Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Redlands Symphony 2016-2017 Season Preview with Ransom Wilson

photo: Kristianne Koch Riddle
By George A. Paul

When the Redlands Symphony in Southern California launches the 2016-17 season on Saturday, it will find some fresh direction at the podium, courtesy of Ransom Wilson. The ensemble’s new conductor is an Alabama native, Julliard graduate and internationally renowned flute virtuoso (who once studied under Parisian music legend Jean-Pierre Rampal).

During the 1980s, Wilson gained a reputation for interpreting minimalist composers. Since then, his multi-faceted career has encompassed several dozen albums and Grammy nods as well as founding the Solisti new York Orchestra, conducting the new York City Opera and touring Southern California alongside celebrated Irish flutist James Galway and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

Currently, Wilson teaches flute at Yale University and often leads collegiate master classes around the world. We recently checked in with Wilson via email to find out more about his background and the season ahead.

Question: What attracted you to the Redlands Symphony position and did your previous experience working with the Idyllwild Arts Academy Orchestra have any influence on your decision?
Answer: Absolutely! I fell in love with Redlands  at first sight over 15 years ago. I was driving from Ontario up to Idyllwild and I was struck by Redlands’ beauty and charm, instantly. Before long, I took the Idyllwild Arts orchestra to play in the U of R Chapel. So Redlands has been on my mind for a long time.

Q: How did you choose this season’s programs?
A: My predecessor Jon Robertson did such a great job of familiarizing the Redlands public with the pillars of Western music, that it allows me to introduce other less familiar works to complement the masterpieces. My goal is to create programs that are more varied and exciting and fun than most symphony concerts in the world.

Q: Landing a major name guest performer like Mark Isham for the Nov. 5 program, with his music for the Emmy-winning ABC series “American Crime,” is impressive. Had you worked with him before in some capacity?
A: It’s one of those unexplained coincidences  in life. The universe put us together. I had an album of his film music 25 years ago and loved it so much that I would play it at least once a week. Suddenly last spring, I got a message from a Hollywood orchestrator friend, saying that his colleague Mark Isham was looking for an ensemble to perform some of his music from “American Crime.” Needless to say, I jumped  at the chance!

Q: Since you grew up and went to school in the South, do you think that influenced your interest in classical music?
A: I was lucky to grow up in a university town, so there was good classical music available. When I showed interest in the flute, we could find  a good teacher and a good music environment. For years, I rejected being a Southerner because of certain stereotypes associated with that. But now I realize that being from the South is an essential part of who I am. I came from a small city very much like Redlands in that everyone knew everyone else. There was an important element of good manners and community support that feels very familiar here.

Q: Is there a story behind your first name?
A: In the South, there is a tradition of preserving family names by giving them as first  or middle names to children. Ransom was  my mother’s maiden name.

Q: What artists of any genre do you tend  to listen to in your leisure time?
A: Big band. I love the music of Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, et al. I often listen to that for hours at a time. I was born just after that era, but it really resonates with me.

As flutist • “Schubert/Beethoven, Schumann” (Nimbus), 2015 • “Flute Music by Les Six” (Etcetera Records), 2004 • “Mozart: Flute Sonatas” (EMI), 1994
As conductor • “Adams: Grand Pianola Music” (Angell/EMI), 1999 • “Stravinsky: Histoire du soldat” (Chesky), 1987

2016-17 SEASON
Oct. 8: Smetana, Martinù, Dvorák
Nov. 5: Isham, Puccini, Gershwin, Bloch
Jan. 21: Wilson Plays Mozart
Feb. 11: Beethoven’s Seventh
April 8: A Schubert & Schumann Cabaret
May 13: Bizet, Rimsky, Korsakov, Ravel

Where: Memorial Chapel, University of Redlands, 1200 E. Colton Ave.
When: All shows at 8 p.m.
Information: 909-587-5565,

My story originally appeared in the fall issue of Redlands Magazine

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