From easy A to Grammy award, Măcelaru celebrates happy accidents

Jun 5, 2020

Conductor Cristian Măcelaru

"My entire life is a set of circumstances that happened while I was making plans for other things," says conductor Cristian Măcelaru.

Măcelaru's entire career has been shaped by a series of accidents and coincidences. 

It started in the late 1990s when he thought he was applying to attend Interlochen Arts Camp for the summer. He inadvertently chose the wrong application form, and Măcelaru found himself admitted to Interlochen Arts Academy with a full scholarship. 

Although it was a much larger commitment to attend the Academy for the entire school year, he and his parents ultimately decided it was the best decision for him. 

Cristian Măcelaru performing with the World Youth Symphony Orchestra in the summer of 1998
Credit Interlochen Center for the Arts

At Interlochen, Măcelaru had more happy accidents. He and his friends enrolled in a conducting class, thinking it would be an easy credit. In the end, that class changed his life, setting him on the path to become a professional conductor.

Now the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of Interlochen's World Youth Symphony Orchestra, Chief Conductor of the WDR Sinfonieorchester, Music Director of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music and Music Director Designate of the Orchestre National de France, Măcelaru says that these kinds of experiences taught him that musicians can't simply prepare for a specific event. Instead, they need to define and refine their musical instincts in preparation for whatever might come their way.

Another coincidence led Măcelaru to his first Grammy Award.

During Măcelaru's first year conducting the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, the Chautauqua Institution asked if he would lead the pre-premiere performance of a new violin concerto by Wynton Marsalis and featuring violinist Nicola Benedetti.

Marsalis and Măcelaru developed a close artistic relationship through the process, and Măcelaru ended up conducting not only that performance with Chautauqua but also the world premiere recording of the work with the Philadelphia Orchestra. 

The recording recently won a Grammy for Best Classical Instrumental Solo.

Appointed the inaugural Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of Interlochen's World Youth Symphony Orchestra in the fall of 2019, Măcelaru had to shift his focus when the camp moved online for the summer of 2020.

He says that, regardless of whether camp happens online or in person, he wants to encourage students to remain optimistic in spite of whatever is happening in the world around them.

Listen to Măcelaru's entire conversation with Classical IPR below, including excerpts from his student recordings and from the Grammy-winning performance of the Marsalis violin concerto.