“I’m not sure there ever is a right time to move on from the Asheville Symphony,” says Daniel Meyer. The conductor and music director of the local orchestra since 2004, Meyer is also currently music director of the Erie Philharmonic, artist adviser of the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra, and the new director of orchestral activities at Duquesne University. His tenure with the Asheville Symphony will conclude with the New Year’s Eve Gala. He conducts his final Masterworks concert — the season opener for the symphony’s 2017-18 season — on Sunday, Sept. 24.
That performance features pianist Yefim Bronfman on “Emperor,” Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5. “We had the opportunity to bring one of the world’s greatest pianists,” says Meyer. “I thought, ‘Why not use the rest of the program to show off how good this orchestra’s become?’” He selected “Les Préludes” by Franz Liszt and “Capriccio Espagnol” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.
In the show notes for the concert, the conductor describes the Liszt piece as “harnessing the rich sounds of each section of the orchestra.” The Rimsky-Korsakov composition, he says, “spotlights the individual soloists of the orchestra as well as each section on its own.”
At the end of his tenure, the local orchestra can now play anything in the repertoire, Meyer says. “They come to things with a passion. … We really try to bring each piece to life as the composer intended, which is to say we haven’t developed a characteristic Asheville Symphony sound outside of the fact that we try to play everything with a high degree of precision, with a degree of fire in the belly.”
Meyer regards his departure from his role in Asheville as bittersweet. “I feel very close to this orchestra and our staff, and I’ve made some very good friends among its supporters,” he says. “Asheville has certainly played a critical role in my development as an artist, and I hope to make some happy returns.” But his career has led to exciting opportunities to conduct throughout North America and Europe. He spoke to Xpress from the monthlong Lucerne Festival in Switzerland, where he was accompanying his wife, Mary Persin, who is the vice president of artistic planning for the Pittsburgh Symphony (for which Meyer used to be resident conductor), and serving as an unofficial adviser to that symphony’s music director.
“I always conceived of moving on when things were in really great shape,” says Meyer. Asheville Symphony has successfully launched a biannual festival of its own, produced recording projects in collaboration with local bands and has grown its educational component to bring classical music into area schools. The future looks bright.
Meyer’s departure opens the door for a new conductor to bring fresh ideas and innovations to the symphony. This season serves as an audition for six finalists — Rei Hotoda, Darko Butorac, Garry Walker, Nicholas Hersh, Jayce Ogren and Jacomo Bairos — who will each conduct a Masterworks concert featuring a guest soloist and programming of their choosing. Hotoda — the sole woman in the group — is bringing in renowned tabla player Sandeep Das as her soloist. And Scottish-born Walker has planned an evening of music celebrating his homeland, from Malcolm Arnold’s 1957 composition, “Four Scottish Dances,” to Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3, aka “Scottish.”
“They’re in a very lucky place,” Meyer says of these potential next music directors. “They’re stepping into an orchestra that’s very eager to work hard. … They’re stepping into a community that loves the orchestra and will pretty much do anything to make sure that it thrives into the next decade and beyond.” Plus, he points out, Asheville is a vibrant community and a place where people are eager to visit and stay.
To the next music director of the symphony, Meyer says, “Your possibilities are pretty much boundless.”
There is a challenge, Meyer points out: The performance space. Whether it’s a new building or a refurbishment of the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, the symphony needs to “find a home that truly enables the orchestra to sound the way it can,” he says. He was disappointed that the efforts to build a new hall came a decade ago, when the economy was collapsing. Both the city and the orchestra deserve an “acoustically superior” space that is also more audience-friendly, Meyer says.
But Meyer will conduct his final concert in his current role at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. That New Year’s Eve program features Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana.” “I wanted to assemble as big of a cast as we could onstage and throw as big of a party as we could,” he says.
That particular composition, complete with operatic soloists and the Asheville Symphony Chorus, “is actually the piece I first conducted with the orchestra, as music director,” Meyer says. “So we’re coming full circle.”
WHAT: Asheville Symphony season opening concert
WHERE: Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, 87 Haywood St. ashevillesymphony.org
WHEN: Sunday, Sept. 24, 4 p.m. $11-$43 youths/$24-$69 adults