Welcoming The ESO’s new Artistic Advisor: Michael Stern

Welcoming The ESO’s new Artistic Advisor: Michael Stern

By Kyra Droog, Writer, ESO & Winspear Centre

The 2022/2023 Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (ESO) season brings with it a great many new and exciting treasures – from timeless masterpieces like Beethoven’s epic Symphony No. 9 to new favourites like Bourbon Street Parade with Michael Kaeshammer, this season promises to be one of the ESO’s most exciting. Not all that is new, however, is in the music itself. After bidding a fond farewell to Alexander Prior, your ESO’s previous Chief Conductor, the search has begun for a new Music Director. In the interim, we’ve invited an old friend to join us in the role of Artistic Advisor for the 2022/2023 season.

Michael Stern first joined your Edmonton Symphony Orchestra onstage in 2015, to conduct a Masters concert featuring the music of Tchaikovsky, Mozart, and Berlioz. He was enthralled by what he called “the extraordinary musical and artistically vital community of musicians onstage and off.” Each time he was welcomed back to conduct your Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, he always felt incredibly honoured and excited to return to Edmonton. “I was very much looking forward to coming back as a guest conductor in 2020,” Stern says with a grin, “but we all know how 2020 turned out.”

That said, when Stern received the call asking if he would be interested in serving as the ESO’s Artistic Advisor for the upcoming season, he was touched. “I like making music in Edmonton,” says Stern. “I like learning new things, taking deep dives into the musical world of Edmonton, exploring the works of Canadian composers, and I really admire and enjoy working with the musicians of the ESO.” It isn’t just what the ESO does onstage that impresses him: “The ESO has such a long, impressive history of musical connection to the community, service to the arts, and of musical excellence – Edmonton is a truly special place to connect with music,” he believes.

When asked why Edmonton, Stern laughs. “I really like Canada,” he smiles. “In all honesty, though, one of the things that has hit home to me as a result of the pandemic is the focus on home and place and community – it became our entire world. Everything in Edmonton comes from a place of community and centeredness,” Stern notes. “Look at how you responded to the pandemic. You came out to support your orchestra, which sent an incredible message about what musicians, our organization, and our community are about. You showed the world what music means to Edmontonians, and everyone in Edmonton’s surrounding communities. It’s such a powerful thing.”

Stern believes that there’s more to the music scene in Edmonton than meets the eye. He’s particularly excited about the Winspear Project, which he believes is a game-changer for our city. “The building itself is not as important as what will happen inside that building,” he says. “When we’ve finished the Winspear Project, it will be something really enormous for our city, demonstrating our dedication to the power of music.”

There is something special about music for everyone, but Stern has a particularly unique outlook on music. “I’m in love with music,” he says. “Truly, I am. Performing music is an act of service – sharing what you love most with people you appreciate. Finding that divine spark that lives inside a piece of music and coaxing it out, bringing it to life, and experiencing that moment with your community is so powerful. Music-making is all about connecting with an audience and saying, ‘this is what I believe this music is saying, come with me on this journey and see it for yourself.’”

So, what exactly is Stern’s new role with your Edmonton Symphony Orchestra? “Loosely defined, it really is to advise,” he laughs. “It can take on any number of different angles, depending on what is required.” Thus far, he has been involved in shaping and arcing the programming, with his goal to bring the orchestra back into the forefront of performing live. Of course, we will see him conducting your ESO for a number of concerts in the 2022/2023 season, beginning with Stern Conducts Grieg & Stravinsky: Magical Musical Tales in November. “Music is a language – you're speaking to people,” says Stern. “I’m so happy, at this moment, to be speaking to the Edmonton audience.”

Of all of the things that Stern wants people to know about him, it is his excitedness and willingness to continue to learn and grow. “I don’t feel old, but I feel experienced enough in life – I'm settled in what I know to be true, and I’m completely certain that I know nothing that I can’t learn better,” he says. “My teenagers keep me young and help me to see the world through their eyes and ears. They keep me mindful of the fact that you can never be complacent and stop being curious and learning new things and open to new ideas.” It’s all about balancing knowledge with curiosity, Stern believes. “If you keep that balance, that’s where the confidence of knowing your own mind, experience, intuition, with your almost childlike admission that you have almost everything to re-discover, that’s a pretty good balance.”

“I’m so excited to return to Edmonton and make and share music with you all,” Stern says with a smile. He acknowledges the impact that COVID-19 has had on our communities, especially the music and arts communities, while also noting the importance of music and art in the healing process. “Art has to be part of the answer, and thus music has to also be part of the answer. Advocating for that cultural force as a way to affect change is incredibly important.”

We’re looking forward to welcoming Michael Stern to the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra family. To witness his spectacular conducting, consider purchasing a subscription for the 2022/2023 ESO season, or welcoming him at his first concert with the ESO this November. To view the full ESO season, click here.