Bidding Farewell to a Maestro of Musical Magic

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music,   From Issue 806   By: Robert E Martin

05th March, 2015     3

From the first time that I met and interviewed Brett Mitchell I could sense there was something special about him beyond his earnest approach towards bringing the timeless majesty of Classical Music to contemporary audiences; and introducing contemporary Classical works to the more ingrained and established fans of the idiom that rarely turn their ears towards the Modern.

He possessed an innate sense of engagement: not only towards the orchestral talents of the musicians that he worked with, but towards the fabric of the larger community that he was involved with.

Since the SBSO Board of Directors brought Mitchell on board back in 2010 he has consistently set the performance bar higher with each year of his tenure, picking up the baton from prior Musical Directors such as Leo Najar and the late Patrick Flynn, whom he replaced, by carving a proud legacy of superb musicianship, innovative programming, and compelling educational experiences that enrich the cultural climate for residents of the region.

And now Mitchell’s tenure with the SBSO has come full circle, as he prepares for his final performance with the orchestra in a special March 14th performance entitled: Brett Mitchell: A Grand Farewell, which will take place at The Temple Theatre at 8:00 PM. For his final performance Mitchell will be showcasing the works of Mozart, Mahler and contemporary composer Kevin Puts, whom is also a Pulitzer Prize winning native of Alma, Michigan with performances Mozart’s Concert Arias, Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and Put’s …this noble company.

Although he will be leaving the SBSO to continue with his duties as Assistant Conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra,  along with Musical Director of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra, which he will be devoting his energies towards on a full time basis – in the 5-short and sweet years that he was at the helm, Mitchell managed to shatter 75-year old attendance records, achieving the SBSO’s first two ‘sellouts’ under his musical direction, which has always been marked by a keen ear for combining and contrasting challenging signature orchestra works with the best new compositions being created by contemporary composers.

Beloved by an expansive and divergent array of artistic supporters throughout the region and persistently optimistic about the richness of talent populating the banks of the Saginaw Bay, I sat down with Maestro Brett Mitchell to discuss what he felt were highpoints of his career here in Saginaw, and what his hopes are for the future of the SBSO.

“In broader strokes, I very much wanted for my last concert as music director to resemble my first as closely as possible,” reflects Mitchell. “So we've chosen the same three composers in the same order (Puts, Mozart, and Mahler), but with three different works. This seemed like a nice way to kind of tie our time together by book-ending ourselves with the same three masters we started with back in 2010.”

“We'll open with a beautiful processional by Kevin Puts called "...this noble company" that nicely sets the tone for the evening,” continues Brett. “Think Pomp and Circumstance, but with an American twist. This will be followed by a performance of three concert arias by Mozart. Joining us will be longtime SBSO friend, bass baritone Timothy Jones and this will be Mr. Jones's third time singing with us during my tenure, as we did Beethoven’s 9th and Finzi's "Let Us Garlands Bring" together.”

“Closing my time with the SBSO will be one of the greatest symphonic works ever composed: Gustav Mahler's miraculous Fifth Symphony. This is truly a landmark work in the annals of music, and I'm so pleased the SBSO and I will be able to present it for our audience before our time together is through.”

When asked his thoughts about the SBSO and the things he is most proud of accomplishing with it during his tenure as Musical Director, Mitchell references the manner in which the orchestra has boldly stepped into the 21st Century.

“The thing I'm proudest of is what a forward-looking organization we've become over the past five seasons. The amount of young people we've brought into the Temple - people in the twenties and thirties who maybe have never had exposure to live classical orchestral music - is a source of great pride for me. When the board hired me, they tasked me with doing specifically that, and I'm so glad we've been able to achieve that goal in such a marked, significant way since I arrived in 2010. We've also presented actors, singers, several world-premiere visual art projects that we commissioned, a selection of incredibly high-level soloists, and even brought techno music into the concert hall,  all while continuing to present the greatest music of the past 250 years - no small feat!”  

In looking back at his time here in Saginaw, are there specific performances or seasons that stand in Mitchell’s mind as high-points?

“It's so hard to choose from the several dozen performances we've given together a handful that are the most memorable. Both projects we did with Saginaw-native visual artist Kellie Schneider (Ravel's Mother Goose and Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker) were deeply satisfying to me, and were enormous hits with our audience. I also led my very first Beethoven 9 and Rite of Spring (Stravinsky) with the SBSO, and will most certainly remember those for the rest of my life. Our collaboration with both Pit and Balcony and Saginaw Choral Society on a huge, multimedia production of A Midsummer Night's Dream--with Shakespeare's play featuring Mendelssohn's music--is also an enormous source of pride for me.”

During his time spent in Saginaw, what are Brett’s thoughts about the area’s strengths; and what does he view as its weaknesses?

“ I think that Saginaw and the Great Lakes Bay Region as a whole is undergoing a real revival. In my five years here, from my perspective onstage at the Temple Theatre, I've watched our audience grow exponentially and get increasingly younger - our average attendee is now more than a decade younger than when I arrived! In my experience, the involvement of young people and the celebration of new ideas are two of the most important assets that help communities thrive. Downtown Saginaw is really coming back, with a new business, restaurant, or arts venue opening up seemingly every time I come to town. It is a time of great promise, and I hope that we'll keep dreaming big in mid-Michigan, investing in arts and culture, which are after all what makes every community unique. I'm enormously grateful to this community for the time we've shared together, and will treasure both the musical memories and lifelong friends I've made here.”

“As for future goals, I've never been the guy to set my sights on one particular job. If you had asked me when I was a little boy if I'd become the music director of the orchestra in the city I first heard of in Simon and Garfunkel's "America," I'd think you were crazy. If you had said to me two years ago that I'd have the amazing opportunities I do with my two positions in Cleveland, I don't think I would've believed you.”

“My philosophy has always been just to keep my head down, work both hard and smart, and you'll end up earning the opportunities to do something with all that hard work. My only goal is to spend the rest of my life touching as many lives as possible making music for as many people as I possibly can.”

For tickets to ‘Brett Mitchell: A Grand Farewell you can go to the Temple Theatre’s website or phone 989.754.7469.



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