NATIVE Digital Feature: Kelly Corcoran & Intersection Music

We caught up with composer, conductor, and INTERSECTION Artistic Director Kelly Corcoran ahead of the contemporary music ensemble’s Stravinsky to Marsalis show this Friday, September 28. Revisit our November 2016 women in classical music roundtable featuring Corcoran here. Learn more about the performance and purchase your tickets here.

You’re originally from Massachusetts and have conducted ensembles in Washington D.C., Atlanta, Charlotte, Detroit, and even in Europe. What initially drew you to Nashville and what keeps you here?

I first came to Nashville for just one year in 2003-2004 after I graduated from Indiana University. For that year, I worked at the Nashville Opera and founded the Nashville Philharmonic Orchestra. It was a relationship that drew me here at that time, and I still strongly remember the overwhelming feeling of arriving in “Music City”—driving on Music Row and being where music was such an overt part of the culture. That was a big change from where I grew up in New England.

After leaving for a conducting position in Ohio, I returned to Nashville again in 2007 to join the conducting staff of the Nashville Symphony, where I worked for nine seasons. Nashville has been my home since then, and I continue to be enriched by the community here.

What does the creative process behind planning an INTERSECTION performance look like?

When I plan the season, I want to be sure that our repertoire includes diverse composers and perspectives. Often, the program planning is very collaborative as we work with partners. For example, we are partnering with Nashville in Harmony later this season, and I worked closely with their artistic director Don Schlosser to identify a composer to commission. Through this collaboration, we are premiering a new work in May by TJ Cole.

I also keep an ongoing list of repertoire that I discover, composers I want to showcase, venues and partners to work with, and contemporary repertoire that spurs a dialogue about the time in which we live. In the case of Stravinsky to Marsalis, this Friday is the 100th anniversary of the premiere of L’Histoire du Soldat by Stravinsky—to the date! Because of this, I knew it would be a perfect time to celebrate this great piece. Plus, it’s a work that I’ve been studying for over twenty years, and I’ve never done it fully staged with actors and dancers, so it’s been on my wish list for some time. Once I settled on Stravinsky, I looked for a work to pair with it, and Wynton Marsalis’ piece was a great fit. It’s never been performed here in Nashville and offers an opportunity to perform with a composer new to Intersection.

I then reached out immediately to Jon Royal to ask if he would direct and cast the actors and Gerald Watson to choreograph and dance. I love both of their work and really respect the relevant, deep perspective they bring to their art. We then hired some fabulous instrumentalists including Jeff Bailey, principal trumpet of the Nashville Symphony, and Carrie Bailey, principal second violin at the Nashville Symphony . . . Assembling a great team is always half the creative battle!

As a part of a November 2016 NATIVE roundtable featuring women in classical music, you spoke of an attitude surrounding classical music in Nashville—basically, people not regularly exposed to classical music would often respond to it with an “I don’t know if I would like that,” or “that’s not for me” mentality. Have you witnessed this change at all since you last spoke with us? 

Sure! I’m always encouraged when I witness the way audiences react to live classical music. Having toured with The Legend of Zelda symphony shows and now with an orchestral show for National Geographic, audiences are often swept away by the power, nuance, and incredible variety of color in an orchestra. I’m an optimist in that I think there is some classical music for everyone. This repertoire is so diverse in emotion and sound, and so many pieces are timeless and immediately connect with the human experience that we share.

What I love about the repertoire of Intersection is that we focus on new music. This music is already inherently relevant in that it often connects to issues of our time, pushes the boundaries of sound, and expands our minds about what music can be. In our busy, modern lives, it can sometimes be hard to get audiences to take a risk by coming to a “contemporary classical” music concert, but the experience is worth it!

Can you tell us a little bit about the story behind your upcoming concert, “Stravinsky to Marsalis?” 

Stravinsky’s L’Histore du Soldat is the oldest piece that Intersection has ever performed! Stravinsky made a huge impact on the contemporary composers that followed him, so we wanted to showcase his work since our repertoire includes the 20th and 21st centuries. L’Histoire uses limited resources—only seven instrumentalists and a handful of actors and dancers—since Stravinsky didn’t have access to large orchestras towards the end of World War I when this piece was written . . . We thought it would be fun to showcase this great piece that demonstrates the power of art even with limited resources.

We know Nashville as “Music City,” but the country at large knows us more as “Country Music City.” How do you think classical music fits into that perception of Nashville?

I love that Nashville embraces music as the “brand” of Nashville and that musical experiences are an important part of the lives of people that live in and visit our great city. The musical identity of Nashville is evolving. As Nashville becomes a stronger hub for film and video game scoring, the orchestral and “classical” language of this city will continue to grow. But I think it’s on all of us to decide if we think of the classical scene in Nashville as some fringe, art music on the side of the musical machine, or an essential, celebrated part of the identity of “music city.”

I’m obviously advocating for the latter. We have an incredibly rich classical scene in Nashville, with 91 Classical, all of our universities, the Nashville Symphony, Gateway Chamber Orchestra, the Opera, Alias, INTERSECTION and Chatterbird, and many more wonderful colleagues. Let’s raise this up as part of our “brand” and show the world that we really are a global music center with great innovation, exploration, and cultural diversity in the music that we showcase. I’m really excited to see what people will think of when they hear “Music City” in 50 years.

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