Elgin Symphony Orchestra Conductor Andrew Grams (photo by Masataka Suemitsu).
Elgin Symphony music director Andrew Grams is a young conductor known for his intensity. And why not? With a maddening guest conducting schedule and stints leading such illustrious orchestras as The Chicago Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra, and the orchestras of Baltimore, St. Louis, Dallas, and Houston—not to mention, a three year stretch as assistant conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra under the guidance of Franz Welser-Möst—Grams has had quite an intense career, already.
He finds himself constantly in demand as guest conductor and graces the Elgin Symphony as one of the most illustrious music directors in the orchestra’s history. What he loves most, it seems, is educating his audience through inventive programming spanning centuries and illuminating relationships between disparate compositions few would ever guess bore connection.
I got the chance for an interview over a brisk three-day schedule, which took his baton from podiums in Alabama to Lyon, France and found a most thoughtful conductor whose burgeoning accomplishments and probing musical intellect can only be a sign of a substantially important career ahead.
Q. As a young conductor, you have certainly made the rounds with some of the greatest orchestras on the globe. What kind of impact does that wide level of experience with musicians of such varied calibers have on a young conductor's approach to his work?
A. I feel that I've been extremely fortunate to have had experience with wide ranging levels of musical experience because I believe that knowledge of the gamut of musical ability can only aid in a conductor's role--to be a cheerleading coach of a group of musicians who are making the music.
Q. And soloists, there is certainly a give and take with concerti soloists. Young artists, especially, are taught to fight for their musical perspective when working with conductors. What does it take to build an instant musical relationship with artistic collaborators you only just met?
A. Making music with multiple musicians requires negotiation...an open mind. Someone might create something that one wouldn't principally agree with, but if it is convincing in the moment, then you might want to go along and see where one might wind up. The live performance is the most important aspect of music-making.
Q. You have said that you enjoy threading a musical connection to works composed centuries apart. Yet it takes young musicians years to really begin to understand that connection in a conservatory setting. What is it you hope the musical enthusiast takes away from an evening-length concert about these musical threads in your programming?
A. My wish to thread far-reaching musical connections takes a willingness to come on a journey that would take longer than the time of a standard concert...if I were to try to do what I envision, the concerts would be as long as, if not longer than, a full-length opera! If the musical enthusiast were [sic] to join me on a journey (a handful of concerts would suffice, but multiple seasons would provide farther-reaching connections) there would be familiar ports-of-call as well as stops at unfamiliar, but closely and recognizably, related points.
Q. And your upcoming Grant Park Music Festival program is a very intriguing one. It has some varied works, of course, but also a fair bit of precocity. What musical connections are you looking to elucidate with the June performance with the GPO in Millennium Park?
A. The program we're doing at GPMF this July exists in my mind as one with no hidden agenda....it is simply fun! The only connection I'm hoping to make is with the public in our shared love of musical enjoyment for an evening!
Q. You make your home in Solon, Cleveland, but since last fall you've held the post of music director for the Elgin Symphony. How do you like the commute?
A. Flying in ORD can be a mixed bag (heavily dependent on weather,) but, over the years, I have learned how to travel well and generally enjoy comfortable commutes to Elgin and all of the places around the world I've been extremely fortunate to visit.
Luckily, all you have to do is make the trek downtown to see Grams at work this summer when he serves as guest conductor with the Grant Park Music Festival on July 23. He's programmed a concert that's just about as varied as they come. From Mozart to Wagner to Bolcom and Stookey. There's most certainly something in there for everyone. Visit grantparkmusicfestival.com to learn more.
Clef Notes Chicagoland Journal for the Arts