Orchestra director encourages students to attend performances
“I’ll never stop being a student,” says Philip Mann, music director and conductor for the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. ““I love my job because I never stopped learning and in a sense I never left school.”
A curly-haired Rhodes scholar, Mann has performed with several orchestras and has also been praised by the BBC, who pinned him as a “talent to watch out for.” He moved to Little Rock with his family over two years ago and his wife, Tatiana Roitman, is a pianist and serves as part of the faculty in UALR’s Music Department.
It is Mann’s third season with the symphony and he says the connection between the orchestra and himself hasn’t ceased for one moment. But he sometimes misses the nostalgia and interaction he had in his previous years of schooling.
“I definitely miss my Oxford days,” he said. “I miss the camaraderie of staying up all night in practice rooms and working until you have blisters on your fingers. … I miss the kind of friendships that only those circumstances and settings could create.”
Mann also said one of his most memorable mentors was his high school English teacher, who had high standards and was difficult to please — so much that it was hard to enjoy his class.
“But looking back on it, it was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Mann said. “He made it all the time clear that to be successful in anything, particularly in academia or in life, you have to be persuasive and you have to do it with grace, elegance, and accuracy.”
Despite many reputable orchestras sinking into financial trouble, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra made efforts to survive and, according to Mann, they’ve broken their all-time attendance records in the last two years. As a result, many people are saying the heyday of the Arkansas Symphony is back and that the musicians’ collective effort has made their story among the most compelling in the country.
“Our individual contributed income has been up dramatically. People had really bought in; it’s an incredible story that is happening right now,” Mann said.
The orchestra also won in the competitive Orchestra Residencies Program, which was established by world famous violinist Midori and aims to advocate the arts and art education. Midori will perform with the ASO in April and, according to Mann, “Midori plays Tchaikovsky” is definitely the highlight. She will not only perform; she will also be holding workshops and classes to teach aspiring musicians about technique and the industry itself.
The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra launched a new performance series this year, which is known as “Intimate Neighborhood Concerts.” Mann says this is a major development for the orchestra because it marks the beginning of performances in new spaces, neighborhoods and other places the symphony hasn’t performed or been exposed to in the past. When choosing its repertoire, the orchestra looks for a balance of what they present and tries to select music from different periods and schools.
“We really like to bring people who bring something creative, unique, and special and have a very compelling presentation,” Mann said. “Our audiences are incredibly receptive and warmly generous with new artists.”
But Mann’s primary goal is show that classical music can be for everyone, just as it was in the past.
“Symphony can be for anybody and can play anything,” he said. “I think the more modern life changes … it makes classical music and experience of seeing an orchestra more and more special. Because to go into a hall that’s built for a specific purpose and concentrate on something, activate your imagination and all your viewer faculties and have all of your senses engaged – that’s a really special thing today.”
Mann says that it’s very exciting to see UALR students and young people at the ASO concerts. He encouraged UALR students to come to their concerts and come backstage to be introduces to young musicians. “We all have thousands of songs on our computers, iPods, iPhones […], but there will always be a place for live music, because nothing offers what live music does,” Mann said.”You can hear the best performance of a piece in the world in your headphones, but it pales in comparison to hearing the same piece played in person.”