Elgin Symphony Orchestra picks new music director
A new era is about to begin for the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, which picked a young, internationally renowned conductor to serve as only the fourth music director in its 63-year history.
Andrew Grams, 35 and a native of Maryland, signed a three-year contract that begins July 1, the Daily Herald has learned. He will make his debut during the 2013-14 season's opening weekend on Oct. 5 and 6, said ESO marketing and development director Cheryl Wendt.
The ESO will make a formal announcement about Grams' hiring at an invitation-only event tonight at the Holiday Inn & Suites in Elgin.
Grams conducted the ESO just last month; his first appearance came a few years ago.
Elgin is his first permanent post after serving as assistant conductor for the Cleveland Orchestra from 2004 to 2007, Grams said.
"I was impressed by the quality of the orchestra and the attitude of the musicians that make up the orchestra, and also by the attitude of the staff, the board and the community," he said. "I really think we could do some very interesting and very exciting things together."
Grams has conducted orchestras throughout the U.S. and abroad, including the Chicago Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington D.C., the Vancouver Symphony, the Orchestre National de Lyon, the Orchestra of the Beethovenhalle Bonn, the BBC Symphony Orchestra London, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, the Melbourne Symphony, the Orchestra of Santa Cecilia Rome, the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, and the Malmo Symphony.
He began conducting at age 17. He has a bachelor's degree in music from the Juilliard School and a conducting degree from the Curtis Institute of Music, where he worked with Otto-Werner Mueller.
Among ESO's greatest assets is being able to draw from the pool of musical talent in the greater Chicago area, Grams said.
"Besides outside the New York City metro area, I can't think of a place anywhere else in the United States that you have the ability to draw such fine musicians," he said.
Grams' musical tastes run somewhat conservative, he said.
"That's not to say I don't like 20th century or contemporary music," he said. "What I want to provide is music that is powerful in a few different ways, exciting -- that is moving in a very dramatic way."
His favorite pieces to conduct are waltzes and polkas by Johann Strauss and Johann Strauss Jr., he said.
"It's music that puts a smile on your face. It so pleasant, so enjoyable. But at the same time, the skill and the craftsmanship that (the composers) put into those pieces is absolutely impeccable. It's not just fluff."
Grams said he's a big proponent of explaining music contextually.
For example, when he conducted the "Symphony No. 10 in E minor" by Shostakovich in Elgin, he took a few minutes to explain to the audience that the piece is about living under the rule of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
"We want people to grasp the meaning of this stuff," he said.
Grams said he's aware that the future of the Hemmens Cultural Center, where the ESO plays the majority of its concerts, is up in the air. The venue has been operating at a loss of about $700,000 annually, and the city council will tackle the topic at its next strategic planning session in late June.
"If one can find a way to build a new facility, I think it would be a very interesting and exciting process. But if the community decides to go down that route, it's about doing it with quality, and not skimp in the wrong places."
Grams was chosen among 12 candidates who performed with ESO at various times starting in September 2011.
The search committee comprised five board members, four orchestra players and three staff members, said committee chairman Harry Blizzard. Grams was the players' unanimous choice, he said.
Music directors also must focus on fundraising and forging relationships within the community, Blizzard said.
"We feel that Andrew will be able to do that. He's an exciting young man. He's only 35, and he's just a fine person," he said.
"We're very pleased to have the orchestra being so strongly for him. And the rest of us who will be working with him, we are very pleased as well."