“Be there where we can change the situation”: Roderick Cox, the future musical director of the Montpellier Orchestra

“Be there where we can change the situation”: Roderick Cox, the future musical director of the Montpellier Orchestra

Roderick Cox va d’abord diriger “La bohème” de Puccini, puis devenir le directeur musical de l’Opéra-Orchestre de Montpellier. Guillhem Canal

In September, American conductor Roderick Cox, 36, will become the new musical director of the Montpellier National Opera-Orchestra. For now, he is directing him in the opera “La Bohème” on May 22, 24 and 26, at the Berlioz opera. Before the premiere, the affable and charismatic gifted person opens his heart for Midi Libre.

How did music come into your life?

The music has always been there. In my family there were no classical musicians but my mother was a gospel singer, a fantastic soloist, perhaps the best in the church choir. When I woke up, on the way to school, in the car, everywhere, I heard gospel music all the time! And I still remember very well the first time I became aware of the emotional power of music: the choir was singing Total Praise, by Richard Smallwood, a very famous tune, and during the performance, my mother started to cry. When we're kids, our parents are our superheroes, so seeing them cry is a shock! So music had this unique power…

You then threw yourself headlong into music!

There was a very strong music education program at my elementary school, so I was able to start early, around age 9. First as a percussionist, on the snare drum. I remember carrying around my instrument (which my mother had ordered for me from a JC Penney catalog) in a box because she had no idea that there were cases made specifically for it. ;nbsp;! In high school, I switched to French horn, because I wanted to be more immersed in the orchestra, and I aspired to become a music teacher.< /p>

What did you like about teaching?

I studied music education (education is my passion!) because when I was in school I thought the coolest guys were Were the music teachers and I thought it would be so wonderful to become one of them! (laughs) Of course, I saw chefs on television or when I went to concerts but I didn't see how you could become one, if it was even possible. Especially since I rarely (never) saw chefs who looked like me…

And yet…

After Columbus State University, I continued my studies at Northwestern University, a very prestigious university in Illinois, particularly for music. This is where my musical direction teacher of Russian origin, Victor Yampolsky, convinced me.

What did he see in you?

I do not know. I imagine that when we watch a young person lead, we come to perceive their dispositions, in their way of moving, their way of transmitting conviction, their charisma, their presence, a whole combination of things that make a good conductor… Victor Yampolsky in any case took me under his wing, then Mallory Thompson.

But yourself, what motivated you?

The French horn, which is my favorite instrument in the orchestra for its beauty, its sound, is fascinating in that it is one of the few that can be used in all ensembles: brass, winds, strings… It can modulate its sound and color as needed. As a horn player, often in the pit, my listening found itself fascinated by the first violins, the cellos… And I think that’s what a leader is, someone fascinated, obsessed with the big picture. How does it all fit ? Study the score intensely, understand the composer's intentions, the narration… The conductor is at the same time a historian, a musicologist, a psychologist who knows the practical aspects of all the instruments, of all the things that come together to make the music come to life. That’s what I like about this artistic form, the collaboration in the work. If you are talented, motivated and inspired, you can achieve fantastic results… Well, conducting is not easy because you have to light it all, and if you don't have the flame yourself, no one will have it in the orchestra. Keeping this fire burning and alive is always the great challenge. It’s a discipline and a philosophy.

Were you aware that, given your origins and your skin color, you would not be a singular leader ? Was that the object, the subject ?

Of course we feel a little pressure because we see that there aren't many like us, that we therefore represent more than ourselves, that we push back against stereotypes and preconceived ideas. But the most important competition for me has always been with myself. At Northwestern, Mallory Thompson often told me not to imagine that my skin color was a factor: if we start thinking about it, it will become more important, and it can become a crutch, and slow down , even paralyze, your judgment. At that time, long before this whole women's leader movement, Mallory Thompson was for me the most important and amazing musician I knew. For me, women were the norm: my mother, my teachers, this boss, what was this story about not seeing women in important positions in music? nbsp;? For me therefore, the question did not even arise whether a person of color or anyone else could do this job. Of course, it's there, in a corner of your mind, you have to be aware of your identity, of the influence that you can have on others, on young people, of what our journey signals a possibility in a historically conservative and somewhat closed universe. But hey! We are in 2024. Even though there is still a lot to do, and I am very attentive to it. But I think everything is possible, that’s always been my driving force. It would be debilitating to think that one's skin color, gender, sexuality, or whatever would hinder one's efforts to rise to the top of one's field.

But you have your foundation which financially supports young African-American musicians to start their careers…

Yes, because it is a fact that economic and social barriers still exist for people of color, especially in the United States. Look at median household income, land ownership, all these things… these are facts. So, we say in classical music that we just want to train great concert artists, we pretend that the rules of the game are the same for everyone, but that is not true: lessons are expensive, instruments are expensive, competitions are expensive… So yes, I evolve in an environment where there are superstars, great musicians whose parents put them through Juilliard Pre-College, who paid them hundred dollars for lessons, who were able to travel and study to become virtuosos. They knew very early on that they would be famous orchestra conductors, violinists or pianists. But that wasn’t my story.

So having “specific angels”, especially in the black community, seems to me still necessary today to break glass ceilings and allow people to fully realize their potential. The mission of my foundation is not to tell them to work hard and train tirelessly, that is up to them, that is their motivation. My job is to tell them that if, in fact, they are truly passionate and gifted, financial obstacles will no longer be a problem in achieving their dream. Myself, when I wanted to go to the Czech Republic to follow specific training, I could not have done it without the support of the Otis Redding Foundation, in Macon. This foundation is my small contribution to change.

In Montpellier, you will not only be conductor but musical director…

This is quite common among music directors in the United States, but in Europe it may differ. Conductors, or principal conductors, are generally responsible for their musical programs, the weeks of work they involve with the orchestra, and that’s all. The musical directors, on the other hand, are very involved in the overall vision of the organization which concerns 200 people here. What kind of orchestra do we want to be?? With what kind of repertoire? For what type of audience(s)? Hire musicians, choose the soloists, develop the programs, find the right conductors, if necessary fill in the gaps… But also working with patrons, meeting the press, being a voice, being an ambassador for the organization… hellip; It’s a huge responsibility, but an exciting position: we are where we can make a difference!

At 36, that’s no small challenge!

It’s incredibly exciting, and that’s what I wanted: to have a musical family. For the press release of my appointment, I had to reread my CV. I realized then that I had already been to many, many places! But over time, the United States, Great Britain, Iceland, Italy, France, Spain… over time, it becomes a collection of… appointment. It’s good to have a place. I will continue to tour, to conduct as a guest, but I will now have a center, an orchestra, a house, as well as the chance to see it all flourish over time. nbsp;!

What are the objectives that we have set for you and/or that you have set for yourself?

We are already working on season 25/26. We talk a lot with my wonderful general director Valérie Chevalier and her team. What I think we are in complete agreement on is the idea of ​​not only maintaining the level of the orchestra and the opera here but also of maintaining it. take it even further at the international level. I don't have the slightest doubt that it is one of the best French orchestras. It has a large number of young talents, remarkable leaders. There is a big room and there is hunger! In short, everything you need to have a fantastic orchestra that plays with energy, passion, commitment and dedication. It seems to me that I was hired as a helping hand. (shot in the vein Editor’s note), give extra energy to further raise the bar. Which, I hope, will also involve touring, recording… and of course fantastic concerts.

Being 100% for the local audience is absolutely crucial. Today there is such competition to capture people's attention, to entertain them, that as an artistic institution and more specifically classical music, we cannot afford to keep up. our position for granted. We are seeing budget cuts in leading orchestras and operas around the world, but we cannot simply ask that our budgets be maintained for the sole reason that classical music would be good and healthy for the world. public, that doesn't work anymore. People want to feel things, a special energy, the thrill of the event, when they go out. I hope we manage to convey that. That when the public comes to listen to our orchestra, to see an opera, they will feel that it is a special, unique, electric moment! The key is there, I am convinced: in the staging, in value, in form, of the energy, both physical and fabulous, specific to our music!

"La Bohème" by Giacomo Puccini. Direction: Roderick Cox. Director: Orpha Phelan. Wednesday May 22, 7 p.m., Friday May 24, 8 p.m., and Sunday May 26, 5 p.m. Berlioz Opera, Le Corum, Montpellier. 10 € at 60 €.

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