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MUSIC DIRECTOR & CONDUCTOR. Connecting people of all ages in Eugene with the magic and experience of live orchestral music is a priority for Francesco Lecce-Chong, the new music director and conductor for the Eugene Symphony. Lecce-Chong started his four-year position with the Eugene Symphony this summer. (Photo/Amanda L. Smith Photography)
From The Asian Reporter, V27, #19 (October 2, 2017), page 11.
Eugene Symphony’s music director commits to creating access to great live music
By Maileen Hamto
The Asian Reporter
Connecting people of all ages in Eugene with the magic and experience of live orchestral music is a priority for Francesco Lecce-Chong, the new music director and conductor for the Eugene Symphony.
Lecce-Chong started conducting at age 16, and has been ascending in his craft ever since.
Thus far in his short but illustrious career, Lecce-Chong, 30, has appeared with orchestras around the world, including the National Symphony Orchestra, Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, among others. He has served as assistant conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and music director of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra.
"Every performance is unique; nothing is ever exactly the same. At any given moment, as musicians, we all are feeling slightly different, all reacting slightly differently," Lecce-Chong said. "I love the challenge and spontaneity, and the people I get to work with."
For the top musical post at the Eugene Symphony, Lecce-Chong bested 250 candidates from across the United States and more than 40 countries. At his audition concert in March, he connected instantly with Eugene musicians.
"It was a difficult program, and the orchestra played so well together," he said. "The performance was a perfect mix of intense work and real enjoyment as well."
As one of the most sought-after conductors of his generation, Lecce-Chong’s travel schedule will continue to be busy. And he considers himself "lucky" to have a home base in Oregon.
"Even though I’ve been living in big cities, it’s great to return somewhere where the outdoors is so important," said Lecce-Chong, a native of Boulder, Colorado.
"Nature and music go very well together. Eugene is a beautiful city to be part of the art scene."
While settling into his new role, getting to know the community is on the top of his to-do list. Thus far, he has been busy becoming acquainted with the staff and musicians of the orchestra, as well as the symphony’s expansive support base in Eugene and beyond.
"No one goes to an orchestra concert and walks away feeling underwhelmed," he said. "My biggest priority is to make sure everyone is connected to all that we’re doing, and to feel connected to the music."
"In a perfect world, we’re constantly moving to a spot where every single person in Eugene will have a chance to hear the Eugene Symphony," he explained. "Our goal is to continue to expand what we offer, and be sure everyone has the chance to hear great music."
Sharing his love for live music, while also ensuring the experience is accessible to people of all backgrounds is important for Lecce-Chong, who is proud of his mixed heritage.
"I grew up in a Chinese and Italian home — third-generation on both sides," he said. "I learned very quickly about how much fun it is to experience culture."
His lived experiences in bridging his upbringing with his training in classical piano have instilled an appreciation of and willingness to showcase the cultural artistry of diverse musical traditions whenever he can.
"As a music director, it’s important for me to take a big view of what we’re doing musically, and make sure we have wide cultural diversity in the music, although much of it is western- and European-based," he said.
Lecce-Chong thoroughly appreciates opportunities to showcase diverse musical styles and origins. This year, he was the guest conductor for the Civic Orchestra of Chicago’s Lunar New Year concert that featured the Shaanxi Province Song and Dance Theatre National Orchestra performing on traditional instruments.
"It’s a joy connecting with musicians, each with their own artistry, personality, and their own way of connecting with the music." he said. "I’ve always loved that part about conducting: getting people to work together to create this amazing experience for our audience."
In his various roles at other orchestras, Lecce-Chong became known for his ability and drive to connect with community and has had great success designing programs that engage youth in music. For the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, he led the nationally renowned Arts in Community Education program, considered among one of the largest arts integration programs in the country. While in Pittsburgh, he offered preconcert talks and conducted concerts for school audiences.
In Eugene, he looks forward to bringing the same passion for creating access to music for people of all backgrounds and ages.
"One of the great things about music is that you don’t need to play or experience it as a professional in order for it to have an amazing effect on you, to allow you to feel creative, to let your imagination run wild," he said.
"As human beings, we’ve always used music to communicate with each other. Even deeper than spoken language, we are able to connect emotionally through music."
The next performance of the Eugene Symphony, Piano Fireworks, is led by Lecce-Chong and features pianist Conrad Tao. It takes place at 7:30pm on Thursday, October 19 at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts, located at One Eugene Center in Eugene, Oregon. To learn more about Francesco Lecce-Chong and the Eugene Symphony, or to buy tickets, visit <www.eugenesymphony.org>.
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