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Rachleff passes the baton
After 23 years of working with the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, the orchestra’s principal conductor Larry Rachleff will step down following his final performance.
Rachleff’s last season with CPO closes May 24 at Pick-Staiger Hall in Evanston, Ill., with a concert showcasing classic compositions by Leonard Bernstein and Franz Schubert.
He said his career with CPO has been filled with unforgettable memories of making music and the inspiring people involved in the process. With decades overwhelmed by countless positive experiences, he said he couldn’t single out one moment as his most cherished. However, collaborating with soloists such as Chicago violinist David Perry and his wife, soprano Susan Lorette Dunn, were a few of his choice recollections.
“You listen, talk, interact, challenge and learn,” he said. “You can’t do it without an audience, musicians or the incredible geniuses who created the music to begin with.”
Rachleff said his decision to leave CPO was prompted by his increasingly complex schedule of worldwide professional obligations such as the Rhode Island Philharmonic. The orchestra needed someone who could give it more time than his life was beginning to allow, he said.
Conductor Scott Speck, who has known Rachleff for about 25 years, said he has the utmost admiration for his CPO predecessor.
“Rachleff has done some very beautiful, adventurous programming,” Speck said.
He said Rachleff’s bold song choices will be exemplified in his final CPO concert, as Schubert and Bernstein are from very different eras in
Schubert, an Austrian composer born in 1797, is often referred to as one of the early pioneers of the Romantic era in classical music. Bernstein, an American born in 1918, contrastingly approaches composition with a 20th century mindset and famously penned the musical score for “West Side Story.”
While Speck was studying at the University of Southern California to earn his master’s degree in conducting, Rachleff was a professor at the school, he said. Although he wasn’t directly studying with him, Speck said he still considers Rachleff a mentor.
Speck said Chicago’s music community knows Rachleff as being an incredibly consonant musician whose instincts as a conductor have greatly influenced the orchestra throughout the years.
“I remember being most impressed by Larry with the way he got players to listen to each other so musically,” Speck said. “That’s not something you find in every orchestra. The art of listening is sometimes very elusive, but it’s something Larry concentrates on from the beginning.”
Such natural interaction among musicians is what sets the CPO apart from other Chicago orchestras, he said. Much to the credit of Rachleff, Speck said the CPO relishes joining forces and spirits to tell their story to an audience.
He said the upcoming 2013–2014 season, titled “Romantic Impulse,” will feature an array of compositions from the romantic era. Romanticism in orchestral music, much like in art, literature and theater, depicts the powerful nature of the universe, often through one man’s humble perspective, Speck said.
The romantic era features more prominent melodies with a rich orchestral texture and lush harmonies, according to Ilya Levinson, assistant professor in Columbia’s Music Department.
Following Rachleff’s legacy, Speck said he hopes to maintain the same level of diversity in the upcoming season, balancing the beloved classics with more modern, American composers.
“I love Scott,” Rachleff said. “He’ll be able to devote what they need, and it’s not just that I wish [CPO] well, I know well is going to happen.”