After a two-year search, the Long Beach Symphony has found its new maestro: German-born conductor Eckart Preu, who is serving as music director designate until he takes on the role full time for the organization’s 2017-2018 season.
(Photograph by Caught In The Moment)
It was the positive reputation of the organization and its willingness to look to the future – plus a chance for respite from cold winters in Washington, where he is going to continue on as music director of the Spokane Symphony – that attracted the seasoned Preu to the Long Beach Symphony.
“When I did my research, I found out that a lot of the [Long Beach] orchestra musicians are first call for the studios in L.A. And the overall quality of the orchestra is really outstanding,” Preu said. “I found that this organization is really willing to explore and to do unusual things and to think out of the box.” That, he said, is how you attract new audiences.
“What is the orchestra going to be in the 21st century? I don’t think we should continue the way we did,” Preu said. Instead, symphony orchestras should make connections with other organizations to create new experiences and attract new audiences, he explained.
For example, Preu recently partnered with the Audubon Society for a symphony performance in Spokane. The musical piece involved birds, so Preu reached out to the Audubon Society to bring in bird whistlers and an exhibition of birds in the lobby. This sort of collaboration attracts people who might never have come to a symphony performance had it not been for the connection to something they care about.
“Music is an experience, and it is part of life,” Preu said. Connecting the emotional and intellectual experience of music “to organizations and to things in real life” gives music more validity and relevance to new audiences, he explained.
“Music is all about relationships,” Preu said. “The essence of the relationship is, of course, between the musician and conductor. And when that works, then you can extend that relationship to the audience.”
Eckart Preu, left, is joined by Mayor Robert Garcia and Long Beach Symphony Executive Director Kelly Ruggirello following their announcement that Preu is symphony’s new music director. (Photograph by Justin Rudd)
Aside from the time Preu spent in Long Beach auditioning and guest conducting for the Long Beach Symphony, he hasn’t spent many days here – a situation he is looking forward to remedying in the coming months. In addition to an upcoming symphony performance on February 4, Preu will be back in town for some educational concerts. He also plans to make trips to become better acquainted with the board and staff of the organization.
As music director, it is Preu’s responsibility to create the Symphony’s programming, which he intends to do in tandem with the executive director, marketing director and board.
Preu, who was born in East Germany, earned his master’s degree in conducting from the Hochschule fuer Musik in Weimar and studied for two years at the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique in Paris. He served as music director of the Orchestre International de Paris from 1993 to 1995 and subsequently won a competition that enabled him to continue his graduate studies at the Hartt School of Music in Connecticut.
Among his many past positions, from 1997 to 2004, Preu was the assistant conductor for the American Symphony Orchestra, the principal conductor of the New Amsterdam Symphony Orchestra and the associate conductor of the Richmond Symphony. He is currently the music director of the Spokane Symphony Orchestra and of the Stamford Symphony in Connecticut. He is leaving the latter position in 2017, when he starts with the Long Beach Symphony. In addition to these positions, Preu has been a guest conductor in countries around the world, including Israel, New Zealand, Bulgaria and others.