Muffitt leads MSFO, built in just one week, in surprise-filled opening performance


The 2012 Music School Festival Orchestra, under the direction of Timothy Muffitt, rehearses Sunday in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall. Photo by Adam Birkan.

Yemi Falodun | Staff Writer

“This is an orchestra that never existed,” Timothy Muffitt said.

The Music School Festival Orchestra’s savvy music director will conduct this season’s new crop of performers’ opening concert at 8:15 p.m. tonight at the Amphitheater.

“Monday night we get a glimpse of who we’re going to be,” Muffitt said. “And it continues to grow from there over the course of the summer.”

The MSFO will be playing Ludwig van Beethoven’s masterpiece Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36, which he composed between 1801 and 1802 for loyal friend and great supporter Karl Alois, Prince Lichnowsky, who had also forged a close bond with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Muffitt always chooses to open MSFO concerts with 19th-century compositions.

“Nothing brings an orchestra together like having to play music that demands that level of clarity and precision and rhythmic cohesion,” Muffitt said.

Following intermission, the MSFO will flow into Pulitzer Prize-winning Kevin Puts’ “River’s Rush.” The 40-year-old American composer earned the prestigious honor for music this year.

“It’s a very high energy piece with a lot of flow and a lot of power in it,” Muffitt said.

The veteran conductor is looking to make the recently assembled orchestra shine under the spotlight.

“As conductor of any orchestra, we’re striving to get to a point where we’re barely necessary in a performance — that there is a level of comfort in the ensemble, that this music will unfold on its own,” he said. “So, in the performance, the conductor is kind of on cruise control.”

But considering tonight’s challenging works, which also include the expansive sound of Aaron Copland’s Billy the Kid, it is easy to wonder if such an ideal is even possible — especially when dealing with young minds and talents who have yet to play together.

“They’re probably not very relaxed, because it’s a really difficult program,” Muffitt said. “But I think they’re ready to step up to the plate and deliver.”

No one embodies that very sentiment more than first-year student Patrick Hunninghake, who is ready to embrace the stress.

“I think a lot of the joy that we get from performing comes from the pressure that is put on us,” the 24-year-old trumpeter said.

“Everyone is demanding a lot of us. They’re expecting us to be excellent,” Hunninghake said. “And when we meet those expectations and we’re able to perform at an extremely high level, that’s what gives us that rush. That’s what makes us super excited to do what we’re doing. That’s what makes us want to be musicians.”