ORLANDO — As the lights rose inside the Bob Carr Theater at the conclusion of a performance of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, and the crowd began to leave, a middle aged man leaned over to his wife and said, “What a great concert.”
“What did you think about him?” the wife asked.
“The best I’ve seen,” the man responded.
The “him” that she was referring to was Eric Jacobsen, the guest conductor who led OPO through the performance on Saturday night of “Scheherazade.” It was, as virtually everyone in the nearly sold out crowd understood, not just a performance by a conductor leading his musicians, but also a very high profile job application.
As the OPO continues its search for a new conductor, Jacobsen is one of three finalists, noted David Schillhammer, the executive director of OPO.
OPO’s current concert series, Schillhammer noted, has been a particularly important one for audiences, since they’re very much a part of the orchestra’s search for a new conductor.
Performances like the one on Saturday, he said, “highlight the talented musicians of our Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra. You’ll hear the fruits of their labor tonight.”
At the same time, Schillhammer added, the OPOD’s performance of “Scheherazade” — the name of the legendary Persian queen and the storyteller of “One Thousand and One Nights” — was very much Jacobsen’s baby. A conductor and cellist, Jacobsen is the co-founder and music director of The Knights orchestra and a founding member of the genre-defying string quartet Brooklyn Rider.
In the 2014-2015 season, Jacobsen was named the principal conductor of the Greater Bridgeport Symphony.
And now, Schillhammer added, he is one of several finalists for the job of OPO’s next conductor, and Saturday’s performance was a critical part of his audition, his chance to demonstrate his musical skills.
“It serves as a great example of Eric’s genre-bending talent,” Schillhammer said.
In the program books distributed to the audience before the show started was an Audience Survey card, asking the patrons to rate Jacobsen’s performance in numerous ways, including whether they agreed or disagreed with statements like “I thoroughly enjoyed this concert,” “Maestro Jacobsen and the orchestra made the music come alive for me,” and “He has a dynamic and captivating presence and style on the podium.”
Schillhammer encouraged everyone in the audience to fill out the cards and drop them in an audience survey box before leaving, “as part of the music director search we have been doing, and you have been assessing — and we are listening.”
If anyone in the audience did not want to fill out the survey that evening, he added, they could visit the OPO’s website.
“You can go online and fill it out there,” Schillhammer added. “There are multiple ways to be involved. We welcome your input.”
Then he introduced the conductor and added, “I’ll let the music just speak for itself. Eric Jacobsen is one of the most gifted cellists in the world. We are delighted to have him here. It’s a great honor for all of us.”
Jacobsen said he was thrilled to have this opportunity.
“I’m so happy to be in Orlando,” he said. “I’ve done so many fun things here,” including working with music students at Howard Middle School, who he said were a joy to perform with.
“And the most fun,” he added, “was playing here tonight.”
The “Scheherazade” concert was enhanced as well by the performance of Wu Man, the Grammy Award nominated musician who is a soloist, educator and composer from China. She performed the pipa, a lute-like instrument.
“It’s very much like Chinese bluegrass music,” she said.
By the end of the two-hour long concert, the OPO, Jacobsen and Man brought down the house in thunderous applause — indicating that Jacobsen is likely to be a tough act to follow.
Next up is Dirk Meyer, music director of the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra and principal guest conductor of the Sarasota Youth Orchestra, who will be conducting the OPO on Feb. 21-22, and Leslie B. Dunner, the resident conductor of the Detroit Symphony and assistant conductor to Kurt Masur with the New York Philharmonic, who will be conducting on March 21.
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