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Great Scott!

Renowned conductor Scott Speck prepares to lead the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra into a new era.

Scott Speck of the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra

Scott Speck is one in-demand fellow: On June 1, he added a fourth role, that of artistic director of Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, to his resume of musical directorships—which includes the Joffrey Ballet, the Mobile Symphony Orchestra and the West Michigan Symphony. We spoke with him about his plan to differentiate CPO in an area already so rich with classical musical traditions, the upcoming season and a best-selling tome he just happened to pen.

How did you arrive at your new role?
I came to Chicago to work with the Joffrey Ballet, and one of my goals was to have live music for every production. About a year ago, Chicago Philharmonic asked me to guest conduct for them. Some of the powers that be at the Joffrey came to the performance, which included Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. It was clear that this was a group of virtuosos who could handle anything that was thrown at them with gorgeous tone and style and flexibility. We then collaborated with Chicago Philharmonic to have live music for every [Joffrey] performance.

I heard about your desire to differentiate the Chicago Philharmonic by engendering a chamber music style of playing.
What sets chamber-music players apart is that before they play they look at one another and they breathe together. If you watch the great orchestras of the world, like the Lucerne Festival Orchestra or the Berlin Philharmonic, you’ll see that the entire orchestra levitates like one single-cell organism before they start. It’s as if their entire nervous systems are connected by wires from one side of the stage to the other. Not only does that help them play together, it brings the audience in.

Tell us about your first season with CPS, which begins in September.
We decided on the theme “The Romantic Impulse,” because it’s the 200th birthday of Richard Wagner and the 100th anniversary of The Rite of Spring, which pretty much signified the end of the romantic era. All of the performances have searingly romantic music. We start off with a bang with a Mannheim Rocket in Don Juan. For the season finale, we’ll do Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Talk about romantic.

You co-authored the book Classical Music for Dummies in 1997, which is still one of the best-selling classical music books in the world. Why did you write it?
The classical music industry did a very good job of alienating about 99 percent of the people in the 20th century. The book helps demystify the subject. If there’s one thing that is my mission, it is to spread the good word about classical music to the widest possible public. 

Speck’s Chicago Favorites
Bikram Yoga in the South Loop, the Anaheim Scrambler at the Corner Bakery Cafe, Wicker Park, Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” at the Art Institute of Chicago, the fountains at Millennium Park, Vietnamese restaurant Pho Xe Lua off the Argyle stop on the Red Line, Navy Pier’s IMAX Theatre