Cutting-Edge Conductor

Staged NovChris Confessore of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.

by Phillip Ratliff


Surely Maestro Christopher Confessore is the city’s most enthusiastically versatile conductor. From the podium, the Alabama Symphony Orchestra resident conductor has embraced all manner of music, from abstract contemporary orchestral scores to backup charts for the various pop acts and tribute shows that roll through town. What’s so remarkable is not that he can confidently execute the cues of a LeAnn Rimes symphony show (with coaching and some anti-anxiety medication, I fancy that I, too, might be able to slog through such an assignment) but that he truly loves working with these sorts of acts.

One of my first projects with Confessore unfolded about a decade ago. He and the ASO were to present a concert of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer George Walker’s music at a school where I taught. Walker’s music is deft and economical, owing much to Igor Stravinsky’s neoclassical era. I wondered if it would connect with my students. Confessore threw himself into the assignment, bringing several works by Walker, including the composer’s craggy and cerebral musical adaptation of the Orpheus myth, into luminous existence.

A few months later I would see Confessore again, not navigating cutting-edge scores, but in Caldwell Park, conducting the ASO as it backed up an Abba tribute band. The group boasted no original members, save a saxophonist who had some experience backing up the Scandinavian pop sensation back when they were one. But no matter, Abba is more of an ideal than a specific set of DNA and fingerprints, anyway. The orchestra’s job, essentially, was to add another layer of disco-y glitz to what was already an embarrassment of sonic opulence. Their role was not demanding, strictly speaking, but it was crucial. Under Confessore’s leadership, the band found the courage to tackle an assignment some no doubt turned their noses up at. And all on stage seemed to find pleasure in giving “Dancing Queen” the bright orchestral sheen required of any self-respecting disco classic.

Although Confessore and I stay in touch on Facebook, we are more likely to respond to one another’s posts about movies than anything career-related. Recently, however, I felt compelled to ask Confessore what he’s been up to musically. His answer reflects his typical broad range of musical interests. “This year the schedule has been pretty busy for me at the start of the concert season,” he says, entirely in keeping with his unflappable style.

He’s ramping up for an ASO Young People’s Concert in October and an ASO Pops Concert with the neo-bluegrass wunderkinds Act of Congress, “one of Birmingham’s best bands,” in his estimation. He’ll drive to Jacksonville and conduct a pops program there and a week later, he’ll lead 14 days of youth concerts in Orlando. Confessore is also carving out time to tackle major classical repertoire. He will conduct, for the first time, Sibelius’s Symphony No. 1, Schubert’s Symphony No. 9, and world premieres of several contemporary works. He’ll revisit Dvorak’s New World Symphony, Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, Respighi’s Fountains of Rome, Orff’s Carmina Burana, and Symphony No. 2 by Charles Ives.

A broad, eclectic range of music comes across Confessore’s desk, but binding it together is the klang, the musical color that is the symphony orchestra. Those who love orchestral music probably love it for this sumptuousness. This quality, I believe, is something Confessore approaches with both understanding and commitment: “Each type of program presents its own challenges. They’re all extremely rewarding in their own way. Anytime we’re on stage, our goal is to make a connection with our audience by giving an inspiring performance of great orchestral music.”

Confessore will conduct the ASO’s New Year’s Eve concert at the Alabama Theatre and a whole slew of concerts during March and April. If you simply can’t wait to hear the orchestra until then, go to their website and check out their panoply of offerings in November and December.

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