Maestro Lonnie Klein is the music director and conductor of the Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra and also guest conducts regularly with international orchestras in Mexico, Canada, Italy, Germany and Turkey as well as orchestras in the United States.
From his inaugural concert, Maestro Klein has led the orchestra to new levels of artistic excellence, with high audience acclaim, rave reviews and nine consecutive seasons of sold out concerts! Klein’s spirited vision includes a deep commitment to education and community. Under his leadership and guidance the LCSO has expanded its outreach programs for young and old.
Maestro Klein was gracious enough to sit down with "Classics Alive" for this interview.
After conducting the same piece of music many times, how do you keep it fresh?
I think if it’s quality music, it stays fresh. Because there is so much in music that you can never fully get in one performance. For instance, let’s say a Beethoven Symphony, -- there are so many things that you learn and rediscover when you conduct this kind of music… It’s like reading a novel. There are things that come out the first time and there are things that you’ll think about and would interpret differently now than I did 10 years ago. I’m more mature as a musician. As you mature, you have more experience and deeper insight into the music. It’s a lifetime of studying. I never get bored with that (Beethoven Symphonies).
There are a number of pieces that I never get bored with. How can you not want to conduct a Mahler Symphony many times? – It’s just so deep, musically. And, the challenges are with the orchestra as well. Each orchestra has its own uniqueness and it’s kind of like a living and breathing organism. So, every time you’re doing a Beethoven Symphony, it’s a totally different experience.
I think probably a sense of ensemble is the most important. – How to play in a section, how to blend in a section. Then, of course, playing in an orchestra, there are so many things that one has to be aware of. – Rhythmic integrity, intonation, not sticking out (a sense of balance), and playing in an ensemble and striving for a homogeneous sound.
What advice do you have for young musicians who are interested in pursuing a career in music?
To study and learn as much music as you can. And, to listen to lots of music and not just classical music, but, many different types of music. But, start with classical and listen to as much as you can. There are so many style periods – Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and 20th Century. It takes years and years of study, but, if you have a sense of style, it makes things so much easier.
I also think it’s important as a conductor to be an accomplished instrumentalist. I was a clarinetist, getting a doctorate and master’s in clarinet performance. Most of the successful conductors, Leonard Bernstein, Michael Tilson Thomas, Jeffrey Kahane, etc., -- they were/are very good performers. So, I think it’s hard to ask people to do something that you yourself have never known. And, typically, the best conductors have been very, very accomplished performers.
Do you think it’s important to have one instrument that you play really well and then the others, you have some knowledge of how to play them?
Yes, I studied all the wind instruments and percussion instruments. I studied the string instruments. I’m not accomplished in any of them but I know their tendencies. You have to know their limitations – what they can do and what they can’t do.
Is that why it takes so long to become a conductor?
The only way for a conductor to get training, is to have an ensemble. You’re not going to get an ensemble unless you have experience. You know, the orchestra is not there for you in order for you to learn. So, whenever you get “stick” time, you’ve got to be prepared.
Do you remember the first professional engagement that you conducted?
My very first one – let’s see – I guess that means you get paid. – Well, I did “Peter and the Wolf” in 1990 in Evansville, Indiana. I think I made $150 for the gig.
Does your orchestra sponsor programs for young people?
Yes. We do outreach in the schools where we send out every section of the orchestra, a brass quintet, percussion ensemble, string quartet, etc., and they play in almost every elementary school and middle school here in Las Cruces. We do probably 90 concerts per year and reach 20,000 children.
How do you all get funding for that?
Sponsors, grants, and you know, it’s not about the classics. People typically want to donate to the symphony because of what we’re doing for youth and family. We also have our “Hey Mozart” program where we partner with the Mexico Symphony where we have kids write tunes and then we orchestrate them and play them. We also have family concerts with an “instrument petting zoo” available before the concerts so the children can come in and try the instruments before the concerts and we have back-stage tours. And, then we play the concert. The youth and family program are an important part of our mission and we dedicate quite a bit of money for this.
How do you see the future of classical music?
I think it’s vibrant, I think it’s going to continue to grow. I think we will continue reaching a broader audience. I think orchestras are playing better than they’ve ever played. We have more orchestras, more people supporting orchestras. This is my 9th season of sold out classics! That’s virtually unheard of! I think people will pay for quality and they’ll pay for a high artistic product. You know, I don’t care what anybody says, we’re still in the entertainment business. When people come, they want to hear quality music.
Do you need to practice conducting and what does that involve?
Absolutely, I practice. I video tape and audio tape rehearsals, because that gives me a clear picture. Sometimes what we’re hearing is not really what the audience will be hearing. It’s a physical activity, an emotional activity, and it’s a cognitive activity. – All 3 domains. I study the score, and then other technical things. I will practice in front of a mirror, particularly starts and stops, working through fermatas, and figure out what can I do to facilitate the playing of the musicians. So, yes, I practice our technique just like we would practice our instruments. Bad habits creep in and if you don’t see it on a video, it’s hard to fix.
What bad habits do you try to avoid as a conductor?
Looking at the score too much during a performance, doing too much rocking, doing too much mirror-image, and not being clear with the beat. Also, being behind the soloist or the gestures being too large. There are all kinds of things that can creep in.
Was there a particular person or event that inspired you to go into conducting?
Yes. I had a good coach and mentor. – Leon Gregorian. I played under him in Kentucky and I studied under him. He took me under his wing as a friend and as a conducting coach. And, I learned so much from him – Not just the musical side, but, the business side. Let’s face it. There is a business to this; there is community component to being a conductor that you’ve got to know. You’ve got to be engaged in the community, not just a conductor flying in and out who doesn’t really have a commitment to the community. I think that’s one of the reasons why we’ve done so well here in Las Cruces. I go to Wal Mart just like a lot of other people. I run into people and I’m involved in our community in many ways other than music.
What career do you think you would have pursued if you hadn’t studied music?
I really don’t know. That’s scary! And, I’ve thought about that. – If I weren’t involved in music right now I’d probably be curled up in a corner shivering. Music is my life. People have got to do what they really love and I don’t think there is anything that would give me as much pleasure as making music.
What things do you like to do besides music?
I like to hike, to camp and fish. I grew up in Kentucky and there are all these beautiful lakes there.
Has anything major gone wrong during one of your performances?
Once, during a performance, we had a gentleman who had a heart attack in the audience during the concert. We had to stop. Then, another time, someone actually snuck into the hall. They had a cup of ice and they somehow got back stage during a quiet part of the performance and they took the ice and threw it all across the stage. And, of course, it hits this wood floor and it sounded like a gun going off!
Thank you, Maestro Klein for spending time with us.
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