Winston-Salem Symphony will present “Concerto (R)Evolution” for its next Classics Series Concert, featuring guest conductor Vladimir Kulenovic.
Kulenovic is the third music director candidate to conduct a concert for the 2022-23 season.
The concert will highlight Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major by Joseph Hayd, Concerto for Orchestra by Béla Bartók and Concert Overture No. 2 by early 20th-century African American composer Florence Price.
E. Merritt Vale, Winston-Salem Symphony’s president and chief executive, invites people to join the symphony in the music hall as the organization welcomes its third music director candidate.
“We encourage you to join us at the various events throughout the week to meet Vladimir Kulenovic, who is a highly acclaimed and dynamic conductor,” Vale said in a statement. “We want audience input as we choose our next music director and would love to know what you think of his presence both on and off the stage.”
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The concert focuses on revolutionary composers and the evolution of the concerto form.
A concerto, a standard part of most orchestra programs, is a piece of music with a solo musician accompanied by the full orchestra.
The symphony stated, “This concert takes the concerto to the next level. It opens with a concert overture, moves into a traditional concerto showcasing the talent of soloist Julian Schwarz and concludes with a concerto for orchestra, where each section of the ensemble has a chance to act like a soloist by demonstrating their skill and virtuosity. The vibrant program evokes the setting in which the individual evolves into a collective.”
Kulenovic said the interesting thing about the program is that Price, Haydn and Bartok have something in common.
“We have a concert overture then we have concerto then we have a concerto for orchestra,” Kulenovic said. “It’s like three things in the concert. They all have a bit of (the) trait of ethnomusic.”
He said both Price, born in 1887, and Bartok, born in 1881, were from the same generation.
In the opening piece, Price is using spirituals, “some of her ethnomusic of her identity, her people — African-Americans in the United States around that time,” Kulenovic said.
He said Bartok went around Hungary and collected folk music tunes then based a lot of his music on that.
In the concert’s closing piece, Bartok is using some of the music of his people.
“They both are kind of doing the same thing,” Kulenovic said of Price and Bartok. “They are expressing from where they are from. They are expressing the spirit of the times in which they are in. And today, through the lens of that, we can have 20/20 vision hindsight.”
He said the concert is asking an interesting question: How would today look through the lenses of these composers?
“Concerto (R)Evolution” marks the return to Winston-Salem for Kulenovic (pronounced “koo-LEN-o-vich”).
He was one of five finalists who interviewed and auditioned for Winston-Salem Symphony’s music director job in 2018 and 2019 when Timothy Redmond ultimately got the job, replacing Robert Moody.
The Chicago Tribune named Kulenovic “Chicagoan of the Year in Classical Music,” and Tribune critic John von Rhein called him a “conductor with an uncommon passion.”
Born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia), in 1980, Kulenovic said music was in his family well before he was in his family.
“Both of my parents were musicians and teachers,” he said, “and my aunt was a ballerina.”
His mother played the piano and harpsicord, and his father was a composer.
“The story goes (that) I took my dad’s conducting baton and started play conducting when I was 2 years old. That was my favorite toy,” Kulenovic said.
At the age of 4, he started playing the violin and piano, and began formal music school when he was 5 years old.
Kulenovic and his family moved to the U.S. when he was 12.
“I did piano, and then in my 20s, I made full circle back to conducting,” he said.
He studied piano and conducting at Boston Conservatory and received graduate degrees in conducting from Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University and The Julliard School.
He was music director of the Lake Forest Symphony in the greater Chicago area. He was also associate conductor of the Utah Symphony and Utah Opera, assistant conductor with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, principal conductor of Kyoto International Festival in Japan, and resident conductor of Belgrade Philharmonic in his native Serbia.
Kulenovic said that it is an honor to be invited back to Winston-Salem as a candidate for Winston-Salem Symphony’s music director position.
“I loved my time last time in Winston-Salem,” he said. “The musicians of the Winston-Salem Symphony have this wonderfully pronounced quality of teamwork.”
He added, “Musically, this teamwork extends itself to a kind of playing style that is more similar to chamber music because everybody is on the same wavelength.”
Kulenovic spoke of why he became a conductor, saying he could have remained an instrumentalist, but he loves conducting because he can share ideas with the orchestra musicians.
“This opportunity to share ideas allows us to obtain kind of like a 360-degree view of music,” he said. “It’s kind of like having eyes in the back of your head, too, because musicians will give you the perspective of the music that you don’t have. That’s beautiful. It makes you grow by being open-minded. You learn and grow as a conductor by listening.”
He likes to approach every rehearsal with gratitude because he can gain different perspectives.
Kulenovic said it is crucial for a conductor to listen and be flexible.
“That’s one of my strengths, because I love the ideas of others,” he said.
But, he said, creativity and leadership are equally important.
“You can’t just depend on the ideas of others,” he said. “You have to bring your creativity. That’s your job. And you have to have leadership.”
Kulenovic also said conductors should bring depth and simplicity to the table and be a great communicator.
“As a conductor you have to do a lot of work and analysis and study,” he said. “But then you have to simplify that. You have to really simplify that to be essential, to get it across, to communicate … As musicians, as performers we communicate. That’s what performing is, so your communication skills have to be high.”
Julian Schwarz, 31, has been heralded as a cellist destined to rank among the greatest of the 21st century. Following his concerto debut at 11 with Seattle Symphony and his father, Gerard Schwarz, on the podium, Schwarz made his U.S. touring debut with the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra in 2010.
In 2013, Schwarz won first prize in the professional cello division of the Schoenfeld International String Competition in Hong Kong. In 2016, he won first prize at the Boulder International Chamber Music Competition’s “The Art of Duo.”
He is assistant professor of cello at Shenandoah Conservatory of Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va. He is an ardent supporter of new music and often commissions new works.
Schwarz studied at the Academy of Music Northwest and Colburn School. He received a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, both in music, from The Juilliard School.
He plays a Neapolitan cello made by Gennaro Gagliano in 1743.
Kulenovic has worked with Schwarz in the past.
“Julian is among the most marvelous soloists one can have the pleasure to work with,” Kulenovic said. “His creative ideas always have artistic integrity 100%. That’s great because that’s your gravity.”
He added that Schwarz has an “effortless and powerful virtuosity” and is a great communicator.
“He’s got such a wide palette of musical colors,” Kulenovic said. “There are so many nuances there. He’s so easy to work with because his delivery is effortless.”
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