Conducting Electricity

Bangor Sympony Orchestra conductor candidate Lucas Richman, right, shows off an animated cartoon character named Picardy Penquin to BSO board members during a casual meeting on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2009 in Bangor. Richman developed the Picardy Penquin as an educational tool to draw young children to classical music in Knoxville, Tenn. and other cities. (Bangor Daily News/Kevin Bennett)
Bangor Sympony Orchestra conductor candidate Lucas Richman, right, shows off an animated cartoon character named Picardy Penquin to BSO board members during a casual meeting on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2009 in Bangor. Richman developed the Picardy Penquin as an educational tool to draw young children to classical music in Knoxville, Tenn. and other cities. (Bangor Daily News/Kevin Bennett)
Posted Oct. 08, 2009, at 5:53 p.m.

As a 6-year-old growing up in California, Lucas Richman, one of five finalists for the position of music director for the Bangor Symphony Orchestra, did his own research into the lives of the great composers. While Bach, Brahms, Beethoven and most of the rest whom the budding pianist and composer read about were dead — long dead — there was one he read about who was still alive and working, and American, to boot: Aaron Copland.

Richman, proactive and passionate even as a first-grader, decided to write Copland a letter. Though his father cautioned him that he might not receive a reply, six weeks later a postcard from Copland arrived in the mail.

“‘Dear Lucas,’” Richman said, reciting a letter he had committed to memory. “‘Thank you for your letter. It was very fine. Good luck in your composing. Your friend, Aaron.’ The fact that one of the great composers took the time to write to a 6-year-old was extraordinary. I knew from a very young age that music would be with me my whole life.”

Richman, currently music director for the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra in Knoxville, Tenn., will take the reins for the BSO this Sunday in the kickoff concert for its 114th season. Leading a program of Tchaikovsky, Liszt and Kodaly, the concert is a chance for Richman to introduce himself to the community as a potential orchestra leader and member of the artistic community in eastern Maine.

This isn’t Richman’s first time in Maine; he guest-conducted the BSO last February at the opening concert at the Collins Center for the Arts. That experience solidified his decision to apply for the open music director position, and no doubt helped the BSO search committee to choose him as a finalist.

“I’ve always been drawn to the Northeast. I think there is a deeper appreciation here for culture, and for the arts in general,” said Richman. “People are less fixated on the superficial aspects. People don’t take the arts for granted, as opposed to a large urban area that has multiple options for culture. The community really values its institutions. The fact that the BSO is in its 114th season speaks to the fact that it is firmly entrenched in the DNA of the community.”

Richman has amassed a wide array of experiences and skills in his career as a composer and conductor. He has guest conducted the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Baltimore Symphony, the Delaware Symphony and the Indianapolis Symphony. He has been an assistant conductor for both the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Pacific Symphony Orchestra, and has conducted recordings of scores for Hollywood movies such as “The Village” (with violinist Hilary Hahn), “As Good As It Gets,” “Face/Off,” “Se7en” and “The Manchurian Candidate.”

Richman appreciates the BSO for a number of reasons — its supportive community, its strong leadership and its long history, to name a few — but singled out the quality of its musicians as definite plus.

“When I was here in February, I immediately noticed such an eagerness to make music together,” said Richman. “It seems like everyone in the orchestra simply loves to make music. They are flexible and very open to trying new things. They perform for the love of it, and that’s why it was such a positive experience to work with them.”

His true passion, however, is bringing classical music to a younger audience. By young, he means very young — elementary school students and younger. His works written specifically for children have been featured in young people’s concerts presented by orchestras such as the Atlanta Symphony, the San Diego Symphony and the San Antonio Symphony. He has even gone so far as to create a character, Picardy Penguin, who appears in the animated guide to classical music he created that is shown at classical concerts in Knoxville and beyond.

Richman takes many of his cues from one of his musical heroes — Leonard Bernstein, with whom he took master classes in the 1980s.

“Everything he did was a form of teaching, whether it was conducting, composing or performing,” he said. “I try to bring that passion to everything that I do, as well. The challenge is not to bring people in their 20s and 30s into concert halls. The challenge is to educate and instill in children that basic appreciation and love for the arts, so that when they are older, and have the time to sit back and appreciate it, they will come.”

For Richman, the experience of sitting in a concert venue, among hundreds of strangers, listening to a group of musicians play, is among the most elemental of human experiences.

“You talk to an adult, and most of them will say they remember vividly the first time they went to a concert,” he said. “There is nothing like hearing 75 to 100 people all performing together, all speaking the same language, all making such dynamic sounds. When everyone is focused on it, it’s an incredible shared experience.”

Richman has instilled that love of music in his own son, 11-year-old Max — though Max is more interested in Metallica than Mozart.

“He’s an awesome electric guitarist. He plays death metal,” said Richman. “He’s got an extraordinary skill. I like all kinds of music, so I am thrilled that he’s found something he loves.”

The first concert of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra’s 114th season starts at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14, at the Collins Center for the Arts on the University of Maine campus in Orono. Soloist Will Bristol, winner of the 2009 Bangor Symphony Orchestra Maine High School Concerto Competition, will perform Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Tickets start at $10 for students and $16 for adults. For more information, visit www.bangorsymphony.org.

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