Versatile oboist conducts Chicago Philharmonic
Bravo Brazil! Music of Brazilian composers
Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston
7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30
Call (866) 811-4111 or visit www.chicagophilharmonic.org
Updated: September 24, 2012 4:06PM
Alex Klein as conductor?
Area audiences know him as the Chicago Symphony’s principal oboe for nine years. And many recall the summer evening in 1998 when he charmed the birds right out of the trees at the Ravinia Festival playing the Mozart Oboe Concerto, with Christoph Eschenbach conducting.
Klein left the CSO when he became afflicted with musician’s focal dystonia, a neurological condition that caused involuntary muscular contractions of his fingers, which affected his ability to play his instrument. He returned to his native Brazil and after a period which he describes as both “traumatic” and “depressing,” began to rebuild his life in music.
So Klein will be on the podium Sunday, Sept. 30, conducting the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as starring as soloist in the Oboe Concerto by the late Osvaldo Lacerda, a nationalistic composer whose music evokes the sounds of Brazil. “The concerto was written for me,” declared Klein. “(He) was my dear composition teacher and one of the people I most admired in the Brazilian music scene.”
The program is partially sponsored by the Brazilian Consulate in Chicago and the composers on the program include Antonio Carlos Gomes, who wrote in the 19th century. “He became the first in Brazil to reach international stardom,” Klein explained. The evening opens with his Overture to his opera “Il Guarany,” about the main native tribe in South America and Brazil. (A portion of this tribe’s troubled history is portrayed in the 1986 British film “The Mission.”)
Also the orchestra will play music by American-trained Liduino Pitombeira, composer-in-residence at the Paraiba Symphony, where Klein is currently chief conductor. “His music is spectacular in its imagination and use of Brazilian influences in a contemporary music setting,” Klein commented.
The program closes with its only non-Brazilian number, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto, played by Brazilian Arnaldo Cohen, currently on the faculty of Indiana University.
Asked about continuing in music as a conductor, Klein gave a surprising reply: “I actually began studying conducting at age 10, soon after I began my music studies.”
The lad studied conducting and oboe together through his teens and won conducting contests. At age 16 he became assistant conductor of the Pro-Musica Choir in Curitiba, Brazil, his home town. He spent his first two and a half years of college in Brazil, then finish his degree at Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio with conducting as his first major.
But in his early 20s his oboe career “took off,” he explained, and conducting became secondary. But he never stopped learning, playing as he did under the batons of A-list maestros from around the globe.
“I have to say that my years in the Chicago Symphony were my greatest conducting training,” he insisted. “I saw the best conductors in the world conducting their best repertory, and then felt and heard the impression they caused on musicians, what worked and how, and what made conducting really effective.”
He called Daniel Barenboim’s rehearsal technique “particularly inspiring.”
Still conducting is very different from playing an instrument. “A conductor does not produce sound,” he declared, “and must therefore count on the multiplication of the sounds and talents available.” He added, “It requires psychology as much as musicianship, if not more.”
Despite focal dystonia, however, Klein never actually stopped playing the oboe. “I engaged in much trial and error to find a way to make it work again,” he admitted, adding “I couldn’t stop listening to Beethoven in that period and thinking about how he dealt with his disability.”
Now he embraces all aspects of the music world, serving as an administrator and educator and even trying to find time to compose. “I also see that right now my greatest contribution is in upgrading Brazil’s music market, including music education in schools,” he declared.
His pride and joy is the Santa Catarina Music Festival, which has grown to be the largest and most complex music festival in Latin America. “Two hundred concerts in two weeks,” he boasted, “bringing together 5,000 talents from 35 countries.”
His newest venture is called PRIMA, which stands for program of (social) inclusion through music and the arts.
“We take the idea of a ‘systema’ of youth symphonies a step further than the phenomenal work done in Venezuela, adding bands and choirs,” he noted. The program, which works through public schools and non-government organization, seeks to develop qualities in the young players such as citizenship, discipline, teamwork, mutual respect, reaching goals and personal responsibility.
His conducting has placed him on podiums in Costa Rica, Mexico, and Portugal, and he was the first Brazilian conductor to lead Beijing’s Broadcasting Philharmonic, one of the top symphony orchestras in China.
Klein is a regular conductor at the Sunflower Music Festival in Topeka, Kansas and this year began playing as the orchestra’s principal oboe. This summer he performed at the Mozart Music Festival in Woodstock, and he is looking forward to this engagement in Evanston.
“I think it is clear what a privilege it is for me to return to Chicago,” he declared. “I am home again.”