Symphony director looks toward classical

After a rocky period of financial difficulty, the New Haven Symphony Orchestra is bouncing back under the new executive direction of Michael MacLeod, a Briton who came to New Haven four months ago.

Although some musicians in the orchestra said it is too early to to have an opinion on MacLeod’s leadership, they added that his musical acumen promises to be an asset to the orchestra.

MacLeod said he was interested in adding more classical pieces to the symphony’s repertoire. He also expressed the desire to revitalize the “glorious tradition” of the orchestra, which made its debut in 1895.

“The previous executive director thought in terms of dollars and cents,” MacLeod said. “I’ve been brought in to maintain financial control but also to broaden and enhance the orchestra’s profile and programming.”

Musicians said MacLeod is more in tune with the musical side of the symphony than the previous director, Lorraine Young, a former banker who retired when her contract expired.

“I think he’s pretty sensitive to the needs of the musicians,” Assistant Principal Clarinet Reesa Gringorten. “He’s a little more musically aware.”

MacLeod’s experience includes seven years as the director of the Amadeus String Quartet, 12 years as director of the John Elliot Gardener Choir and Orchestra, and five years as director of the City of London Festival.

He said he was surprised to discover that the New Haven Orchestra is one of the oldest in the nation, and older than any of the London orchestras.

MacLeod said he preferred to focus on the positive aspects of the symphony rather than any potential problems.

“By nature, I’m an optimist — there are good things, let’s develop it,” he said.

One of the things MacLeod is examining are possible changes to the symphony’s repertoire, although he said he would need to consult with the musicians and symphony officials before any concrete decisions could be made.

One hundred years ago, MacLeod said, 90 percent of the repertoire was serious classical music, whereas 50 percent of what the orchestra plays now is pop music.

He said that if a more classical repertoire is what the New Haven community “wants and deserves,” he would help develop it.

Gringorten agreed the orchestra needs a change of pace.

“[Classical music] is what people come to concerts for,” she said.

In accordance with the symphony’s mission of reaching the community, Gringorten said she hopes youths will be exposed to classical pieces.

“I think he’s been inspiring orchestra members to work together with him to reach out to the community,” Principal Viola Marvin Warshaw said.

The symphony will perform next Thursday at Woolsey Hall.

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