A bright future awaits the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, as it welcomes its new Music Director Nathalie Stutzmann. The acclaimed French conductor and contralto singer, who also concurrently guests with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra and leads the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra in Norway, will conduct the ASO in concert on Oct. 13 and 14. She joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about the special kinship she’s always felt with the Atlanta orchestra, and the music they’re about to perform together for the first time.
Stutzmann began her collaboration with the Atlanta Symphony as guest conductor for a digitally streamed concert in December of 2020 and says she felt an instant connection with this particular group of musicians. “Music is such a language. It’s such an exchange of energy between the conductor and the orchestra. When you come for the first time as a guest conductor like I came here in Atlanta… you have one hundred people in front of you that you never met,” said Stutzmann. “I felt immediately that the kind of work I love to do, which is very intense, very demanding, but totally devoted to music, was actually what they were looking for, and that’s what I love with them.”
The orchestra will benefit from Stutzmann’s virtuosity in several areas of music, rare among conductors; she’s an accomplished singer, as well as a pianist, violinist, cellist, and bassoon player. In particular, Stutzmann feels that singing serves as an excellent tool in her conducting work. “I think it’s one of the greatest helps I have, is my voice,” she said. “I can share what I learned all my life, how to shape my instrument to the musicians, so I can easily, instead of describing things with words, just sing a phrase with the emotions, the colors I’m looking for, and they immediately understand.”
As principal guest conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra as well as chief conductor of the Kristiansand Orchestra in Norway, it’s easy to wonder how Stutzmann finds the time. Though a challenge, the maestra stressed that having orchestras on both continents is the way she likes it. “For a conductor, we love to have a home, and we love to have orchestras as families,” said Stutzmann. “For me, it is important to keep an orchestra in Europe because I think every school, every sound, every habit is different, and I think what the musicians here in Atlanta like is also that I am bringing this experience that I have from Europe, and they bring me the experience they have from America.”
Stutzmann is the second woman ever to lead a major American orchestra and the first female conductor for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. “We have to think about all communities… It’s our duty, also, to open the doors and open the repertoire,” said Stutzmann. “I’m very happy tonight to conduct a concerto from Missy Mazzoli, who is a young American female composer…. It’s a work that I co-commissioned with my orchestra in Norway, and I am so happy to bring here.”
Though excited to bring the work of Mazzoli and other underrepresented talents to her audiences, Stutzmann expressed a cautious perspective on inclusivity for its own sake. “There is a danger to think that we are going to perform female composers because they are female composers,” she said. “As a conductor, I don’t want to be hired because I am a woman, I want to be hired for my work. To be a maestro is a profession, is a position, is a function. It’s the same for the composers; if I hire, if I play a work of a new female composer, it’s because I think it’s great.” As such, Mazzoli’s contribution will be unapologetically accompanied by masters of the classical canon, Verdi and Tchaikovsky.
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performs Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 5,” Verdi’s Overture to “La Forza del Destino,” and Missy Mazzoli’s “Dark with Excessive Bright” Oct. 13 and 14 at 8 p.m. Tickets and more information are available at www.aso.org/events/detail/stutzmann-conducts-tchaikovskys-fifth.