Arts: Spoleto Festival Orchestra
A Q&A with music director Emmanuel Villaume
Emmanuel Villaume celebrates his 10th season as Spoleto’s music director for opera and orchestra with a must-see concert, presenting Richard Strauss’ epic tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra and Maurice Ravel’s intoxicating La Valse. While the former may not ring a bell, the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey probably does. Believe it or not, this orchestral blockbuster, written in 1896, lasts longer than the popular two-minute opening. Here, composer and associate professor of music Edward Hart talks with the lauded conductor about the concert:
Q: Is being able to program orchestral works you love one of the best parts of the job?
A: Absolutely! It’s great to have the freedom to choose works that you have always wanted to do. This is the case with La Valse, as it will be the first time I’ve conducted it.
Q: When selecting a concert program, do public tastes play a role?
A: The audience in Charleston expects interesting and challenging concerts. I feel that, over time, we have built a level of trust that allows us to take some chances, knowing our audience believes we will present works at a high level. It’s also important to pick music that interests the young musicians in our orchestra.
Q: How did you decide on Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra and Ravel’s La Valse, which are two wonderful orchestral works that make a very interesting pairing.
A: In a way, all the works on the program are related, including Johann Strauss' Overture to Die Fledermaus and Weber’s Overture to Der Frieschütz. La Valse is a French composer’s retrospective view of the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, represented by its most famous dance, the waltz. Die Fledermaus and Also Sprach Zarathustra represent the apex of this culture, while Der Frieschütz, an earlier work, set the stage for all Germanic Romanticism.
Q: Is there anything that the audience should know before the concert? Should they listen to the music in advance?
A: Well, there is no exam after the concert! It is the musicians’ responsibility to reach the audience. I hate that some people are intimidated by classical music or feel that they don’t know enough to enjoy it. Music should be a language that you understand even if you don’t speak it. It’s certainly okay to listen to the music in advance, but the immediacy of the concert is most important.
Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra
May 31, Monday, 7:30 p.m.
Gaillard Auditorium, 77 Calhoun St.
Photograph by William Struhs; Courtesy of Spoleto Festival USA