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Alexander Mickelthwate named philharmonic music director designate

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The Oklahoma City Philharmonic's new music director designate, Alexander Mickelthwate.
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OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma City Philharmonic concertgoers may hear some new sounds in the not too distant future under the orchestra’s new music director.

The Oklahoma City Philharmonic Society announced Monday that Alexander Mickelthwate will be “music director designate” beginning with the 2017-2018 season. In June, 2018, the “designate” will be taken off, and Mickelthwate will be full successor to Joel Levine, the philharmonic’s music director for 29 seasons. Levine will keep the music director title in 2017-2018 and conduct three concerts, including the all-orchestral finale. Mickelthwate will also conduct three concerts, and guest conductors will lead two programs.

Philharmonic executive director Eddie Walker said in a release that Mickelthwate was the search committee’s unanimous choice. Oklahoma City will be Mickelthwate’s main position, but he will also finish his final season in Winnipeg in 2017-2018, Walker said.

Mickelthwate, who turns 47 in June, was born in Frankfurt, Germany, and followed the standard course of modern conductors: studied piano and cello in his youth, took international conducting courses and earned the Graduate Performance Diploma in Conducting at the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University in 1998.

He has been music director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra since 2006. He has guest conducted the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony and Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, among others. He was assistant conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and associate conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Esa-Pekka Salonen.

“I came to appreciate Alexander’s dedication and musical curiosity during his time at the Los Angeles Philharmonic,” Salonen told Red Dirt Report. “He has a strong commitment to new music, and he has done terrific things with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. I wish him the best of luck in Oklahoma City!”

In an email interview, Mickelthwate said his main responsibilities will be conducting up to seven regular and one pops concerts, as well as “be available for community engagement and fundraising.”

Mickelthwate is satisfied with the orchestra’s size and plans no immediate changes.

But audiences might notice repertory changes. Under Levine, the philharmonic performed mostly classical and romantic works of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

When asked about programming music written before 1800 and after 2000, Mickelthwate said “Some of the most beautiful music was written before 1800, everything by Mozart, Haydn, Bach, Vivaldi Four Seasons.”

“Absolutely stunning music has been written in the last 17 years and yes, I can’t wait to share some of that,” he added.

He will have to wait slightly less than a year. A concert in 2018 is scheduled to include Mothership, a 2011 work by Mason Bates for orchestra and “electronica” performed using a laptop.

Mickelthwate is committed to programming contemporary music and commissioning new work.

“New music can be absolutely mesmerizing, exciting or uplifting. And yes, I would like to program some of this,” he said.

“I would like to forge relationships with living composers where we all couldn’t wait to hear their next piece of music.”

Traditionalists should not be alarmed. Mickelthwate’s first concert will include works by Ginastera, Saint-Saëns and Sibelius. He will also conduct Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”) on other concerts in his first season.

Mickelthwate cited opera, oratorio and musical theater among the most powerful works and is eager to conduct some in concert versions with the philharmonic.

He has 15 years’ experience with pop artists whom he would like to bring to the city.

In an era of jet-setting conductors, Mickelthwate plans to reside full-time in Oklahoma City with his wife, fashion designer Abigail Camp, and their two sons. They are looking for a house.

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Larry Laneer

Larry Laneer has reviewed theater for several Oklahoma City publications.  He has...

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