When patrons of the Opus Ball gather in the Orpheum Theater on Saturday to raise funds for the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, they’ll have plenty to celebrate.
Not only will they be toasting the season in which the LPO returned to its home venue, they’ll also be marking the orchestra’s 25th anniversary and the 10th anniversary of its resident conductor.
Founded in 1991 by musicians from the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra, which had just folded, the resurrection of the LPO reads like a Cinderella story. Many accounts of its rebirth compared it to the mythical Phoenix bird ascending from the ashes of its own destruction.
But that wouldn’t be the only time the orchestra would have to regroup. Fourteen years later, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, most of the musicians evacuated. Flooding from levee breaks inundated the Orpheum, rendering it inoperable for 10 years.
Just a week or so before Katrina, a new, young music director/resident conductor arrived in New Orleans to assume his duties. A new season was about to begin but, because of the storm, 38-year-old Carlos Miguel Prieto’s debut on the podium did not happen on schedule.
Determined to bring the musicians and the music back to New Orleans as quickly as possible, Prieto worked closely with several equally determined orchestra members to reach out to those others who were scattered far and wide. It took about eight months but, when the LPO reassembled for its first post-Katrina concert at Tulane University, it was a major triumph for both the orchestra and for Prieto.
Prieto will be feted at the Opus Ball for his 10th season as the Adelaide Wisdom Benjamin Music Director and Principal Conductor. In his honor, the LPO will perform some of his favorite works. These include Jose Pablo Moncayo’s “Huapango,” Arturo Marquez’s “Danzon No. 2” and a new piece written especially for the 2016 Opus Ball by renowned Mexican composer Samuel Zyman, titled “Rebirth,” a tribute to both the orchestra and its home theater.
Zyman’s new composition will feature Prieto’s father, famed cellist Carlos Prieto Sr., a frequent collaborator with Yo-Yo Ma.
Reflecting on some of the highlights of his decade with LPO, the Mexican-born Prieto cited the performance of eight symphonies by Mahler and Shostakovich, all nine symphonies of Beethoven and several memorable performances of contemporary works. But the most significant highlight he cited was working with the LPO itself.
“This is a proud and heroic orchestra,” Prieto said. “This anniversary and this gala is about the LPO. My high points are all orchestra-related.
“I have learned a lot from the LPO musicians,” Prieto continued. “The collaborative model we have suits my personality and allows for the creativity of individual music to shine through. I cannot tell you how many pieces I have learned and incorporated into my repertoire thanks to musicians’ suggestions. They are a joy to work with.”
Prieto also spoke of plans to celebrate New Orleans’ tricentennial during the 2017-18 season. “This opens up an infinite number of possibilities, given the rich past of this amazing city and the incredible talent of its musicians. I want to learn different styles and idioms from musicians and I hope we can collaborate with as many as we are imagining.
“This orchestra has been an essential part of the life of the city, and a cultural beacon after Katrina,” Prieto said. “We must find more and better ways to support the marvelous musicians who have chosen to make New Orleans their home.”
Over the two nights prior to the gala, Prieto will be conducting the LPO through a concert titled “An American Spring” in both New Orleans and Covington. The program will include the suite from Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”; Carl Schimmel’s contemporary composition, “Woolgatherer’s Chapbook”; and selected songs from George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess,” sung by a trio of local singers and a choir.
Soprano Jonita Lattimore, tenor Dwayne Clark and bass Alvy Powell, all of whom have sung in locally staged performances of “Porgy and Bess,” will be joined on stage by the Xavier University Chorus.
Prieto will present a free pre-concert talk at 6:30 p.m., one hour prior to both concerts.