THE BLOG
09/18/2014 10:40 am ET Updated Nov 18, 2014

Tito Munoz and the Phoenix Symphony

The summer is over and it is time to get back to making contact with the world again. And I am right in time as it is the start of the new concert season.

In my brief absence the music world continues to go quite gaga with youth. Many major orchestras are now under the control and directorship of the new generation.
The hope seems to be that these relative youngsters will bring a vitality to the classical music scene that hasn't been present in the recent past. It certainly worked in the past with Lenny becoming the new darling upon his debut as the result of the illness of Bruno Walter, and in our time there is the Dudamel effect producing its charms in LA-he who was proclaimed a conducting "stud" by its former youthful director Salonen, who is no conducting slouch himself. There are the new youthful directors in Philadelphia with Nézet-Séguin, Seattle with Morlot, and the newest in Boston with Nelsons. Gilbert, who directs the New York Philharmonic, must be feeling like an old-timer.

But this is all to let you know that there is another newbie that you may not have heard about down in my neck of the woods, and that would be Tito Munoz, who is beginning his first season in a few days with the Phoenix Symphony.

Tito, New York born and bred, comes to the Southwest to start his first state-side directorial position. His street creds are strong. He currently serves as Music Director of the Opéra National de Lorraine and the Orchestre symphonique et lyrique de Nancy, and his previous appointments have included a three-year tenure as Assistant Conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Hopefully his work with these latter two orchestras, among the best in the world, has given him a good sense of just how good an orchestra can be. He is smart, precocious, full of energy, well-spoken, and ready to hit the road running. While programming for his first season is pretty safe (I am sure much of its creation by necessity predated his appointment, and thus was done without his input), there are some nice inclusions of newer music, including Morton Gould's Spirituals, an infrequently played piece, and a relatively new saxophone concerto by Jennifer Higdon.

I know the orchestra pretty well having been its composer-in-residence in the early nineties, when the orchestra was then under the direction of the youthful James Sedares. At that time, and since then and into the present, the orchestra has gone through the usual struggles of a relatively new orchestra in a youthful and burgeoning area of the country, where golf is given more credence than high-class music. The orchestra is a good one, with a strong sense of the lyrical line and a historically full and rich string sound. Under Sedares the orchestra produced many fine recordings for the Koch label, bettering its attention to rhythmic clarity, and bringing national and international plaudits, all well deserved. It should also be noted that together we programmed a slew of new music in the regular concert series, played real new music in educational concerts, and created a new music series. And take note orchestra managers, artistic directors, music directors, board members, and especially marketers- Ticket sales went up- I repeat- TICKET SALES WENT UP!!

As I wish Tito well in his first season, and hope that he and the Phoenix Symphony thrive, I hope that he will take as his example for the future the orchestras of the West Coast. For at least two decades, Seattle under the leadership of Gerard Schwartz, San Francisco with Michael Tilson Thomas, and Los Angeles under Essa-Pekka Salonen and now Dudamel, have championed and integrated the music of our time, and particularly that by Americans, into their programming. The orchestras play it great and audiences dig it. Phoenix has done its share but now should become a true Western American orchestra that champions the music of composers of this land and time. Most acting companies wouldn't be caught dead with more than half of their offerings being by dead guys. Why should orchestras be any different. Go to it Tito!