Denver latest stop for conductor Litton

by Marc Shulgold

The Dallas Symphony is still coming to grips with the fact that its longtime music director Andrew Litton is stepping down at the end of next season. 

But Litton is feeling quite good about it — even though he's not sure what he'll be doing next. Check that. He is sure of one thing: He'll be chasing Rainbow.

"We just got this golden retriever puppy, who's about 10 weeks old. Right now, we're seriously into house-training. Progress is slow."

Beyond the pleasures (and perils) of home life, there is much that awaits Litton, who returns to the Colorado Symphony podium this weekend with a mostly Romantic program in Boettcher Hall.

"I announced I was leaving fairly early — about a year ago — so that gives them a chance to launch a search. And it gives me a chance to decide what I want to do when I grow up."

He's only kidding. Litton knows he wants to be a conductor. But where that leads him is open to question at this point.

Since 1994, he's led the Dallas Symphony, improving its sound, its attendance and its prospects for the future. But he's done a lot more, heading the Minnesota Orchestra's Sommerfest, serving as laureate of the Bournemouth Symphony in southern England (currently headed by the CSO's Marin Alsop) and last year becoming the first American principal conductor of the Bergen Philharmonic in Norway.

All of those affiliations probably will remain on his résumé, he said. In fact, he's taking the Bergen Phil on a European tour this year.

"They've been around since 1765," he said of the Norwegian ensemble. "It's been a wonderful relationship. They want me to stay on longer - but then, I know the words to that song."

He's enjoyed his time in Dallas, Litton said, issuing the usual "time for a change" statement as his reason for leaving. During that tenure, he played a major role in raising the profile of the orchestra through recordings, European tours and four visits to Carnegie Hall.

Audiences have responded to his podium presence, the conductor said. "When I do CD signings at malls, everyone says, 'Oh, please don't leave.' That's very gratifying."

Most gratifying of all, he added, was the relationship he's developed with the orchestra. "I'm so proud of them," he said of his players. "I feel like a parent."

In fact, the players were the main attraction when he accepted the offer to become music director in Dallas a decade ago. "The quality of the musicians - that has always been my criteria," he said, adding that he ended up as the unanimous choice to become music director.

Now, things have changed. Sure, he'll remain a fixture with the Dallas Symphony, leading them again during a summer engagement at the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival in July.

But there's something new on the horizon. "Opera is what I really want to do," the conductor acknowledged. "I love working with a (stage) director. The collaborative aspects of opera appeal to me. Plus, it's nice to be able to spend six weeks in one place." At the end of this year, he'll conduct Britten's Billy Budd at English National Opera.

Also on his wish list is pursuing a passion for bringing classical music to kids. "It's long been a dream of mine. I've done four TV shows for young people during my time in Dallas. And I want to do more of that. I'd love to produce shows that would be seen in the schools," he said. "Right now I'm in active discussion about this."

Sounds like Litton fancies himself as a Leonard Bernstein-styleteacher. "Absolutely," he replied. "It was Lenny's Young People's Concerts that first inspired me. I'm a conductor because of them."

He's not only interested in youthful listeners, but youthful musicians as well. "I've been enjoying that a lot," he said of the National Young People's Orchestra that he directs in Great Britain.

Still in his mid-40s, Litton is wide open to suggestions. He's even toying with the idea of moving back to England.

"If the right situation came along, I would consider moving there. My wife, Jayne, is English (she was a violinist in the Bournemouth Symphony), but both our kids were born in Texas. So, it would be a tough decision."

And that's not even taking Rainbow the golden retriever into consideration.

Originally printed in the Rocky Mountain News on January 27, 2005.
Copyright © 2005 Rocky Mountain News. All rights reserved.