Last October, shortly after the conclusion of its popular Summermusik programming, Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra announced the appointment of Eckart Preu as its fifth music director. Days later, Preu (pronounced “proy”) began planning for the CCO’s third year of Summermusik, which offers Classical music with a contemporary twist. The results of that effort begin Saturday and continue through Aug. 26.
This year’s lineup reflects Preu’s eclectic approach, featuring the familiar and the unexpected performed at venues large and small. “Unpredictability is really important to me,” he says, speaking by phone from his home in Spokane, Wash. “You know you’ll be hearing something off the beaten path when you come to us.”
And he wants everyone to have a good time. “Much of this music was written to entertain,” he says. “Having fun at a concert should be the rule, not the exception.”
Overall, Summermusik has 13 concerts — a complete schedule is at ccocincinnati.org. It kicks off on Saturday with Scottish Landscapes at Corbett Theater inside the School for Creative and Performing Arts.
“I really wanted to do this program because it’s so weird!” Preu says with a laugh. “It isn’t the first country that comes to mind when you think of Classical music.”
This concert features Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op.56, known as the “Scottish”— the 19th-century German composer was inspired by the Scottish landscape. As for the unexpected, there will be Peter Maxwell Davies’ 1985 composition “An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise.” It includes bagpipes, with Karen May, pipe major of the local Caledonian Pipes & Drum Band, as the featured soloist. Also, Mozart’s Violin Concert No. 3 will be performed by Angelo Xiang Yu.
The following weekend, on Aug. 12 at the Corbett, Summermusik’s Celestial Voyage concert will feature Dean Regas, outreach astronomer for the Cincinnati Observatory, as commentator for NASA images from space, which will be shown throughout the concert. The program’s music will feature Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 in C Major (“Jupiter”), Camille Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor performed by University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music faculty member Ran Dank and a section from Les Élémens, an eerily contemporary-sounding work composed in 1737 by the aptly named Jean-Féry Rebel.
Kepler’s Cosmos by Preu’s brother, Hans-Peter, will also receive its world premiere; it is inspired by German astronomer Johannes Kepler’s treatise Harmonices Mundi (ca. 1618).
“Kepler created scales based on planetary movements and those really interested me, ” Preu says. “I asked my brother to compose this piece because I could communicate with him exactly what I wanted.”
The concert concludes with David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” arranged by Scot Woolley.
The Venetian Madcap Musica concert takes place at the Corbett on Aug. 19, with pieces by Venetian-based Baroque comp-osers and works inspired by the city’s sensual aura.
“It’s a really weird mixture of composers, but they all relate to each other,” Preu says. “I think we’ve created an interesting program by putting them in context.”
Venetian composers Tomaso Albinoni, Giovanni Gabrieli, Claudio Monteverdi and Antonio Vivaldi are featured in the first half, followed by Gustav Mahler’s luminous “Adagietto” his from Symphony No. 5 and Igor Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite, featuring life-size puppets from longtime CCO collaborators Madcap Puppets.
“As far as I know, Pulcinella has never been done with puppets,” Preu says. “I don’t know what will happen. It’s scary but it’s also freeing because that’s what art is all about — going with the moment.”
The final Summermusik concert, at the Corbett Theater on Aug. 26, is called Immortal Beloved and features “musical longing for love.” It opens with the third movement from Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 3, with choreography from MamLuft&Co. dancers. CCM faculty member Alon Goldstein then performs Mozart’s Piano Concert No. 20, and later returns with MamLuft for The Messenger by Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov.
“After I watched some of MamLuft’s videos online, I thought this would be perfect for free-spirited, unscripted dance (with) the Glass and Silvestrov pieces,” Preu says. “Both are narrative in a way and yet very free.”
The program concludes with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 in F major, a work closely linked with Beethoven’s famous “Immortal Beloved” love letter, impassionedly written but never delivered. Excerpts will be read.
Summermusik’s popular (A Little) Afternoon Music series is already partially sold out, and Chamber Crawls, curated by CCO musicians, are close to capacity. Preu looks forward to playing harpsichord with the CCO for the (A Little) Afternoon Music concert The Vivaldi Effect, at The Barn Art Gallery in Mariemont on Aug. 20, for reasons beyond performing. (A 2 p.m. show was added after the 4 p.m. one sold out.)
“It connects us. I’m more part of a team and it frees them to work with me in a different way,” Preu says. “We don’t really know each other, and there’s no better way than actually playing with them to make that happen. I hope for more opportunities to do this.”
Preu says that the orchestra’s spirit and resiliency were major factors in his decision to accept the music directorship.
“I led the final concert last year and I expected them to be tired and stressed,” he says. “Seeing the pride and enthusiasm in what they do really impressed me. I expected a high level of musicianship, but their spirit was amazing.”
Preu has a three-year contract with the CCO. He also leads orchestras in Spokane and Long Beach, Calif., and is winding down his tenure with the Stamford Symphony in Connecticut.
Working with multiple ensembles provides opportunities that he hopes to bring to the CCO. “I find it enriching to have more than one community to take care of,” he says. “I learn so much from each orchestra that I can bring to the others.”
SUMMERMUSIK 2017 runs through Aug. 26 at multiple locations. Tickets/more information: ccocincinnati.org.