For me, a symphony orchestra’s repertoire is like the menu of a great restaurant: full of tasty dishes, often from different parts of the world, prepared from exquisite ingredients. The process of creating a concert program is actually very similar to preparing a wonderful meal.
It all starts with deciding what style should dominate the musical menu. Will it be international “cuisine” or will it be concentrated on the flavours of just one country? Italian, Spanish, Russian, German or maybe French? With the WSO’s repertoire, we try not to limit ourselves to one kind of style – after all, everyone has different tastes. Often, however, the ‘menu’ for an evening of music is dominated by the music of the selected country so we can maintain a certain mood. Perhaps it’s the fiery atmosphere of Spanish music or the colors of French Impressionism. This makes it easier for the listener.
Some of my colleagues plan the repertoire in such way that the large chunks of the concert season are dedicated to the music of only one country, region or certain style. Then, for two or three months they only perform the music of handful of composers. At the WSO I prefer to offer a wider range of musical emotions. I would not like to eat, for example, only Italian dishes for several months, even though I really love them. And although I love fine cuisine, once in a while, I want a big sausage or a good juicy hamburger!
When it comes time to choose our specific dishes, an overture usually plays the role of a starter—longer or shorter, depending on the appetite.
The first course is usually a work that features a specific instrument. This creates an exciting flavor profile, thanks to the three interacting parties on stage: soloist, orchestra and conductor. Choosing that solo instrument, whether it’s violin, piano, cello or maybe clarinet – is like choosing the featured ingredient. Do I fancy meat, fish, game or maybe a vegetarian dish this time?
After a short break, we’re ready for the main course—a symphony, symphonic suite or a large-scale symphonic poem perhaps.
And finally, at the end of the “feast”, it’s time for dessert, which in a concert could be the encore. Sometimes though, you’re so wonderfully full from the main course that a dessert might spoil the overall impression. In this case we leave the listener with the excitement and emotions of what they’ve just heard and let them savor the moment.
In music, as in good cuisine, the smallest details and subtlest ingredients matter.
Symphonies, concertos, symphonic poems—they all consist of multiple parts, flavours and emotions. The conductor, like a chef, has the task of combining all these “ingredients” into one wonderful “dish”. There must be a great deal of balance here. For example, when violins play a lyrical and gentle melody, the French horns or trombones cannot play too loud at the same time. They’ll overwhelm them. After all, we don’t combine the subtle tastes of seafood with spicy cheeses or raw garlic and onions. It would destroy its delicacy. A variety of herbs and spices in music translates to an array of dynamic shades and the right amount of accents and articulation. Without this, music would be colourless and boring.
Now, the finished dish must be plated in a way that entices the perspective diner. In music it’s all about the atmosphere. The concert hall, the acoustics, and even the lighting play an important roll. Most audience members ‘listen’ with their eyes. The level of the orchestra’s involvement and interaction with the conductor and each other goes hand in hand with the overall appearance of the dish.
Then there’s the ratio of audience members to performers to think about. The atmosphere in a concert when there is one musician on stage and a thousand audience members is very different from a concert with two hundred musicians on stage and two thousand listeners. It’s like having a meal in solitude compared to enjoying dinner in a busy café.
When we have a well-prepared concert program performed in appealing surroundings and an audience full of passionate music lovers, something truly magical happens—something that involves the presence of two sides: performers and listeners.
The importance of concert program fine-tuned to the tastes of the listeners is important, but it should not be overestimated. Since I’ve started working with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, I’ve put a lot of effort into cooking something that nourishes the body and the soul. When visiting a really good restaurant, you don’t have to check what’s on the menu beforehand – you know you will eat something really wonderful. I want concertgoers to feel the same way about the WSO! Great food and great music create wonderful emotions!
I invite you to join us in the kitchen and watch our modest cooking videos on the WSO Youtube channel and try the recipes below yourself as we explore the culinary world together!
Music Director, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
Musical Pairing: Since especially the first dish is combining the flavors of both Mediterranean and Asian cuisine I thought that the story of Marco Polo in music would be a most fitting accompaniment. And the salad comes from the Venice region – Marco Polo was born here and died in Venice after completing his many fascinating journeys to the Middle East, Mongolia and China.
Here is some music from the Netflix show’s original music composed by Peter Nashel, Eric V. Hachikian as well as the main titles theme by Daniele Luppi:
For those of you who are more adventurous – I suggest a fascinating take on Marco Polo’s journey by Tan Dun in his Concerto for Orchestra after his opera “Marco Polo”: