RAISING THE BATON

 

Octavio Más-Arocas and the Marquette Symphony Orchestra respond to the audience’s ovation at a performance in April this year. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Symphony Orchestra)

By Katherine Larson
This September, a new conductor will take the helm of the Marquette Symphony Orchestra: Octavio Más-Arocas.
Originally from Spain, Maestro Más-Arocas has extensive conducting experience throughout Europe and the Americas. His work with the MSO will be added to his current engagements as music director and conductor of the Mansfield Symphony Orchestra in Ohio, director of orchestras at Ithaca College in New York, conductor-in-residence at California’s Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, and conductor of the Interlochen Philharmonic at Michigan’s Interlochen Arts Camp.
Marquette will take an important place in this busy schedule. Más-Arocas said, “I will spend almost an entire week here every concert week. I love Marquette, and I love the MSO, and I hope and wish to make additional visits as my schedule allows. I think it is important for me to spend more time knowing the community and planning the future of the orchestra with other MSO and community leaders.”
He added, “I love meeting people, and I hope to make a lot of new friends here. I truly think Marquette is a special place, with exceptional and caring people, in a uniquely beautiful setting. Conducting the orchestra will just be a small part of my schedule every time I am in Marquette. As one of the visible leaders of the MSO, I hope to engage in as many activities, meet as many people, and be [as big a] part of the community as possible.”
Concertmaster Janis Peterson noted that “he is truly interested in the orchestra and the local community.”
Beyond that, “he is an energetic and skilled conductor.”
MSO Board President Dr. Daniel Arnold explained that the orchestra’s 2017-2018 season was essentially one long audition session, with each of several candidates taking responsibility for one of the season’s concerts. “The result was crystal-clear: in terms of musical skill, audience response, excitement, and charisma, Octavio was the person to be our next principal conductor,” Arnold said.
Arnold pointed out that many constituencies were involved: “The board had to consider how the audience felt, how donors felt, and how musicians felt. Often some balancing needs to be done among the three groups; they don’t always agree. But with Octavio, everyone agreed. He really stood out as the best choice.”
Más-Arocas felt equally positive about the MSO. “I really enjoyed my time with the MSO back in April. While that was my first time with the orchestra, I feel that we started to understand each other right away,” he said, though he believes time and energy will be needed to create a deep musical partnership.
That partnership, Más-Arocas is convinced, demands two things: precision and passion. He said, “My goal is to create a more cohesive group, a group that achieves technical accuracy but also plays with eagerness and passion. When precision meets passion, we create magic; that’s what I want to create for our audiences, nothing but magic and unique music experiences.” Concertmaster Peterson used identical words, precision and passion, in describing her excitement about this new conductor.
Indeed, Arnold said, that was why the MSO embarked on a quest for a new conductor in the first place. “The orchestra had made tremendous musical progress under [prior conductor] Dr. Jacob Chi. But a decade is a long time for a principal conductor. Orchestras typically change conductors regularly, and for a reason. At some point, they have learned most of what they can from the principal conductor, and future growth and change comes only incrementally. Bringing in a new principal conductor, with a different background, different interests, and new ideas, makes it possible for the orchestra to take major steps forward,” Arnold explained.
Más-Arocas is eager to get started, saying, “It always takes many encounters to create a sense of great understanding between orchestra and conductor. Back in April, the MSO and I went on an exciting first date and found out that we wanted to continue dating and getting to know each other. Now we need to continue developing that relationship, understand each other, listen to each other’s needs, and cultivate great partnership based on trust and thrilling music adventures together.”
He is ambitious: “I want for it to be the best orchestra that it can be. I want the MSO to be not only a cultural reference in the U.P., as it already is, but also a cultural reference in the entire state, and a reference for other orchestras of its size and budget around the country.
“Together with the wonderful musicians, I expect to raise the quality of our performances, starting already with our first concert of the season. The MSO is a gem, and I want the audience to be proud of their orchestra. I want it to be a dynamic organization that brings excitement to Marquette and for it to become an indispensable element of Marquette’s life and pride. I want to reach a broader audience, create projects that bring audiences of different backgrounds together, open the doors and make everyone in Marquette proud of having the wonderful MSO, their own MSO.
“My dream is to expand the concert season over the next few years to include more concerts that will broaden our repertoire, projects, and audience. For every concert, I want to see a packed house [with an] excited audience sharing life-changing moments with us.”
The excitement will start on Saturday, September 15, with the MSO’s opening concert. The orchestra is an eager participant in the city-wide BachFest Marquette, marking the 333rd anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach’s birth. The festival includes concerts spanning school system-wide events on September 13 all the way through to the Marquette Choral Society’s Bach Masterworks on December 2 and 3.
On September 15, therefore, under Más-Arocas’ baton, “we will participate in the Bach Festival and also include the wonderful, beautiful, and exciting Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8.”
The next concert, on October 28, departs from MSO tradition by taking place on a Sunday afternoon, rather than the usual Saturday evening. This Halloween-themed concert is intended to to be accessible to all ages and will include music from Harry Potter, Little Shop of Horrors, Phantom of the Opera and Psycho, along with Night on Bald Mountain, Sorcerer’s Apprentice and other popular pieces.
The October concert will feature a children’s chorus comprising third- to fifth -graders. In addition, the previous preceding Friday the MSO will present a version of this concert for free to all Marquette-area fourth- and fifth -graders, fulfilling the orchestra’s commitment to reach out every other year to youth in this way.
Más-Arocas will also conduct a concert scheduled for Saturday, February 23, which will feature the winner of the MSO’s annual Youth Concerto Competition playing the world première of a tuba concerto. In addition, he said, “We will perform the spectacular, epic, and otherworldly The Planets by Gustav Holst. This will be a concert to remember, one of those impressive performances no one wants to miss.”
The season finale, set for Saturday, April 13, will find the MSO collaborating with the Marquette Jazz Festival to present renowned trumpeter Allen Vizzutti, who will perform both a jazz piece and a work from the classical repertoire with the orchestra, which will also play Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5. This, said Más-Arocas, will “conclude the season in a grand manner!”
In the past, the MSO has programmed seasons one year, or even less, at a time. This has been in part due to constraints such as the need to share space in Kaufman Auditorium with many other constituencies. Nevertheless, Más-Arocas believes it essential to engage in some longer-term programming. He said, “We will program the entire MSO season in advance, and always think a couple of seasons ahead. There is no other way around it. This year, we are a bit behind, as my appointment was confirmed just recently, and we had to deal with the time we had. In any case, planning for the season should always be done earlier and always thinking a couple of seasons at a time.”
An exuberant Spaniard, Más-Arocas is proud of his hometown of Buñol in Valencia, which he described as, “It is a small town, just under 10,000 inhabitants, but it has two huge music organizations that have two of the most remarkable bands in the world. They also have orchestras, choirs, dance … you name it!”
In short, “music thrives every day,” and “everyone in the town is related to music in one way or the other.”
For him, “music was a gift from that community.” It was a gift that was widely shared: besides Más-Arocas, his wife, his sister, and his brother-in-law are all orchestra conductors.
He and his wife, Kiki Kilburn, have two children, a daughter and a son; the daughter, now almost five years old, personifies his connection to his new community. Más-Arocas said, “Just a month before she was born, we were in Marquette and were walking by the Maritime Museum. It was getting darker, and you could see a beautiful moon. One of the names we had been considering was Luana (approximately, ‘moon’ in Spanish), and with this beautiful sight we were sold. So years ago, Marquette already had a special place in our hearts.”
Arnold expressed his own pride in Marquette, including its orchestra and new principal conductor: “Newcomers to Marquette see that we have an orchestra—a professional-caliber orchestra, not just amateurs, with an experienced outside principal conductor and soloists of solid repute. All this in a town of just 20,000 people, when many far larger cities have no such thing. ‘Really?’ these newcomers say. ‘Amazing!’ And it is amazing.”
Más-Arocas added, “This is your MSO, and we want you to be excited and proud!”
Tickets for the MSO’s 2018-19 season went on sale August 6. They will be available online at www.nmu.edu/tickets, by telephone at 906-227-1032, and in person at NMU’s Berry Events Center at 400 West Fair Avenue. With the purchase of one adult ticket, patrons may get two free tickets for children aged sixteen and younger; call the Ticket Office for details.

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