Halloween is a special time of year for conductor Michelle Merrill because it’s when she started her journey down a classical music path. When she was 8, she went trick-or-treating and got something extra with her candy: a card offering piano lessons.
“I asked my mom and dad if I could take lessons,” Merrill, 32, says. “We weren’t a musical family, but they said, ‘Sure.’ ”
Those lessons unlocked her passion for music and led her to become one of the few women in the world on the classical music podium.
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Now, heading into her third season as an assistant conductor with the Detroit Symphony, she is the second of seven candidates for the Boise Philharmonic’s music director position. (Robert Franz left last season after eight years with the Boise Phil.) Each candidate gets a turn to lead the orchestra, performing a program based around an assigned concerto centerpiece.
Merrill has been in Boise this week, meeting with board and community members, working with the musicians and internationally acclaimed violinist Caroline Goulding, who will perform the Beethoven Violin Concerto.
Merrill uses culinary metaphors to describe her programming philosophy.
“Each concert needs to be like a chef preparing a great meal,” she says. “So many chefs today do farm-to-table. They’re looking at what’s great in season. When I’m choosing pieces, I’m looking at music that is part of the fabric of where we have come from in the orchestral genre.”
If so, this program is a banquet of some of the best music ever written.
“Knowing I had the Beethoven in the middle, and it’s such a huge piece (45 minutes in length), one of the best in the violin repertoire, so I chose two composers that were very influenced by him: Berlioz and Tchaikovsky.
“They both talked in their letters and memoirs about how he (Beethoven) was like a god to them. They never felt they could match what he had done. Tchaikovsky basically paired his Fourth Symphony with Beethoven’s Fifth.”
Berlioz was one of Beethoven’s principal promoters in France.
“Berlioz loved Beethoven’s symphonic form but really followed his use of color and orchestration,” she says. “And Tchaikovsky was also very influenced by the orchestration and color of Berlioz.”
On top of that, the program moves through the range of human emotions, Merrill says.
“The Beethoven is a very refined piece,” Merrill says “The second movement is just gorgeous with this long, slow, very poignant music that really touches the heart, but then Caroline will get to let her hair down in the final rondo.”
Berlioz’s “Roman Carnival Overture” opens with this great romantic melody, “then it launches into this carnival, fast and fiery emotions going all over the place.”
Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 is clouded by the feeling of fate, she says.
“He’s trying to deal with what’s coming and what his life is all about,” she says. “The first movements are filled with foreboding and melancholy, then when we get to the third, it’s filled with this ecstasy. You know, that feeling of fun you get after the first glass of wine. Then you go into the huge bold finalé that brings back the fate motif and ultimately ends triumphantly.”
You can become part of the artistic director selection process through audience surveys, online forums at BoisePhil.org and more.
Meet Merrill and violinst Caroline Goulding at Backstage with the Artist, noon to 1 p.m. Oct. 21, Esther Simplot Performing Arts Academy, 516 S. 9th St., Boise. Free.
Boise Philharmonic Beethoven Violin Concerto
Guest conductor Michelle Merrill and violinist Caroline Goulding: 8 p.m., Oct. 21, Brandt Center, Northwest Nazarene University, 707 Fern St., Nampa; and Saturday, Oct. 22, Morrison Center, 2201 Cesar Chavez Lane, Boise. $22.50-$70.50 Preconcert talks at 7 p.m. 344-7849, BoisePhil.org.