The end is in the beginning

I’m often struck by how the threads of my life seem to come together in funny and surprising ways.

In the midst of getting up to speed on the coming run of concerts, I’ve also had to do a fair bit of planning and preparation for my final three concerts with the Oregon East Symphony. In the past week, that’s included sending off the bowings for Mahler 5, which we are doing on March 1st,  sent off a list of preparation notes to our chorus master for the Mozart Requiem, which we’re doing in April, and been working on the final details of the program for my last concert at the beginning of next season in October.

Even as I was picking my last program and final piece with the orchestra (well, my last as MD- never say never), I was reminded of what was almost my first piece with them- the Brahms D major Serenade, which I am conducting with the Lancashire Chamber Orchestra next month. At the time OES asked me to conduct it, I said a firm no, as I thought it was way too difficult for the orchestra at that time (I’d heard them once at that point). From saying no to that heavenly Brahms Serenade to doing Mahler 5 on a tight rehearsal schedule is long, long journey.

Also coming up is another piece that figured importantly in my early years with the OES- Dvorak 9, which I’m going to be doing with the HSO in March. The last time I did Dvorak 9 was my second year at the OES, as part of a program that I rather consciously decided was going to be a new kind of OES concert. I had gone to some lengths to put together a blockbuster combination of program and soloist, and we worked especially hard in rehearsals. I worked especially hard at home on the Dvorak, and I can tell now- even 8 years later, it’s deep in my bones. I  try to put my heart and soul into every piece I do, but when you come back to something and you feel like it is imprinted in your DNA, you can’t help but kick yourself for not getting to that point with every piece.

We’re close to finalizing the program for that very last OES concert. This close to the end, everything has a bit of meaning- the Mahler will be a summing up of our incredible adventure with his music the last four years, Beethoven 2 will complete our Beethoven cycle, the Mozart Requiem is something the chorale have been asking me to do for many years and I’m finally ready to return to. That gets us to the end of this year. That final concert next year? Things could change, but I’m hoping to end with Schumann 2, because it feels right- the orchestra has never done a Schumann symphony (YIKES!), and I can’t entrust the breaking of that seal to the next conductor. I’m also toying with either opening with a commission if we can find the cash, or doing the Mozart Paris Symphony I did on my very first concert, so long ago…..

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

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