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Symphony NH Selects New Music Director

Stan Sholick

Symphony New Hampshire announced Monday that Roger Kalia will be the new music director for the orchestra.

The 96-year old symphony, based in Nashua, had been searching for a new leader for over a year. Kalia currently serves as the music director for Orchestra Santa Monica, the Lake George Music Festival and Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra in California. He joins me in the studio now.

So what excites you most about this new role that you're stepping into?

I'm really excited about working with such dedicated and talented musicians. It's a wonderful group of people here in New Hampshire. I've spent the last four years in Southern California so I'm really excited to be back on the East Coast which is really meaningful to me. And it's a part of the country that has so much potential in terms of doing great collaborations with the orchestra and the blending of different art forms. So I'm really excited about getting to know the community in particular.

What challenges do you think orchestras are facing today?

I would say the biggest challenge is the declining audiences. A lot of people I think find the symphony experience boring, a little stuffy. And I think part of my role is to show that the orchestral experience is alive -- it's really vibrant. And the first question I get asked often is, 'What do I wear to a symphony concert?' You could wear whatever you want and you don't have to get dressed up. You can; it could be a special experience where you get dressed up. But for me it's about the overall experience, which is about the music and removing that invisible barrier between the audience and the stage.

So for instance I really like to engage audiences. I'll speak from the stage, tell them what to listen for. And it's not about what you know. You should go in there with a blank slate. It doesn't matter. You listen to the music however you like. And that's my whole kind of mission is to show that music is for everybody and that you don't have to have a particular agenda to listen to a Mozart symphony. We need to reach out to a broader public. We have great audience members already. But can we attract for example a younger audience. And as a relatively young conductor, I like to think that I could help bring that to the orchestra, Symphony New Hampshire in particular.

Well can you tell us a little bit about what strategy you might adopt to get younger people to come to the symphony?

Absolutely. For me, outreach is a big thing. So when I see outreach I mean things where we are involving the greater public. That might involve something I actually actually established out in California with my orchestra -- they're called Symphony Happy Hours. A few days before the concert performance we will talk about the music. They'll be maybe a restaurant or a cafe or a bar. There are a lot of good breweries in Nashua. One thing I would love to do: A Symphony Happy Hour at a brewery. We have a beer involved or a few beers, maybe something that relates to the music of a concert. And basically it's a very informal relaxed vibe where I talk to the audience about the music, get to know the audience, get to tell them about the organization. And it's a great way just to meet people and to show that the symphony experience can be kind of a hip experience it's not stuffy it's really vibrant and fresh.

What about young musicians? What plans do you have to bring young musicians into the symphony?

You know there's so many ways. One of the great things about being a conductor and I feel it's a really important mission, maybe the most important, are the family and educational concerts that we do. One of the great things about these education concerts is that you can develop a narrative around it. So for example, a concert I recently did involved outer space. We did the music of John Williams’ Star Wars, we did Gustaf Holst The Planets and we had images on a screen of the planets, I actually conducted with a light saber if you can believe it, and I think people thought it was kind of neat to see a conductor with a light saber. And I'm still taking the music as serious as possible, but it brings an element of spontaneity. Like this is a conductor and these are musicians who really are living for the music.

You're taking the music seriously without taking yourself seriously.

That's a great way of putting it.

So we have Symphony New Hampshire's 2019-2020 schedule, but I want to hear from you about what you are really looking forward to this next season.

The one thing I think that I'm really looking forward to is the variety of music that the orchestra is performing -- everything from the great warhorses Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2, to the music of Frank Sinatra and Broadway. You know there is something for everyone this season. And the last thing I would say that I really want to highlight our musicians. The musicians are fantastic. They're dedicated, they're virtuosic. And this season I think really highlights their musicality.

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