As he prepares for his second season leading LCCO as Music Director, Vincent Povázsay shared some of his favorite memories from last year, the joys and challenges of conducting a volunteer orchestra, and who will really be running the show when LCCO swings during its American Jazz Masters concerts on Oct. 8 at The Mann Center.
The 2022-23 season kicks off with music from the greatest jazz and big band composers of the 20th century. Why did you want LCCO to tackle a jazz program?
“I'm a huge Armstrong and Sinatra fan and I thought it’d be great to share some of that music with the orchestra and the audience. I really got the idea to do a jazz program because the orchestra did so well with the Sounds of the Silver Screen concerts last season. That was a really difficult program and they nailed it.
A lot of the same challenges from film music occur in these jazz arrangements. I wanted to give the orchestra the opportunity to tackle those challenges but in a different genre.
You know, the secret conductor of the jazz program is the drum set player. I even told Greg (Greg Lewis, LCCO principal percussionist) after a rehearsal, “Dude, you are actually conducting this concert from the back!” Every jazz ensemble, every jazz band relies on the beat the drummer lays down to get the swing going. It’s the same with an orchestra. The drums and the bass are the critical rhythm section for these jazz tunes.
We’ve also got some great trumpet and clarinet solos in the Armstrong and Gershwin arrangements plus the first trombone has a lot to do. But, the star of the show is definitely going to be the drum set!"
What have you learned about the orchestra and what moments or accomplishments from last season made you proud of your musicians?
"If you ask any member of the orchestra, I'm sure they'll tell you that Vincent likes to challenge us. And I do! I like to push them. With last season’s experience plus the guest conducting I did, I know what this orchestra is capable of. It’s good to see growth. It’s good to see progress.
The orchestra did so well last year with Schubert (LCCO played Franz Schubert’s Symphony #4 in C Minor). Looking at the history of the orchestra, they haven’t done many complete symphonies. Performing a long, multi-movement piece is a different type of challenge for the group. The success of last season encouraged me to do more and that’s partly why we’re going to perform another complete symphony later this season (César Franck's Symphony in D minor).
It’s also about hearing what the orchestra does well and what they enjoy playing. There’s a balance to be struck between what makes the group sound good and what pushes them to constantly strive to be better. This season is more difficult than last season!
Another highlight from last year was the commissioning and performance of Cody Criswell-Badillo’s Ofrenda #1. You never really know what you're going to get from a composer. Score delivery day is always exciting for conductors. You’re getting your new toy, your new piece to work on.
Talking with Cody, I described the strengths and limitations of the orchestra and Cody really tailored the piece to LCCO. I was not expecting a piece based on mariachi music, but I was absolutely delighted with the outcome. It was just a great piece of music and a lot of fun to work on.
I think the orchestra rose to the challenge and presented it very well. Ofrenda #1 is in our repertoire now. Other orchestras can take Cody’s piece and play it, but it was commissioned and written for LCCO. It’s our baby."
What do you enjoy about conducting a volunteer orchestra? Are there challenges unique to volunteer orchestras?
"Conducting the orchestra is fun, but it’s also work. We’ve only got eight or nine rehearsals to accomplish our mission of presenting a concert. Part of conducting at all levels – from community orchestras to large, professional orchestras – is knowing how far you can push your group and knowing what's just going to get better on its own. That’s part of running an efficient rehearsal.
When I'm working with professional groups, if something goes wrong in a run or a section, I know the players will be aware of it and nothing usually needs to be said. In a community group, there might be things the players are doing incorrectly that they just don’t know or aren’t immediately aware of.
We have players from all different backgrounds and different levels of playing. I tend to take a more educational approach to rehearsing. It’s important you don’t take a lofty approach to doing certain things. You try to break it down on multiple levels depending on what the group needs.
Now, we're very lucky with LCCO that we have players embedded in the orchestra that have good levels of training and strong musical backgrounds, and they're able to elevate those around them. So, it's not all left up to me. We sort of nurture ourselves from within the orchestra which is not always the case in community groups. At LCCO, we have people who have played throughout their lives, and I think it allows us to program harder and better music because of the level of the group."
How do you approach your role and responsibilities as conductor of a community orchestra?
"The conductor’s responsibility is a bit different with every group. With LCCO, my responsibility is to encourage them to have fun making music. Some players don’t really have a lot of confidence in their playing, but I’ve seen that change as I’ve worked with the group and players start to sort of come out of their shell.
I’m putting some difficult music in front of them and it’s changing their focus a little bit and they see they’re not able to hide in the group and sort of coast or just get by. We’re doing big stuff and it’s exciting.
I always try to encourage them to have fun while at the same time helping develop and grow their abilities. It’s one of the great things about community music making. Our musicians come in and they’re excited to rehearse. They're excited to dig into the music. Every week is a different set of challenges!"
LCCO Music Director Vincent Povázsay is co-director and conductor of earspace, a contemporary chamber music ensemble based in Raleigh. He also serves as a cover conductor with the North Carolina Symphony. Povázsay received his Bachelor of Music from UNC-Chapel Hill and a master’s degree in Orchestral Conducting from Northwestern University. In addition to his professional music career, Povázsay works as an IT Administrator for CCL Metal Science.