After a 2½ year process and year-long search, the Oklahoma City Philharmonic recently announced they have chosen Alexander Mickelthwate to succeed Joel Levine as the organization’s music director and conductor. Born and raised in Frankfurt, Germany, Mickelthwate is currently the music director of the Winnipeg Symphony and previously served in conducting positions with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Atlanta Symphony. Mickelthwate was the unanimous choice of the search committee out of six candidates, all of whom visited Oklahoma City and acted as guest conductor to the Philharmonic. He will be only the second music director in the Philharmonic’s history and will hold the title of music director designate until Levine steps down in May 2018. The eight concerts in the 2017-2018 Classics will be split, with three concerts each for Levine and Mickelthwate and two concerts directed by guest conductors. We recently talked to Mickelthwate and got his thoughts on …
… what made the position the right fit for him and his family.
First of all, I had a very inspiring performance with the orchestra last November. Musically, it was very gratifying and the audience reaction was so enthusiastic. Second, the organization is a real gem. It’s a very stable and smart place. Third, Joel Levine has been there for 27 years and built amazing relations with the community. I respect that. I love that. And after my week with the orchestra, my wife and I felt that everybody in the organization and the people in the community were really wonderful. And that was that.
… how the transition process will help the Philharmonic.
It is a very gradual and respectful move from one to the other, which makes total sense. Joel and I
Skype already several times, just to get me up to date. I can call him up to get his take and experience on things. And that’s something that doesn’t happen too often between the outgoing and incoming music director. I really appreciate this.
… his thoughts on Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma City is a really vibrant place. It was surprising to see all the construction, all the projects, the [MAPS 3] park, the Museum of Art, new high rises – very inspiring.
… what made him become a conductor.
I have two brothers, and we all played two instruments in my childhood. It was a very traditional German upbringing where we were just classical. I played cello and piano and played chamber music. Everything was classical. It’s crazy, when you think about it, but that was how I grew up. Then when the question came, “What do you want to be?”, I had several moments when I was 16 or 17, and it suddenly hit me; that’s exactly what I want to be. A conductor. It combined all the things, my love for music, to work with people – it all came together. It’s my perfect job.
… whether he still plays music himself.
I do. It’s more the piano right now. Two years ago I started again. Suddenly, I had a huge urge to play, and I’m playing here at Winnipeg – little things like the opening of an exhibit at the museum or at fundraisers. It’s really nice, actually. Two days ago I played a recital at our noon hour summer concert series. Cello is still a little behind, but I hope to pick that up more.