ORLANDO — Seated on the stage at the Bob Carr Theater, looking both momentarily relaxed but also highly energized, Eric Jacobsen thought for a moment when a man in the audience asked him when he had first developed a passion for the music of Maurice Ravel.
Jacobsen had already spent several minutes talking to the audience about “Daphnis et Chloe: Suite No. 2,” the piece by Ravel, the French composer, pianist and conductor often associated with impressionism. The piece would be closing the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra’s opening night of its 2015-2016 Super Series.
Jacobsen said he probably couldn’t pinpoint an exact moment in time, a kind of ah ha moment when he fell in love with the work of Ravel. But he did credit his parents for giving him a lifelong passion for music.
“I grew up playing music,” he said. “My parents were both musicians. There was music all over the house. I’m sure I heard Ravel when I was younger.”
It was a critical night for Jacobsen, the co-founder and artistic director of The Knights, an orchestral collective based in New York, and a touring member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble. After a well-publicized search, the OPO selected Jacobsen to lead them this season, and as David Schillhammer, the executive director of the OPO, told the audience just before introducing Jacobsen, “Welcome to our Music Director Debut.”
Jacobsen said he was thrilled at the opportunity to lead such a talented group of musicians.
“So many dreams the orchestra has — I feel the same way,” he said. “You want to play the greatest music to the highest potential.”
It was also exciting to be in Orlando, he added, a city with a growing number of great venues for art, music and theater.
“What is a city other than its cultural happenings,” Jacobsen said. “Orlando is bubbling with vital potential.”
The OPO opened the concert with The Star-Spangled Banner, then performed works by Beethoven and Tchaikovsky — on the later piece, “Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23,” they were joined by pianist Joyce Yang, who first gained international attention in 2005 when she won the silver medal at the 12th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.
Her rich talents were obvious at a very early age, Schillhammer noted.
“Joyce first appeared here as a true child prodigy at age 13,” he said.
Jacobsen agreed, saying “I have a new friend, I have a new collaborator to work with. She plays so quietly that the whole orchestra reacts in the moment to her.”
Yang said she was equally thrilled to be performing with the OPO again.
“How exciting to be a part of something that marks a great beginning,” she said of the new OPO season. “I hope we surprise you tonight, in a good way.”
Michael Elsberry, the president of the OPO, encouraged the audience to stick around for the entire season, which would include their annual “Home for the Holidays” concert on Nov. 28.
“Tonight is the first of many concerts, and we’re looking forward to all of them,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to all the music we’re going to make together,” Jacobsen added. “I feel so welcome, so warm, a part of the community — and I’m here to stay. Thank you so much.”
Jacobsen, Yang and the OPO will perform again today at 2 p.m. at the theater at 401 W. Livingston St. Call the box office at 407-770-0071 for tickets.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..