YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – When the pandemic forced the cancelation of concerts in recent years, Detroit Symphony staff conductor Chelsea Gallo stayed busy by planning the orchestra’s comeback.
Gallo, who says she has “a passion for programming,” focused on reclaiming the mask – perhaps the most ominous symbol of the pandemic – in a fun way.
The result is a concert she calls “Pops Mask-erade,” which Gallo will present when she leads the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra as guest conductor of its season-opening concert on Sept. 10 at Powers Auditorium.
The YSO is entering its second year of using guest conductors. One of them will likely become the next music director of the orchestra, which has been without a leader since the untimely death of Randall Craig Fleischer in 2020.
The “Pops Mask-erade” concert will be the first of two appearances that Gallo will make with the YSO in the 2022-23 season. She will return March 10 to conduct a classical concert at Stambaugh Auditorium that will focus on compositions by Strauss, Mahler and Mozart.
Gallo says “Pops Mask-erade” is a “highlight reel” of classical works and famous movie score music. The masquerade ball theme will tie it all together.
“It’s reclaiming how we address masks,” Gallo says. “It can be fun if done right.”
Of course, audience members don’t have to wear a mask.
“But I will,” Gallo says. “It’s really about the carnival atmosphere, celebrating. It’s a great way to start the season. You will get your Tchaikovsky and Dvorzak. But also [‘Star Wars’ composer] John Williams.”
Gallo says she is impressed with the YSO’s openness, which embraces programming such as “Mask-erade.”
“Their team is so ready to collaborate and eager to try new ideas,” she says. “They have no problem with being the first [to try something new].”
ADAPT AND THRIVE
Matt Pagac, chief executive and operating officer of the YSO, says the organization knows it must try new things if it wants to reverse a trend in the industry.
“As with many orchestras and performing arts organizations, we have seen our core audience shrink,” he says. “This was happening long before the pandemic.”
There are at least 10 orchestras within a 75-mile radius of Youngstown – including the world-class Cleveland and Pittsburgh – and the YSO has to adapt in order to stand out and secure its future, he says.
“We want to keep traditional aspects such as the Masterworks concerts, but we need to explore more ‘out of the box’ options that other orchestras around the country have been exploring as well,” Pagac says.
The accelerated use of home entertainment systems makes it more necessary to provide a live experience that can’t be replicated, he says.
“To get people to leave home, we have to be providing unique experiences,” Pagac says. “Youngstown has … great venues that rival those in much larger markets, great talent and a rich history in the arts. We need to break away from the preconceived ideas of what going to any performance is and make it an experience that will attract not only the regulars but those who haven’t attended before, and then make them want to return often.”
A CLOSER LOOK
In addition to her role at the Detroit Symphony, Gallo is the assistant conductor of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and has appeared with the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and the Virginia Symphony.
She has combined her affection for science and music on several projects. Most recently, she was invited by the nuclear engineering department at the University of Michigan to partner on a project that draws parallels between running a nuclear reactor and leading a symphony orchestra.
Although she’s a frequent guest conductor in cities across the country, Gallo says her mission is the same wherever she is.
“A mentor once told me that a music director and conductor is three things: a businessman, a teacher and an artist,” she says. “You have to ask, ‘Will people pay to see it?’ You have to educate audiences about new music, or by playing familiar music in new styles. And you have to make beautiful music.”
The Sept. 10 concert starts at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are available in advance at YoungstownSymphony.com.
Pictured at top: Guest conductor Raffaele Ponti and guest pianist Jim Brickman at the YSO’s holiday concert last December.