The music of a philharmonic isn’t just an auditory experience, but an invitation to be transported to realms of human expression that words alone struggle to capture. The intertwining melodies, harmonious crescendos and meticulous performances of each instrument create a symphonic landscape that evokes a spectrum of feelings, weaving sonic tales that resonate across time and culture.
As part of Oklahoma’s flourishing cultural landscape, the Oklahoma City Philharmonic enriches the city through its orchestral melodies. In 2018, Alexander Mickelthwate became its second music director, bringing fresh energy to the orchestra’s artistic legacy. This year, he undertakes his sixth season with the orchestra.
“I try to create programs based on ideas and stories with a common thread by nationality,” Mickelthwate said. “This season is about humanity, and we (started) Sept. 9 with our Tchaikovsky program. The evening (began) with an emotional and romantic violin concerto featuring Anastasiya Petryshak, a violin soloist from Ukraine. The second half (featured) Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, which many people think is his most personal, intimate and emotional work.”
Creating a program that will resonate with OKC listeners takes time and preparation, and the music director and a committee discuss and evaluate potential concert lineups well in advance.
“The philosophy is to go into the community and create projects rooted in Oklahoma and the 21st century,” Mickelthwate said. “As a music director, I have to be very sensitive to what others say and recommend. I try to have a variety of small and large works, contemporary and classical, and combine them with traditional works around modern themes and ideas.”
Assembling programs is just one part of the puzzle for Mickelthwate. The conductor also assumes three pivotal responsibilities when orchestrating the ensemble. “I try to develop a personal relationship with everyone,” Mickelthwate said. “It is like being a CEO of a company. If issues need to be discussed about artistry or within a section, they are discussed … The second part is trying in the rehearsal process to connect with the orchestra so they are aware of the conductor and when to look up. The third is ensuring that the emotional output and the presence of the conductor are felt and seen.”
The conductor’s role also extends to captivating the audience and holding their focus by striving to convey a piece’s emotion and significance. “A conductor is a really good actor,” Mickelthwate said. “But what does a really good actor do? Is he or she a showman? Do they pretend, or are they becoming more and more themselves in the moment? You have no awareness that anyone is looking at you.”
For the season in progress, the Oklahoma City Philharmonic is presenting a lineup of 18 captivating programs, from classical compositions to Broadway hits. The maestro placed particular emphasis on two not-to-be-missed performances in 2024: “Glorious Life” on March 23, and “Pines of Rome” on April 20.
In “Glorious Life,” American composer Christopher Theofanidis crafts a musical portrayal of the Tibetan Buddhist concept of rainbow body — when a master achieves full realization and transcendence, merging with eternal light upon death. Georgian composer Giya Kancheli’s viola concerto evokes the River Styx myth that bridges our world and the Underworld. And Richard Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration guides listeners through earthly struggles and ascension into heaven in depicting an artist’s death. The “Pines of Rome” concert contrasts vibrant nature with human-made marvels, and it concludes with Italian composer Ottorino Respighi’s namesake renowned composition. Like Wagner’s Forest Murmurs, it intertwines natural essence and historical echoes and evokes distant, enduring memories through Rome’s forests.
With a rich repertoire spanning genres and an array of captivating performances, the orchestra continues its mission to enrapture audiences, create unforgettable musical experiences and enhance the cultural tapestry of the city.
To experience it yourself, visit okcphil.org.