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Conductor Christopher James Ray will lead LSCO in two concerts this weekend

Christopher James Ray will guest conduct the LCSO this weekend
Curtis Brown Photography
Christopher James Ray will guest conduct the LCSO this weekend

When he was in college, Christopher James Ray attended a “Live from the Met” performance of Madame Butterfly at a movie theatre, and the experience changed the course of his life. “I was just so affected by it, I was weeping there – you know, every one of my friends was with me and I was trying to hide my face,” he told Intermezzo host Leora Zeitlin in this Zoom interview. “I thought, ‘I have to do that. If there is something that can move people so much, I want to do that.”

Ray got connected with the Mississippi Opera, and circumstances then led him to study with American opera composer Carlisle Floyd. Floyd eventually took Ray on as his assistant for several years, and Ray now sees part of his mission as championing the music of his mentor, who died in 2021. “Carlisle’s 100th birthday is in 2026, and in these next years leading up to that, we want as many places doing his work as much as possible,” Ray said. Ray will do just that this weekend when he guest conducts the Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra in two concerts that include an orchestral suite of the melodies from Floyd’s most famous opera, “Susannah.”

The concerts will also include “River Rouge Transfiguration,” by contemporary American composer Missy Mazzoli, a work inspired by a Ford Motors factory in Detroit during its heyday in the 1920s. Ray chose the Mazzoli because, like Floyd, she is known for her operas but also writes symphonic music. The program will conclude with the beloved Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” by Antonin Dvorak.

Listen to the entire interview as Ray discusses the music and life of Carlisle Floyd, his own beginnings as a musician, and the works he’ll conduct this weekend. The concerts are on Saturday, Dec. 10 at 7:30 and Sunday, Dec. 11 at 2:00 at the Atkinson Recital Hall.

The interview includes short clips from the following recordings:

Renee Fleming, ”Ain’t it a pretty night,” and “The trees on the mountains,” both from “Susannah,” by Carlisle Floyd, on the cd, “Renee Fleming: I Want Magic!,” with James Levine conducting the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra (London, 460567); and Jennifer Koh playing “Vespers for Violin,” by Missy Mazzoli, from “Jennifer Koh: Limitless” (Cedille 191).