Conductor Julien Benichou has a resumé that is so broad and deep that encapsulating it into one paragraph is a challenge!  His new position as Conductor of the Accord Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., a project of DC Strings Workshop, gave me the opportunity to review his extensive past and talk with him about his artistic objectives and future plans for The Accord Symphony.

In addition to taking the helm of the Accord Symphony, Maestro Benichou is currently General and Artistic Director of the Washington Opera Society and, to further his objective to foster music in younger generations, he serves as Music Director of the Chesapeake Youth Symphony Orchestra.  Many are familiar with his work with the Mid-Atlantic Symphony, where he served as Music Director for 17 seasons. 

He keeps an active conducting schedule worldwide – Portugal, South Africa, Brazil, Paris and South Korea and the United States. He’s also on a mission to use music to raise awareness of the effects of global climate change, which he’ll address in greater detail below.  Catch the Accord Symphony in performance at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage on March 13, 2024 at 6:00p.m.

Julien Benichou

Linda Carducci:  You received your musical training in Europe and have conducted extensively worldwide, including major orchestras in the Washington, D.C. and Mid-Atlantic region.  I’m curious whether you have noticed certain audience preferences in various parts of the world as regards type of programming, repertoire, composers, concert-going practices, etc. 

Julien Benichou:  Yes, audiences have very varied tastes around the world, especially but not limited to their tastes with new music. Even with the standard repertoire, some composers are more popular in different countries. Take for example English composers such as Elgar or Holst, they are very much played in the UK and US but not as much in continental Europe. Of course, each country will heavily favor its own composers. 

As for concert times, there are differences too.  In more northern countries, evening concerts will start earlier. In Paris, I would go to 9pm concerts and few concerts would start at 7pm. Chicago Symphony has 1:30pm matinees that are unthinkable in other places, where people would still be at lunch. I also have noticed very different types of listening and presentations; for example, in Russia, concerts start with a lecture about the music that can last 15 to 20 minutes and people listen religiously to both lecture and music. 

It also is to be noted that in some countries, especially Eastern Europe or Scandinavia, concerts are considered to be an education, and very little marketing is necessary as concert tickets sell out very quickly.  For example, Helsinki, which only has 500,000 inhabitants, has three full-time full-size orchestras and every concert sells very well.

LC:  You’ve used music to bring awareness to our global environment, such as the balance of life sustenance on our planet and Earth’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change.  Please tell us more about that objective, including the 2022 “The Way of the Rain – Hope for Earth” multidisciplinary concert you led in Dallas.

JB:  I truly enjoy conducting environmental concerts. I conducted the premiere of The Way of The Rain, a project of Sibylle and Robert Redford at Carnegie Hall in 2017, and since then we performed it in Monte Carlo and Dallas. It is a beautiful and powerful way to raise awareness of the imminent danger the environment and therefore all of our lives are in, the greatest challenge of our time. 

Last year, I started working with the Environmental Symphony, another beautiful project on the same theme, led by Michael Sander and Michael Cain, which we performed in Dallas and at the UN General Assembly. This year I will be a guest speaker at EartX, and I will address how music can bring greater unmatched depth in understanding issues. Music connects us emotionally and spiritually and can give us perspectives that reach to our core.

LC:  Last year, in our conversation with Andrew Lee, the Artistic Director of DC String Workshop, he noted that The Accord Symphony Orchestra is comprised of both professional and amateur musicians, and its mission is to bring music – traditional and innovative -- to all communities of the Washington, D.C. region, particularly underserved areas.   As Conductor of The Accord Symphony, how do you envision the direction of the orchestra and its programming, and what are some highlights scheduled this season, including notable artists?

JB:  Working with an orchestra that combines amateurs and professionals is a true joy, for several reasons. First of all there is the joy of teaching, seeing players grow much faster than they thought they could, thinking of ways to give them confidence, drive and make them feel connected to the music. I also find that there is a beautiful cross-pollination between the two groups, the amateurs are supported by the professionals and get many ideas on how to improve their own playing from them, but also professional musicians, put in this more educational environment and having to act as coach as well as witness the teaching and improvements, end up improving themselves as well. That brings about a beautiful fusion and shared energy that is palpable in the orchestra’s performances. For anyone who hasn’t experienced this orchestra, I truly recommend coming to a concert! 

This season, the Accord Chamber Orchestra, our new group that features more professionals, will make its Kennedy Center debut, with notably a DC premiere by the wonderful American Composer James Lee, as well as a world premiere by French Composer Benoit Menut. Benoit’s piece will be based on “America”, a poem by Claude McKay. The concert will also feature the terrific New York City Ballet Concertmaster Kurt Nikkanen and the amazing up and coming Australian Soprano Juliette Di Bello.

Later in April, the Accord Symphony, our flagship community ensemble, will collaborate with the Levine School on featuring concerto competition winners, and then play side by side with the Chesapeake Youth Symphony, a concert of Dvorak’s From the New World Symphony and Coleridge-Taylor’s Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast. Dvorak was also inspired in part by Hiawatha’s story to write his symphony and the pieces will combine beautifully. 

The Accord Symphony will be playing in Washington and in the greater Capital region, with concerts in Maryland and Virginia! We hope to serve all areas and bring symphonic performances to everyone, especially the underserved communities. We want the repertoire to be diverse and representative of our region, with local living composers, as well as reach to the wider world and of course include the great classics. It is a such a balance that I think will satisfy all audiences. There many more concerts to come this and next season, please check our website.

Thank you so much for talking with me today!


Learn more about The Accord Symphony Orchestra and Maestro Julien Benichou through these links:

DC Strings Workshop

Julien Benichou

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