John Axelrod

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1 Nov 2003
Press Release


Houston Texas Native Chosen from 220 Applicants for Swiss Position Innovative Conductor Known for His No-Limits Approach to Concert Life

John Axelrod, young American conductor from Houston, Texas, will become the Music Director of the Lucerne (Switzerland) Symphony Orchestra and Chief Conductor of the Lucerne Opera Theater, as of August 1st. Both organizations in the Swiss city are rejoicing this week to have contracted Axelrod, whom they consider one of the most creative, promising, and charismatic of the young generation of musicians.

The search commission presented Axelrod, chosen from over 220 candidates, to the final selection committee, which included many prominent leaders from the Lucerne community, in addition to officers of the Opera Theatre and the Symphony. The selection of Axelrod was unanimous. The Opera Theatre's General Director, Dominique Mentha, and the Orchestra's Executive Director, Numa Bischof, expressed their optimism in shaping this new beginning for the theatre and concert life in Switzerland's central region. "I am thrilled about this collaboration with John Axelrod," stated Mr. Mentha; "he is a wonderful conductor, he has the imagination, vision and power to transform the world." Mr. Bischof added: "It is a now an exhilarating prospect for us to be able to collaborate with Mr. Axelrod. He brings with him to Lucerne everything we wish for in life - musicality, ideas, and an unbridled zest for life."

Axelrod is founder and conductor of the Houston-based Orchestra X (from which he will step down as music director in the summer), which has become known for taking non-conventional approaches to attract Generation X. In addition to customary auditoriums, concerts have been held in unusual locations, such as airplane hangars and rooftop ballrooms, mixing up jazz, country-western, classical, Broadway, Latin music, and new works in his fearless programming. Axelrod's anthem is "Beethoven's never been a problem. It's the way Beethoven is being presented that's the problem." In an interview with Gramophone Magazine last week, he hinted that he's planning for Lucerne " 'some interesting X-like things' as well as focusing on both core and contemporary works."

In a public statement from Lucerne, as he signed his contract, he said: "I feel honored to be the Chefdirigent of the Luzerner Sinfonieorchester and Musikdirektor of the Luzerner Theater, and even more so, to become a member of the Luzern community…For me, quality has no limits, and since I stepped on the podium to hear the glorious sound of the orchestra in the KKL [the concert hall] and witnessed the innovative productions planned for the theater, the possibilities for achieving a lasting artistic vision for this organization seem unlimited, and I am grateful to be a part of it."

In addition to Orchestra X, Axelrod has been the Chief Conductor for Sinfonietta Cracovia in Poland, served as guest conductor for the London Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic in the Hollywood Bowl, the Chicago Symphony at the Ravinia Festival, Orchestre de Paris, MDR in Leipzig, NDR in Hannover, HRO in Frankfurt, Bamberger Symphoniker and Rundfunk Sinfonie Orchester in Berlin. He is a Harvard graduate, having studied piano, composition and conducting in the U.S. and St. Petersburg (Russia), taken courses at Boston's Berklee School of Jazz, and assisted Leonard Bernstein in musical theatre preparation, taught conducting at the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute, is an active producer for pop recordings, and is an event consultant for the Mondavi Winery in California.

In a recent music editorial in the German press entitled "Wunderknabe" (Wonder-Boy), critic Wolfgang Sandner (not known for gratuitous praise) wrote: "Whoever sees him [Axelrod] conduct senses immediately that here is not only an artist with baton technique to burn, but an authority on the work, all of which has the power to overturn the skepticism of orchestra musicians. The good impression, which the conductor made recently at the Music Festival at Colmar, doesn't just happen by accident. In truth, John Axelrod has culled the teachings from the good old days and equally from the present day cultural situation…Whoever contemplates his resume, must gain the impression that here is an omnivorous mind that knows that there is nothing one cannot use for this profession."

Axelrod will assume the Lucerne position as of the 2004-05 season, succeeding Christian Arming, for a five-year contract. "My family and I look forward to getting to know the rich cultural life here; but I particularly await the music making with the orchestra and my colleagues," he said. In his Gramophone interview he also stated "Lucerne is, of course, recognized for its festival, its wonderful concert hall, the KKL, and some of the best skiing in Switzerland. It is my vision for the orchestra and opera house to become not only more a part of the Lucerne lifestyle…but also serve as ambassadors for Lucerne through tours and recordings…develop[ing] an international profile." Under the aegis of the Lucerne Festival in September, his first opera will be "The Kaiser of Atlantis" by Victor Ullmann, followed by symphony concerts beginning in October.

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