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John Lamb, Published November 07 2012

Second movement: Guest conductor Zimmerman tries out for symphony

FARGO – Area classical music patrons get a look at the second candidate in the season long conductor search this weekend when Christopher Zimmerman leads the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony.

Talking last week from his home just outside of Washington D.C., Zimmerman was looking forward to learning more about the local musicians.

“It looks like a promising proposition taking it to the next step,” he said.

In his current role as musical director of the Fairfax, Va., Symphony, Zimmerman has made outreach a staple of his tenure. In addition to pre and sometimes post-concert talks, he’s led three-year-long exploration into the life and music of 21st Century Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

“I think this can really bring audiences in as well, it gives them something to hang on to above and beyond each individual concert,” he explains. “At first the audience wasn’t sure about who this guy was, why I was going on about him so much. But actually, they really got latched on to it.”

This weekend Zimmerman will lead the FM Symphony through the composer’s “Finlandia,” though he doesn’t think it is Sibelius’ best work.

“I like ‘Finlandia,’ but I would say it’s the least interesting Sibelius piece in a way,” Zimmerman says. “There’s a good reason why it’s a really successful piece. It’s kind of short, it’s very dramatic. It’s got that amazing way the hymn comes in the middle, it’s brilliant the way it slides in and slides out without presenting it on a platform.”

This weekend’s program also includes a premiere of contemporary Czech composer Sylvie Bodorova’s “Concerto of the Flowers for Violin,” which the conductor calls, “a calmer, more serene piece that builds up in the middle to a kind of diabolical cadenza.”

The final two pieces are Ravel’s “Tzigane for Violin and Orchestra” and Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 5.”

Zimmerman says if he gets the job, he would like to showcase the broad range of music he draws from.

“I would like to introduce the audience and the orchestra to a repertoire they haven’t done in a while,” he says. “People tend to think it is Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky. That’s one little period. That central core repertoire, there’s a good reason why that’s so treasured, because it’s so great. I would of course do that, but I think we can bring more to it than that.”

He cites John Adams, the Pulitzer winning composer of “On the transmigration of Souls,” a choral memorial for the victims of Sept. 11, 2001 and the operas “Nixon in China” and “Doctor Atomic,” as a source of accessible material today.

“Audiences completely take to it,” Zimmerman says of Adams’ work. “The people we’re not getting in the concert hall, they’re much more interested in John Adams than Mozart. John Adams is alive now and writing now and Mozart is a guy in a powdered wig they don’t give a damn about.”

If you go

What: Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra’s Masterworks Concert featuring guest conductor Christopher Zimmerman and soloist Moni Simenov

When: 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Festival Concert Hall, North Dakota State University

Info: Tickets are $31, $35 and $63. (701) 478-3676. www.fmsymphony.org

Online: www.fmsymphony.org


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533