Maestro Magic -- Eric Jacobsen in Glorious Debut with Orlando Philharmonic By Josh Garrick

In the past 11 months, Orlando has twice announced to the world that the city the world will always know as the vacation land home of DisneyWorld is ready to stand up and say, “We are MORE than a place to stay while you visit a theme park.” The first miracle event happened last November when, led by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, philanthropist Jim Pugh, and Executive Director Kathy Ramsberger, we opened the magnificently world-class Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.  

Maestro Magic -- Eric Jacobsen in Glorious Debut with Orlando Philharmonic

The second happened this past weekend as the most highly anticipated event of the new Arts Season saw the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra open its season by welcoming the newly appointed Music Director Eric Jacobsen to the podium. His opening concert, performed twice at the Bob Carr Theater, began a 5-year relationship between the Orchestra, Maestro Jacobsen and the World. Yes, I’m talking the big, wide world, because this brilliant musical wunderkind stepped onto the Maestro’s platform and chose a program that ‘promised’ his enthusiastic audience that Maestro Eric Jacobsen has every intention of utilizing every facet of who he is and what he has learned to develop – not just a good – not just a great – but a brilliant, world-class Orchestra for the city of Orlando.  

Maestro Magic -- Erick Jacobsen in Glorious Debut with Orlando Philharmonic

The new Maestro had 4 official rehearsals in which to prepare the program (which he chose) including Beethoven’s Leonore Overture; Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 performed by Van Cliburn silver medalist Joyce Yang; a World Premiere by Gabriel Kahane; and Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe.  

These musical choices represented a series of bold statements by the young Conductor that amounted to his sincere promise that he would give us 5 years of his super-intelligent life to work with, mold, and DO all within his power to create the Orchestra he already sees in his head. On Saturday evening, Jacobsen conducted his first classical concert as the Orchestra’s Music Director. 

Maestro Magic -- Eric Jacobsen in Glorious Debut with Orlando Philharmonic

He began with a traditional reading of the Star-Spangled-Banner. He led the Orchestra with a down-beat, saw them through a few bars, knew that he was not ‘needed’ for that piece of music – and THEN – he turned and faced the audience. His mouth was moving. Our new Maestro was singing the words along with those few audience members who not only hear, but sing our national anthem. Within moments we understood. Maestro wants us all to sing, and suddenly I was surrounded by an ‘audience choir’ – each of us singing full-throat according to our abilities. I’m embarrassed to say that I have never – anywhere – sung our national anthem full-voice. But in that Hall, Eric Jacobsen – hereafter entitled Maestro Magic – wanted us to sing. I even found myself transposing the impossible falsetto section a full octave lower so that I could continue singing. In his first piece of music - the National Anthem - Maestro Magic asked us to trust him.  We did, AND WE SANG, and we “took part” in what became the most moving rendition of the National Anthem I can remember. 

The ‘real’ program began with Beethoven – the Leonore Overture No. 3. The richness of sound was the first indication that Maestro was already working to ‘build’ a better orchestra. Drawn from Beethoven’s ‘young idealist’ period, when Beethoven was beginning to declare his freedom from strict classicism, Jacobsen delivered a solid, happy, un-pretentious, and traditional reading of the work that gallantly moved the attention from his podium style to the string section of the Orchestra. Maestro Jacobsen is a celebrated cello soloist, and he was brimming with the joy of a young lover as this rich new sound from the Orchestra told us – as if he stated the words out loud, “My love affair with the String Section has already begun, and this is what I can do in 4 rehearsals. Imagine what I will bring you in 4 or 5 years.” 

Maestro Magic -- Eric Jacobsen in Glorious Debut with Orlando Philharmonic

The world favorite Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 offered its lush sensuality and pianist Joyce Yang in her 4th appearance with the Orchestra. Here Jacobsen picked up the pace and led a thrilling collaboration between powerhouse pianist and an orchestra suddenly composed of musicians firmly grounded in their abilities and so well rehearsed that they were comfortable to ‘partner’ with this pianist with ‘mad’ technical skills. Sharing the lushness, while vying for the new Maestro’s attentions, soloist and Orchestra enveloped the audience in a time-defying romanticism that made us want to ‘hold off’ Tchaikovsky’s two famous climaxes and kept us from breathing until we had offered the first of several standing ovations. The Maestro’s message, “I’m happy to give you what you want, but I’ll give it my own spin; I’ll challenge the musicians; and I’ll leave you begging for more.”  Audience response, “Given – happily.”

Maestro Jacobsen is famous for his interest in new music, and it is an easy call to foresee that any program of favorites will also include something new. World premieres are often ‘suffered through’ by subscription audiences, but here again, Maestro Magic waved his magic baton and, before the full performance of Freight & Salvage by Gabriel Kahane, Maestro spoke to us. He gave us the reasons WHY he chose the piece, and even though the work begins with ‘scratchy strings’ in a post-Armageddon world, Maestro had the Orchestra play the melodic ‘song’ we would hear in the work. He then had them play a variation of the song BEFORE performing the World Premiere of the work. That little talk – like Leonard Bernstein did for us on TV when we were kids – made the difference.  It wasn’t thunderous, but the work received applause from an appreciative audience. Maestro’s message, “I’m definitely going to introduce new works. We all need to share in the idea that it’s an Orchestra’s job to do so, and if the Orlando Philharmonic is going to be the Orchestra that we all want it to be, new works need to be part of our Orchestral ‘resume.’  I’m also going to do it in ways that will help you understand WHY I chose the work(s), because in the end, I’d like for you to enjoy them at least as much as I do – if not more.”

The final work shared the happiest and most obvious message. Maurice Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe opens with a sunrise in music. Message – “A new day is here, and we are all going to work together – forget the stupid ego stuff. We’re going to work through this. I’m a musician, and I can sense when you (orchestra members) are frustrated. Let me take on part of that burden, and we’ll all work through it and come out smiling in the end.” A flute solo by Colleen Blagov, joined by Sandra del Cid-Davies’ piccolo and then the strings, evoke the birth of a new day – the most luxurious new day. Maestro Magic then built layer upon layer of Ravelian musical power – beautiful, exciting, propulsive musical power. And those of us who remember an orchestra of 10-years-ago, exult in a sound we’ve NEVER HEARD BEFORE. 

It’s a BIG, BOLD SOUND associated with great orchestras, and we exult in the message writ large before us. “Hello World – Maestro Magic Eric Jacobsen is the new Music Director of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra. You may want to move your rehearsal hall. We’re gonna make some noise!”

Maestro Magic -- Eric Jacobsen in Glorious Debut with Orlando Philharmonic


Josh Garrick is the Florida Arts Editor for Wandering Educators