Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera fills long awaited Principal Conductor role Jennifer Reason Friday, November 17, 2023 | Sacramento, CA Listen / Update RequiredTo play audio, update browser or Flash plugin. Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor Ari Pelto.Courtesy of the artist The Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera will welcome their new Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor Ari Pelto to the stage for the first time in his new role this weekend. The position of Principal Conductor — which is generally responsible for the musical direction of an orchestra — has stood vacant since 2015. Instead, the organization has opted to have a rotation of guest conductors come to Sacramento to lead the group on a per performance basis. That’s how Pelto became acquainted with the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera. He made his first appearance in front of the group in 2018 conducting Tchaikovsky’s iconic seasonal ballet “The Nutcracker.” Pelto studied at Oberlin Conservatory, Indiana University and the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. He has held positions with the Sarasota Symphony, Opera Colorado, The Boston Lyric Opera and raised the baton as a guest at countless others. Pelto takes to the podium this Saturday night with a performance of the “Symphony No. 4” by Johannes Brahms as well as works by Felix Mendelssohn and Edward Elgar. CapRadio’s Jennifer Reason sat down with Pelto in advance of his principal debut to discuss the special first concert, his goals for Sacramento, and his own musical origins. This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Interview Highlights On his musical origins My mother had played violin when she was young and she was determined to have a musician in the family. My brother showed no interest in music at all, so I think my mother decided that I was going to be the target of her aspirations. I was six years old when I told her I was very interested in playing soccer and wanted to be on a soccer team. She said, “That's fine. You can play soccer, but you have to start violin too.” I think I was six, turning seven and long before I was any good at the violin I declared myself and considered myself to be a musician and a violinist. As a violinist, a problem was developing in my left hand. Halfway through my time at Oberlin Conservatory it was unclear whether I was going to be able to continue as a violinist, so I decided to begin conducting studies. That coincided with a summer that I was playing at the Spoleto Festival in Italy. I sort of recklessly approached the music director, a wonderful conductor named Spyros Aggregates, and asked if I could become an assistant conductor. He said yes, so the following season — or a couple of seasons later — I took on the role of assistant conductor at Spoleto Festival. That was my first professional work as a conductor. On his first time in Sacramento My first time here was actually with “The Nutcracker.” I've been with the Atlanta Ballet for many years doing that piece and it happened that about five or six years ago there was an opportunity for me to come here to do The Nutcracker. I have to say I fell in love with the orchestra and I so enjoyed my time here doing that piece which, for those of us who are in the profession, is not an automatic thing. We all adore The Nutcracker, but doing it many, many times can be a little tiring. Nonetheless, while I was here I enjoyed it. I was very pleased to be asked back to do the Brahms Second Symphony and Beethoven concert and once again found our collaboration very special. There are unique vibrations between orchestras and conductors and I felt a very positive and exciting relationship developing. I then came back yet a third time to do Mozart last year. On why he chose Brahms for his first concert as principal conductor I chose to do another Brahms Symphony this fall because for me, Brahms never fails to be inspiring and interesting. There's not a boring bar in all of Brahms as far as I'm concerned, but it also has specific challenges that I find particularly suitable for getting to know an orchestra or a group of players. Chamber music works the same way. When I was a violinist playing a Brahms quartet or other chamber piece I found it exposes one's musical feelings so clearly and is a perfect vehicle for getting to know somebody else's playing. In this case — the way an orchestra moves — an orchestra is like a car. You want it to move gloriously, smoothly, and yet with tremendous power, gently when you need it, and to go over bumps where you don't feel a thing. Brahms is so well suited to that. We're going to do the Fourth Symphony, which is an extraordinary piece of music. One thing about it, and all of Brahms in a way, is that it lives on the edge of tenderness and danger, turmoil and tranquility at all moments. In the most tranquil phrases you feel danger coming and in the most dangerous phrases, you feel tremendous tenderness. I think the Fourth Symphony is absolutely filled with these moments. On the future of the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera We’d all love to see the Philharmonic play more concerts on the stage, have more outreach and more opportunities for the orchestra to play, perhaps, in other venues. All of that will take some time to develop, but I do believe that the organization and the orchestra is right on the cusp of being able to grow into much more than it already is. I'm an artist, I'm a musician and I believe wholeheartedly in the role that art plays in our world. Needless to say, our world is very complicated and I truly believe that anybody who has a chance to be close to art music lives a richer life as a result of it.