Brahms, Beethoven, birds and beauty — it’s Brevard

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Conductor Keith Lockhart opened the Brevard Music Center’s 80th anniversary summer festival last weekend with performances by pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and singer-songwriter Amy Grant.

Lockhart, a Fuman University graduate, is celebrating hiB9322764690Z.1_20160629142941_000_GKDERLFRL.1-0s ninth year as artistic director of the festival.

The peripatetic Lockhart also is conductor of the Boston Pops and, on the other side of the Atlantic, principal conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra.

His association with Brevard extends back to 1974 and 1975 when he attended the center as a student, studying piano and clarinet.

“It was a transformative experience and now, over 40 years later, it’s a thrill to be part of our students’ transformative experiences,” Lockhart said in a recent interview.

The summer festival continues through Aug. 7. Performances this weekend spotlight Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” (Friday; Joyce Yang, piano soloist), music by Mozart and Wagner (Saturday), a gospel celebration (Sunday) and a family patriotic concert (Monday).

The Greenville News recently caught up with Lockhart via email.

The Greenville News: What’s most exciting for you about the 80th Brevard season?

Keith Lockhart: The focus on our alumni. Students at Brevard have gone on to great things, both in and out of the music profession. Living in the moment as we do, we sometimes lose track of what incredible influence summers at Brevard have had on thousands of people. We’re inviting all our alumni back to campus, and we’re featuring many of them during the season, instrumentalists like Bobby McDuffie (violin) and vocalists like David Daniels (countertenor), composers like Huang Ruo and Mason Bates, conductors David Effron and Robert Moody, and many others.

Greenville News: A big addition to the festival is a new $2.5 million acoustical shell for Brevard’s main venue. How will this enhance the sound? How will this help musicians in the orchestra?

Lockhart: Since I became artistic director, one of my primary focuses has been on the acoustics in our primary performance venue, the Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium. It is the place where all of our constituencies — students, faculty, audience and supporters — come together to hear the results of all the work that goes on here. I’ve always said, ‘I wish the audience could hear what I’m hearing,’ and problems on stage have made it difficult for members of the orchestra to hear each other, which is the absolutely most important thing in ensemble playing. I predict that the audience will be blown away by the increased, visceral impact of the magnificent sound made by our ensembles. It will be a whole new experience for them.

Greenville News: Are there particular pieces that you’re looking forward to conducting? Perhaps Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9? Or Mahler’s Fifth Symphony?

Lockhart: Pretty much everything! Looking forward to my first Beethoven Ninth at Brevard, as well as continuing our exploration of the magnificent works of Mahler. The Gershwin Concerto in F is a particular favorite of mine, as are Strauss’ “Four Last Songs.”

Greenville News: Tell us some more about the guest performers this year.

Lockhart: We welcome back JoAnne Falletta and Matthias Bamert to the podium, as well as pianists Bruce Murray and Conrad Tao, and world-renowned violinist and concertmaster William Pruecil. Nicole Cabell, an incredible soprano, will make her debut here in Strauss’ “Four Last Songs,” and Emmanuel Tjeknavorian, an amazing young violinist who made his American debut with the Boston Pops and recently won the Sibelius Prize at the Sibelius Competition in Helsinki, joins us to perform that composer’s great violin concerto.

Greenville News: Are there particular challenges to conducting in the Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium with its open sides — birds, bugs, the heat, an orchestral score taking flight?

Lockhart: It’s exciting to perform outdoors. It adds a layer of uncertainty, and a reminder that we are not in control of the world around us. Sudden thunderstorms add to the thrill. I think the birds are a welcome reminder that we are in a beautiful setting, although not so much when they choose to fly onstage! As to the heat, there have been a couple of concerts which were about as hot a performance setting as I can imagine. We have installed a huge circulation fan for the audience, and our new stage shell will include a ventilation system and cooler lighting, so I look forward even more than usual to returning to Brevard!