In with a bang

An interview with incoming Portland Symphony director Robert Moody
By EMILY PARKHURST  |  April 30, 2008
HE WANTS YOU: Robert Moody seeks to draw
20- and 30-year-olds to the symphony.

Robert Moody's baton will direct the Portland Symphony Orchestra starting this week, as Moody ends eight years at the Phoenix, Arizona, symphony. (He still has enough energy to remain the music director of the Winston-Salem Symphony, as well, splitting time between Maine and North Carolina.)

The Portland Phoenix sat down with Moody to get a glimpse into the future of the Portland Symphony under his leadership.

What direction are you hoping to take the symphony?
I am committed to mixing things up, spreading the image that going to see the symphony is not what you think. People should feel free to clap between movements if they want. They should feel free to laugh when the music is comical. When Beethoven’s Violin Concerto was first performed, he played the first movement and the applause was so intense that he played it again, then played it again with the violin upside-down, before he moved on to the second and third movements.

You have quite a season set for next year [including african-influenced works and modern compositions]. How did you choose the program?
I wanted concert experiences that push the listener. I wanted people to have a new experience at the symphony. It’s only in classical music that we shy away from the new. In theater and popular music something more than seven years old is too old. That’s not to say we won’t play Beethoven and Mozart. We will. Hopefully we’ll play them better than we ever have before. But I really like surprises. There will be things in the performances that are not on the program. Even visually, things will be different. Haydn did things all the time in his performances. People would come to his concerts to see what the surprise would be. I want the same thing for our concerts.

Portland Symphony Orchestra playing Mahler Symphony No. 1 | 7:30 pm May 5 and 6 | Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St, Portland | 207.842.0800
How do you discover new composers and how do you choose which ones you will highlight?
Once I find a new composer that I really like, that I really believe in, I promote him as much as I can. For instance, Mason Bates, the composer for our opening night [October 7]: he has been commissioned by some of the major American orchestras. He is doing new things, creating new colors and textures by combining electronic music with a symphonic sound. Composers looking outside of the box are the future just as they always have been. Ravel was using Spanish music, Dvorak was adding American folk songs to his compositions. Today, composers are influenced by African rhythms or electronic music.

How do you anticipate reaching out to the younger generation and convincing them to give classical music a chance?
If there’s a 35-year-old couple reading the newspaper and trying to decide what they’re going to do that night, go to a movie, see the Broadway show that’s coming through town, go to the hockey game, I want go see a symphony concert on their list. They’re not always going to choose the symphony concert, but I want it to be equal with the other options. I think if people come once, they’ll come back. I want to target people in their 20s and 30s. Generation Xers like me, we like small groups, personal connection. I want to talk to people, invite them personally to come see a show.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at

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