Virginia Symphony Orchestra names Eric Jacobsen new music director
By AMY POULTER
JUN 02, 2021 AT 12:01 PM
NORFOLK — In April 2019, the Virginia Symphony Orchestra announced its longtime music director, JoAnn Falletta, was leaving after 29 years with the organization.
The search for a new director began but, in musical terms, last year was the fermata that seemingly had no end.
The long pause is over, and the VSO has named its new music director — Eric Jacobsen, a 38-year-old cellist and conductor. He begins his tenure July 1.
Jacobsen has a talent for mixing classical canon and moving works by undiscovered composers. Jacobsen — who also serves as music director for the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and the Greater Bridgeport Symphony in Connecticut — calls it framing, and considers it his biggest programming challenge. He likens it to creating the perfect dinner plate.
“Everyone knows that a New York strip steak or a filet mignon is going to be delicious,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday. “But what else is on that plate with that so that it’s different than the last time you had it?”
In other words, how do you spice up shows where the centerpiece is a beloved Berlioz or Bach? Jacobsen likes to sprinkle in a bit of the unknown, slyly introducing audiences to new compositions in a way that makes them feel familiar.
“It’s borderline green eggs and ham, right?” Jacobsen said.
Food analogies aside, Jacobsen said his relationship with the VSO happened organically. It wasn’t until he was invited back in March 2020 to guest conduct that he realized it was part of the organization’s search.
“That was even more exciting,” he said. “I wasn’t just me loving this orchestra, it was going in both directions. There was a symbiotic thing going on.”
The search attracted more than 100 candidates and was chaired by Michael McClellan and his wife, Andria.
“The joy he has for making music is contagious,” Michael R. McClellan said in a news release about Jacobsen. “I believe his approach to collaboration and making concerts fun experiences will energize a new generation of musically curious audiences.”
Jacobsen said he’s thrilled to get the job and pick up where Falletta left off. He does have big shoes to fill, and he’s not reluctant to admit that. Her strong leadership led to great stability within the organization and community, “so much clarity and a lot of love,” he said.
“Really, the next steps are just about where is it going from here and how big can this grow,” he said.
VSO President and CEO Karen Philion echoed Jacobsen’s sentiments.
“We now look forward to building on our success and momentum,” Philion said in the news release. “Eric’s innovative vision, musical curiosity, and boundless energy are in perfect alignment with this moment, and with the VSO’s commitment to serve the entire community in new and exciting ways.”
In addition to his music director roles, Jacobsen is also a member of the Silk Road Ensemble founded by Yo-Yo Ma and a founding member of the string quartet Brooklyn Rider, dubbed “one of the wonders of contemporary music” by the Los Angeles Times.
Jacobsen said he’s excited to experiment with the performance format and programming and bring in new fans. It’s a hefty task for any music director, he said, and the effort doesn’t stop when people buy a ticket and sit down in the concert hall.
The concert itself needs to be “more than bait.”
“It’s gotta be more like hook, line and sinker,” he said. “We have to show them that coming in was worth their time, and it’s worth their time to come back.”
In any good concert, Jacobsen said there should be a moment where time bends just slightly. When the music is piercing and creates vulnerability. When, without words, the musicians communicate at the deepest level. That only happens when conductors and musicians are willing to take risks and let their guard down, Jacobsen said.
“You’ve got to be willing to expose yourself and then something can happen where the audience is able to feel something meaningful.”
Amy Poulter, 757-446-2705, email@example.com