Denève looking forward to official “debut” with New World Symphony

By Lawrence Budmen

Stéphane Denève will conduct his first concert as artistic director of the New World Symphony on Saturday night.

For Stéphane Denève, becoming artistic director of the New World Symphony is “a dream come true.” 

The French conductor officially makes his debut in his new position Saturday night leading an eclectic program of scores by Henri Dutilleux, Richard Strauss and vocal works by Anthony Davis and John Adams (with baritone Davone Tines). 

Denève, 51, is currently music director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and principal guest conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic. Previously he has been chief conductor of the Brussels Philharmonic and Stuttgart Radio Symphony, music director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and principal guest conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He led a memorable tour performance in Miami with the storied Philadelphia ensemble in 2016 with a Shakespeare related program of scores by Berlioz, Mendelssohn and Prokofiev.

Sitting in the sun-drenched upper lobby of the New World Center, the orchestral academy’s state-of-the-art Frank Gehry home, Denève recalled his first appearance with the New World fellows in 2006 (when he led a Ravel-Poulenc-Berlioz program). 

“I was not expecting the level to be so high,” he said candidly. He was deeply impressed by the “freedom and energy” of the young musicians’ performance. Following that debut concert, Denève became a regular guest conductor, always delivering memorable concerts. He remembers a traversal of Respighi’s The Pines of Rome in which the players were “like a wild horse” in the sheer engagement and force of their playing.

Under Denève, there have also been astute performances with the New World of the Third Symphonies of Saint-Saens and Honegger and a rare traversal of Albert Roussel’s Bacchus and Ariane Suite No. 2, which glowed in some of the ensemble’s best playing. 

Denève calls French composer Guillaume Connesson “my hero.” He has promoted the contemporary French composer’s work extensively in his wide ranging conducting itinerary. In 2011, he introduced South Florida audiences to Connesson’s A Glimmer in the Age of Darkness and the work’s misty layers of modern impressionism proved entrancing.

Denève said he was “deeply joyful” when he received the news of his appointment. He knew that he was one of those under consideration and had some hope that the board and management might turn to him as successor to Michael Tilson Thomas. He will be only the second conductor to command the top directorship in the organization’s 35-year history. 

“Now my life has a purpose, “ he said. “I feel I can help shape the next generation” of orchestral players,” he explained. Denève says the Miami community has been warmly welcoming and he foresees a huge future relationship that will benefit both musicians and audiences alike.

He feels Saturday’s concert will be “a very special moment.” He wanted to program a work by a French  composer and chose Mètaboles by Henri Dutilleux. Written in 1964 for George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, Denève considers the piece “a concerto for orchestra” that will display the individual sections of the ensemble. He was present at the Paris premiere of John Adams’ nativity oratorio El Niño in 2000 and finds the aria “Shake the Heavens” (which Tines will sing) deeply moving.

Earlier this season, Denéve led the New World fellows in a rehearsal of Richard Strauss’ tone poem Ein Heldenleben, which will conclude the concert. He finds the score “a pure delight” and believes in approaching the large-scale work in a manner that flows but avoids heaviness.

During his first full New World season in 2023-2024, Denéve’s adventurous programming will include such rarities as Albert Roussel’s The Spider’s Feast, Florent Schmitt’s The Tragedy of Salome, Peter Lieberson’s Neruda Songs and the premiere of a commissioned work by Connesson in addition to such standards as Debussy’s La Mer and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Denève’s debut concert as the New World’s guiding light heralds an exciting new era.

Stéphane Denève conducts the New World Symphony in Dutilleux’s Mètaboles, Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben and arias by John Adams and Anthony Davis with baritone Davone Tines, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 8 at the New World Center in Miami Beach.


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Tue Apr 4, 2023
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