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Gene Chang guest conducts LCSO this weekend in music by Mozart, Copland and more

Conductor Gene Chang on a Zoom call with Leora Zeitlin
Leora Zeitlin
Conductor Gene Chang on a Zoom call with Leora Zeitlin

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. For conductor Gene Chang, a group of pictures – photographs, in this case – changed the course of his career. Although he had played music since childhood and majored in music at UC Berkeley, Chang was working as a lawyer when his firm posted a group of photos of famous conductors outside his door -- including Zubin Mehta, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and others.

“After about a year of having those faces staring at me,” he told Intemezzo host Leora Zeitlin in this Zoom interview, “it really started to get me thinking. If I’m going to ever get a chance to pursue things and not regret it later, now is the chance.” He left law, went to Juilliard, won a prestigious fellowship from the Georg Solti Foundation to work with the Cincinnati Symphony, and now has conducted orchestras from Pittsburgh to Louisana to Seoul. This weekend, he will guest conduct the Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra in two concerts, as the orchestra seeks a new permanent conductor.

The program includes music by Maurice Ravel, Arvo Pärt, Mozart, and Aaron Copland. Chang said that he chose the music before the covid pandemic, but the program proves particularly timely. “All four of these pieces were written by the composers at a time when they were dealing with either an immense personal loss, or facing really almost existential questions and doubts – about where they were going, of extreme uncertainty.” Listen here for the full interview, as Chang discusses her career, the music, and his love of teaching.

The concerts are Saturday, April 30 at 7:30 and Sunday, May 1 at 3:30 p.m. at the Atkinson Recital Hall, and include “Le Tombeau de Couperin” (Ravel), “Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten (Part), Symphony No. 36 (Mozart) and Appalachian Spring (Copland).