Dallas Symphony dynamo

by Wayne Lee Gay, music critic of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Conductor Andrew Litton, sitting in his office at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, has just opened, for the first time, the score of Ronald Catalbiano's Preludes, Fanfares and Toccatas for Orchestra.

"Looks pretty rhythmic," he says. "Percussion's going to be awfully busy."

His enthusiasm grows as he leafs through the music, drinking it in with his eyes.

"Neato! Wonderful! I can't wait."

He'll conduct the world premiere of the work, written by a former classmate at Juilliard, on November 9, [1995] as part of his second season as music director of the Dallas Symphony. Meanwhile, he'll open the Dallas Symphony's subscription season on Thursday, then come over to Fort Worth on Sept. 10 in a completely different role, as guest pianist with the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth.

At 36, he's the youngest music director at a major American orchestra. Despite his relative youth, the personable Litton has already left his mark on the Dallas music scene. He has shifted the orchestra's musical programming to reflect specific themes (such as this fall's emphasis on Russian composers), and taken an interest in educational programming unheard of under his predecessor in the post, the late Eduardo Mata.

Born and reared in New York, Litton set his sights on a career in conducting from the age of 10, while focusing his instrumental studies on the piano. While still in his 20s, he became principal conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony in England and guided its emergence as one of Europe's leading orchestras.

After one year back in America, he readily compares conducting in Europe with conducting in America.

"The biggest challenge here is the wide range of a job," he says. "I come from a European directorship, where all you do is conduct. In an American job, you do much more administrative work and much more fund raising. The job is 40 percent music and 60 percent administration."

He keeps close ties with the Bournemouth Symphony as conductor emeritus; he continues to conduct that orchestra several weeks every year, and is currently in the midst of recording the major orchestral works of 20th-century British composer William Walton.

"I still love working with that orchestra," he says. "We left on very good terms. I appointed a lot of the musicians in that orchestra. It's fun to work with them without being the boss."

Though he's keeping close ties with the Bournemouth Symphony, Litton has made it clear that Dallas is now home. He has bought a house in north Dallas, which he shares with his wife, Jayne, a former member of the violin section at Bournemouth. This spring, while visiting Fort Worth to attend a recital by pianist Andre Watts, Litton had the quintessentially Texas experience of having his car severely damaged by a storm. Fortunately, he isn't going to let that experience keep him from coming back to Fort Worth.

And, he and his wife are expecting their first child in December - "the first Texan Litton," he says.

Litton says that the bonding between him and the Dallas Symphony has been more rapid than he had hoped for.

"I came into the job saying that it takes two years to become a team," he says. "But we've already reached a more advanced stage after just one year. We can exchange looks, and know just what to do."

The programming for the upcoming season reflects some of Litton's special philosophies, with the first half emphasizing Russian music and the second half the Austro-German tradition.

"There's a challenge in programming," he says. "Most of the subscribers come to only seven of the 21 concerts. I wanted to touch all of the different audiences with a common musical element. And I wanted to focus the musicians on a particular style."

Conducting opera is a major interest of Litton's - he's looking forward to conducting a new production of Richard Strauss' Salomeat the English National Opera in London next spring - and he has integrated operas in concert form into the Dallas Symphony's subscription series.

He has also introduced talking from the podium as part of the format of some symphony concerts, and plans to further refine that practice in January when he presents a concert made up of a lecture-demonstration of Mahler's Sixth Symphony (a complex but appealing work), followed by a standard uninterrupted performance of the same piece after intermission.

And children's programming is becoming a major thrust for the orchestra under Litton. Last year's youth-oriented videotaped program for the A&E cable channel will be followed by two more this year, to be taped on a single weekend at the end of September.

He has other ambitions for the ensemble that has becomes "Andrew Litton's orchestra." He wants to enlarge the orchestra stage at the 6-year-old Meyerson Symphony Center to accommodate a larger orchestra. Now, he points out, the stage is too small to hold all the performers needed for some of the major large orchestral works he wants to do, such as Mahler's Eighth Symphony, or a concert version of the opera Salome.

He also wants to expand the orchestra's personnel. "We're the smallest major orchestra in America," he says. And he wants to take the orchestra on tour more. To that end, he will perform with the orchestra at Carnegie Hall in November, and he is making plans for a major European tour in 1997.

This week, however, he's spending extra time at the piano in preparation for his Fort Worth appearance as a chamber music collaborator. This particular engagement came about through his friendship with violinist Robert Davidovici, the director of the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth. Davidovici is concertmaster of the Vancouver Symphony, where Litton is a frequent guest conductor. When Davidovici asked Litton to perform in Fort Worth as a pianist in a chamber music setting, Litton gladly agreed.

"I try and do this sort of thing, otherwise I won't practice," Litton says. "It's important as a conductor to keep playing, and to remember how hard it is to play an instrument."

Originally printed on September 3, 1995 in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and reprinted with their permission.
Copyright © 1995 Fort Worth Star-Telegram. All rights reserved.