What you need to know about conductor Cristian Macelaru as he makes Pittsburgh Symphony debut
Debuts, like premieres, keep concert life fresh. Really successful first encounters lead to re-engagements.
Upcoming Pittsburgh Symphony concerts feature the return of Grammy Award winning violinist Augustin Hadelich and the debut of rapidly rising conductor Cristian Macelaru. All three pieces on the program express the composers' love of their homelands.
Macelaru will conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at May 18 and 20 concerts at Pittsburgh's Heinz Hall. The program is Georges Enescu's Rumanian Rhapsody No. 1, Antonin Dvorak's Violin Concerto with Hadelich as soloist, and Aaron Copland's Symphony No. 3.
The conductor began playing violin at an early age in his native Romania and moved to the United States when he was 17 to advance his studies. He was still an undergraduate when he became the Miami Symphony's concertmaster. Macelaru studied conducting as a graduate student at Rice University in Houston and began a long association with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2011. In 2017, he became music director of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in Santa Cruz, Calif., and was just named music director of the WDR Cologne orchestra in Germany.
The conductor says he would admire Enescu's music even if they didn't share Rumanian heritage. Enescu was a complete musician, a “genius” Macelaru calls him, who was ahead of his time compositionally, and also a fine violinist and conductor. His two brilliantly orchestrated Rumanian Rhapsodies are early compositions and reflect his first study of the violin with gypsy musicians in his home town.
“These are beautiful for me because I identify with that nostalgia for a place one has left behind,” Macelaru says. “I paired it with the Dvorak Concerto because both pieces look back with love for something they cherished. All three composers speak of nationalism, but from different perspectives.”
Hadelich made his local debut playing Johannes Brahms' Violin Concerto in 2015. He returns with music by Brahms' friend Dvorak. Hadelich and Macelaru performed it with the Cleveland Orchestra at the Blossom Festival in August 2017.
Macelaru knows the Dvorak Concerto particularly well.
“My fingers still tingle when I start to conduct it,” he says, “because I remember the feeling of playing it as a violin soloist.”
The conductor's experience as a violinist also informs his view of Copland's Third Symphony, which was written at the end of World War II.
“I remember the first time I played it I was in college,” says Macelaru. “When we began playing it I fell in love with the spirit of the piece, with the sounds, with harmonies. It was an incredible discovery for me.”
He makes an interesting differentiation between the three composers on the program.
“I think Copland identified and refined a sound that expresses the essence of a nation. In some ways Enescu and Dvorak tried for the same thing. But Copland goes a step further. I feel he doesn't comment on something that already existed so much as he creates something new, a sound which had not existed before and which managed to get people to identify with it as their language.”
Mark Kanny is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.