Alexander Mickelthwate found himself riveted to a TV screen as a teenager in his native Frankfurt, Germany, watching Leonard Bernstein conduct Beethoven’s Third Symphony.
“With his thick glasses and sideburns, I was glued to that screen,” he says.
That moment changed his life, he says, because it set him on a path to a career in music and to becoming one of today’s most exciting classical talents.
“Of course, I was naive at the time and had no idea what it would take,” he says. “But I loved the repertoire and working with people. Working with an orchestra is very collaborative, and there is nothing more exciting. This is a very cool job.”
An American citizen, he currently is the music director for Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in Manitoba, Canada, where he’s been for 11 years. He’s done some pretty innovative programs there, including collaborations with local pop and rock bands. He has someone orchestrate the bands’ original music, and they perform together. He’s taken his orchestra to interesting environments, such as an aquatic center for a concert of Gavin Bryars’ “The Sinking of the Titanic.”
“That was really cool,” Mickelthwate says. “It was dark but the pool was lit, and it was beautifully eerie.”
Mickelthwate hopes to add Boise to his repertoire with this weekend’s performance of an Beethoven-flavored program that includes the composer’s epic Ninth Symphony, as well as guest artists such as the Boise Philharmonic Master Chorale and four soloists.
Mickelthwate is in Idaho for the week, meeting with the community, working with the musicians and getting to know the city. He is the seventh and final candidate for the Boise Phil’s music director position left vacant by Robert Franz after his eight years at the orchestra’s helm.
This is Mickelthwate’s second time in Boise. He guest conducted the Sibelius Symphony No. 1 in October 2014.
“It’s good to be back here,” he says. “It’s such a beautiful city.”
His wife, Abigail Camp, is a San Diego native. She designs for Canadian fashion house Peter Nygard. Both hope to get a foothold back in the U.S.
Mickelthwate, 46, came to the United States for graduate school at the Peabody Institute of Music in Baltimore. He’s served as an assistant at the Atlanta Symphony and became an associate conductor at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He also is a candidate for the Fresno Philharmonic music director’s position.
Mickelthwate’s program offers a musical sketch of Beethoven’s creative arc with three pieces — two by the master and one by American composer Kevin Puts — that show different sides of the composer.
He opens with Puts’ “Inspiring Beethoven,” a 12-minute tone poem that imagines Beethoven composing his Seventh Symphony.
“There’s a moment when you hear him get so upset, he tears pages out of the score and throws them in the wastebasket,” Mickelthwate says. “It becomes a cacophony; then out of that comes that symphony’s famous beginning ... (and) ... this meditative state of happiness.”
Next up is “Leonore Overture No. 2,” from Beethoven’s opera “Fidelio.”
“He wrote three overtures for ‘Fidelio.’ This one is a work in progress,” he says. “It’s raw and not quite there yet. It shows him evolving.”
Of course, the finale is his masterwork Ninth Symphony, a piece that has gone through its own evolution.
“It’s bizarre. It’s one of the most famous works ever, but in the last 20 years, thanks to a musical discovery, the way we perform it has changed,” he says.
The tempo markings for two of the sections were historically misread, Mickelthwate says. Those slower tempos were traditionally played for hundreds of years. But with new scholarship, the tempos increased and “that takes it back to its revolutionary feel,” Mickelthwate says.
Everyone knows and loves the fourth movement, and its dynamic and glorious “Ode To Joy,” but Mickelthwate hopes you’ll listen for something else — a quiet moment that is a turning point in the piece.
“The third movement is for me the most amazing thing,” he says. “At the center of the symphony, he comes to a moment of near silence, a still point. It’s like he went outside of our four dimensions to a place where there is no time. You just ‘are’ for a moment. Then you go back into the tide and flow of the piece.”
Boise Philharmonic with Alexander Mickelthwate and the Master Chorale
8 p.m. Friday, April 7, Brandt Center, Northwest Nazarene University, 707 Fern St., Nampa, and Saturday, April 8, Morrison Center, 2201 Cesar Chavez Lane, Boise. Pre-concert talks are at 7 p.m. $22.50-$70.50. at 344-7849, BoisePhil.org.
▪ Meet Mickelthwate at Backstage with the Artist, noon to 1 p.m. Friday, April 7, Esther Simplot Performing Arts Academy, 516 S. 9th St., Boise. Free.