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Ludovic Morlot talks Seattle Symphony

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French conductor Ludovic Morlot's appointment as music director of the Seattle Symphony is one of the most exciting in the world of classical music. The 38-year-old Morlot has ideas—lots of them—from expanding repertoire to building 21st audiences for live music.  He talks with T+L in this, his first season in Seattle, which began in fall 2011 and included throwing out the first pitch at a Seattle Mariners baseball game. (For more on Seattle, see "Seattle State of Mind" by Gary Shteyngart in the March 2011 issue of Travel + Leisure).


1. In your first season in Seattle, you have already made your mark in programming. What prompted your repertoire choices? 

For one, I was surprised that the orchestra had performed no music by the French composer Henri Dutilleux, an important composer of the 20th century who is still active. His music interests me because it possesses a special musical vocabulary, so I was keen to embark on an exploration of his music, which requires a transparency of orchestral sound and structural clarity. We are performing his music and more of Stravinsky, Varèse, Knussen, which was little performed in the past, alongside new music by the contemporary American composer Nico Muhly.

2. Have you made Seattle your home? 

Yes, my wife and our two daughters are all happily settled in the city. Before, as a guest conductor, I could be on the road 40 weeks each year traveling to different cities to work with orchestras and opera companies.

3. Your engagement with the Seattle community is more extensive than most. Besides the subscription series, you also conduct children's concerts, which is a bit unusual for a music director. Usually an assistant conductor does those.

Well, children are the future. My girls are six and eight. Most of the world and its music is still new to them, as it should be, and as it may be for others who come to some of the music we play. It is essential for an organization like a symphony orchestra to be aggressive in creating opportunities and in creating diverse audiences. It is an investment in the future. 

4. You don't always perform in the orchestra's Benaroya Hall and, when you do, you often extend the range of the music traditionally performed there.

During the Labor Day weekend, some of the musicians and I participated in Seattle's Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival. We were billed as Symphony Untuxed and played a wide range of music: Philip Glass, works for solo bass, a new piece for electric bassoon, a Vivaldi concerto. Also, last September, the orchestra hosted a free day of music at the concert hall's spaces, which included hip hop to jazz to indie rock to classical on six stages throughout the building. We may have had 10,000 people come through the Benaroya.  In the following month, we embarked on a project, Sonic Evolution, that celebrated the diversity of music that comes or has roots in Seattle—Nirvana, Quincy Jones, and Jimi Hendrix—with new works written by contemporary composers William Brittelle, Cuong Vu, and Vladimir Nikolaev. The band Hey Marseilles were part of the mix.  What is important to me is that as we create opportunities for audiences, and which are as diverse as possible, that we make a connection for them with live music.  

5. What is coming up in the remainder of the season?

In June, we are presenting Berlioz's The Damnation of Faust, with soloists, choruses, and orchestra, and in July, we conclude the season with Holst's The Planets. Which will feature HD projections of remarkable images from NASA's exploration of the solar system, and will also include the Atmospheres by the Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti, whose music was an evocative part of the Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Mario Mercado is the arts editor at Travel + Leisure.

Images courtesy of Ben VanHouten

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