, he asks for a specific model of phonograph to play a very specific track of a record of a nightingale singing.

On Arturo Márquez’s Danzon No. 2

I think that was probably the piece that the most students had played before. All of them certainly knew the piece. I think it probably became very well-known in Europe and the United States due to the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra in Venezuela. Gustavo Dudamel did it as an encore in that famous Proms program where he was introduced to the world. And everybody got to know who he was and what the Venezuelan program was.

It's interesting because this danzon is Mexican, actually. The composer is Mexican. And a danzon is a specific type of dance. We rehearsed it yesterday, before we even played it, I asked the students to give me an adjective to describe the piece since some of them were familiar with it. And of course, it was like “dance,” “party,” “exciting,” – all those kinds of excitable type words. And I said, “Okay, yeah, all of that makes a lot of sense. Because that's usually what you hear when you play this piece. But for me, the first thing that I think of when I think of this piece is elegance – a lot of elegance.” And I think one of the things that’s sometimes missed with a lot of performances is that there's a certain element of restraint to a lot of this dance.

On Valerie Coleman’s 7 O’Clock Shout

Coleman wrote this piece during the lockdown. And she wrote it specifically for an orchestra to be able to play it through electronic means, the way we were doing things two years ago when everybody was recording individual things on their own, in their apartments and their homes, and then sending them off to a recording engineer who could piece it all together and turn it into a symphonic work. And that's how it was premiered initially. The Philadelphia Orchestra premiered it on Zoom or on YouTube as a sort of piecemeal piece.

But that doesn't mean that we can't play it live. We’re going to play it live now, and Philadelphia also played it live eventually. And that’s definitely a catharsis to finally be able to be together and do this thing together.

But why 7 O’Clock Shout? Well, we all remember that, during the pandemic, at 7 p.m., we went out into our yards, windows or balconies and cheered the healthcare workers and cheered each other, just to persevere through this traumatic thing that the entire world was going through together. This cheering actually started in Wuhan, China. It was actually the residents of Wuhan trying to lift each other’s spirits and saying, “let's get through this together.” They had a specific chant in Chinese that they were saying in January of 2020 before we even had any idea about what this was in America. It spread like wildfire all over the world once we were all in isolation. And then, of course, it turned into a salute to the healthcare workers. And so Valerie Coleman includes that in her work. The orchestra, at one point, will hoot and holler with inspiration, cheering each other and cheering all the wonderful people that kept us safe during the pandemic.

I think that's what's so great about art. It talks about now. And sometimes "now" can be very divisive and polarizing. But art is able to refocus divisiveness and polarization in a way that just becomes human, in a way that we can all understand and that reframes a certain feeling or a certain event in one person's point of view. This is Valerie Coleman's point of view. It's what she felt when she understood what that seven o'clock cheer was. And for her, it was a shout of joy. It was a shout of inspiration. It was a shout of perseverance. And you find a lot of that in her music. I've done several of her works in the past. I premiered one of her fanfares about a year ago and she has that running theme. She's always looking for ways to show humanity what art can do and how it can inspire us to move forward. COVID is still here, you know, and I think it’s so important to have a piece that celebrates the positivity that came out of it. It’s really special for them to see how you can turn a very traumatic time into something that is worthwhile and speaks to the human spirit.

On his second week conducting at Interlochen

Usually, for these things, it is very emotional because I have only one week with the students. The students stay, but I would’ve only had one week. And it's very emotional because you work so intensely. A lot of people don't realize that working as an orchestral musician or conductor is different than any other workplace. Because at any other workplace, you're doing your thing, you're doing your projects and sometimes it's artful, sometimes it's emotional. But what we do is literally evoking emotions all the time. And we do it together, every day, for several hours a day. So it's emotionally draining to get through a day after playing a piece as unabashed as Rachmaninoff’s music. In order to play it right, you really do have to become an actor and find all that emotion inside of you and pull it out. And I think the students certainly got that as the week went on. But then to go through all that and the concert is over and it's done, that is maybe the worst part of being a performer – knowing that you do the thing and you do the applause. Everyone's really appreciative. And then you're on to the next thing. That week is done, and you have a memory of it and it is what it is. But it was great to tell the kids I’d be back. I think a lot of them didn't know because some of them didn't necessarily keep track of who was conducting.

It's great to be back and see familiar faces; we're not starting from scratch now. We're starting from a place where they know me, and I know them. They already know what my expectations are, so they know how to read me a little quicker, which is a great feeling.

Nancy Deneen is the host of Music at Midday and Music by Request.
Kacie Brown is IPR's Digital Content Manager.