As a challenge, it's hardly up there with becoming president and having to deal first thing with wars and economic calamity. But the Charlotte Symphony didn't give its next leader an easy start.
Months before the orchestra decided who would succeed Christof Perick, its leaders scheduled concerts for Feb. 12 and 13, 2010. They left the conductor slot open, hoping that whoever they chose as music director would be available. They went ahead and picked some lush Rachmaninoff as the main piece.
Christopher Warren-Green won the conducting job. It turned out that Friday and Saturday did fit his schedule. So, for his first concerts as director-to-be, he faced the prospect of Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2. The music is splashy and bursting with melody - but, at nearly an hour long, a test of the players and conductor.
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"Obviously, one feels a bit of pressure in a concert like this," Warren-Green said last week. "People want to see, 'What's the new guy going to be like? What's he going to do?'
"I could've been a little easier on myself and said, 'I'm going to change that program.' I just couldn't - not with this symphony. I just adore it too much."
So Rachmaninoff it is. Many conductors used to cut the expansive symphony by 10 or 15 minutes, thinking that would make it more palatable for audiences. But Warren-Green wants nothing to do with that. If he paces it correctly, he says, Rachmaninoff's music won't feel drawn-out. Instead, the symphony's passion and exuberance will take over.
"I think the entire symphony is a phenomenal declaration of... the pure joy of love, the joy of life," Warren-Green says. "This symphony should have everybody leaving the hall thinking that's how the world should be."
Of course, when the music ends, Warren-Green will step into the real world of the Charlotte Symphony, which has struggled with deficits for years. Though he doesn't take over as music director until summer, he already leads the planning for next season.
Next season's lineup
The schedule is still taking shape. But enough is firm to show the outline.
"First, we have to build the audience," Warren-Green says.
"My main thrust, over the first season especially, is to lead the audience into coming away from the concert hall and thinking, 'Wow, that was something we really enjoy.' We want them to come back and bring more people with them."
His strategy harks back to what he has done with the London Chamber Orchestra, the group Warren-Green leads in his native England. He built one recent season around Beethoven's nine symphonies - pairing them with works by the musical titan's friends and colleagues.
Rather than aiming for a season-long focus in Charlotte, Warren-Green is giving themes to individual programs. One, sure enough, will spotlight Beethoven and friends. In homage to the role of Scots in Charlotte's history, another will feature music inspired by their native land - such as Mendelssohn's "Scottish" Symphony.
He hopes the concerts' themes will intrigue people who may not have attended before. He says he wants them to think: "'Oh, maybe this is something I could enjoy.'"
The season will start with a pair of programs introducing the new music director - "where I'm coming from and where I'm coming to," Warren-Green says.
So the opening, Sept. 24 and 25, will look to his English homeland through the music of Edward Elgar. The second program, Oct. 8 and 9, will hold Dvorak's "New World" Symphony and other music rooted in the United States.
Raising his profile
One of the orchestra's goals for its new leader is for him to become its standard-bearer in the community.
One of Warren-Green's first steps will be to lead concerts on all its series. He'll conduct a Gershwin program on the Pops series. He'll face the humidity by leading a Summer Pops concert at SouthPark. He'll lead the Halloween program on the Lollipops series for young people - partly in hopes that he can lure the parents into coming to nighttime concerts.
As another outreach to concert-hall newcomers, Warren-Green and the orchestra are planning a new series at the Knight Theater. Taking advantage of its coziness, they aim for it to be more casual - maybe including discussion back and forth between the stage and the audience.
'It's great music'
Warren-Green wants the orchestra's performances to become "events rather than just concerts," he says.
"It does not change in any shape or form the artistry that goes on. But it will maybe appeal to some people who ... are a little not sure about what (going to a concerts) is.
"I worry intensely when people say, 'I don't know anything about music.' There isn't anything to know. It's great music. If you didn't enjoy it, then I've got it wrong."