Brett Mitchell Set to Leave Cleveland Orchestra for Denver

[photo: Peter Lockley]
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Brett Mitchell has spent four seasons with the Cleveland Orchestra, initially as assistant and then associate conductor. He also is music director of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra (COYO).  The Seattle native has led dozens of orchestra performances in Severance Hall, Blossom Music Center, on tour, concerts in the community, film music programs and the popular holiday concert series.  But arguably his most important role during this time has been as mentor to student musicians.

"Ninety-five percent of cities in this country would kill to have a professional orchestra that plays as well as COYO.  They blow me away every single weekend.  It's very inspiring to me as now somebody who can be a mentor to them," Mitchell said.

COYO manager Lauren Generette says Mitchell is an inspiration to the young musicians.

"They often jot down quotes during rehearsal of things they want to remember.  He does make it fun and memorable for them at the same time I think," Generette said.

Joan Katz Napoli is the director of education and community programs for the Cleveland Orchestra.  She says: "He has quite the unique ability to communicate with audiences of all kinds and making them feel a part of the concert experience.  He really conveys his passion for the music and at the same time he sprinkles his remarks with a terrific sense of humor."

In 2014 Mitchell was scheduled to lead a weekend COYO concert when he got a call from the orchestra alerting him that he had to step in for music director Franz Welser-Most to lead a complicated piece, Benjamin Britten's "Spring Symphony."

"[It's] an enormous work for chorus and children's chorus and orchestra and three vocal soloists," Mitchell said. "There's, I'm not kidding, a cow horn that's called for in the piece.  Thank goodness I studied it as hard as I did because there was no opportunity to rehearse.  It was a period of 72 hours that I will not forget in my career."

Challenges like these have led Mitchell to cherish his time leading the Cleveland Orchestra as associate conductor.

"The way I'm able to listen now, the finesse with which I'm able to hear things that I simply would not have heard had I not been around this orchestra the last four years.  It impacts my work not only with the Cleveland Orchestra but with COYO and every orchestra I guest conduct.  It has unquestionably made me a better musician," Mitchell said.

So when Colorado Symphony CEO Jerome H. Kern was looking for a conductor to become music director of that orchestra in Denver, Cleveland Orchestra musician Michael Sachs pointed him to Mitchell.

"Our principal trumpet called Cleveland's principal trumpet and said, 'we're looking at this other person.'  The fella said, 'you don't want that other person, you want Brett Mitchell.'  It was love at first sight.  The musicians loved him, the audience loved him," Kern said.

Mitchell met the Colorado Symphony's criteria, and then some.

"The way we measure performance of guest conductors who come through is on a scale of one through 10.  Brett scored in excess of nine.  In the history of our doing this we have never had anyone score that high," Kern said.

As Mitchell prepares for his final slate of concerts in Northeast Ohio before joining the Colorado Symphony in the fall, COYO violist Sam Rosenthal expresses a sentiment that both orchestra musicians and audiences here in Cleveland share.

"It's been great to work with him and we're all really going to miss him," Rosenthal said.

Mitchell steps into the role as number one with the Colorado Symphony September 9, when he begins his new job as music director in Denver.

This weekend he leads the Cleveland Orchestra in a series of concerts of Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland compositions at Severance HallBrett Mitchell's final concert as the Cleveland Orchestra's associate conductor takes place over Labor Day weekend when he leads the orchestra in John Williams' score from the film "E.T."

Listen for Bill O'Connell's interview with Brett Mitchell Tuesday at 12:30 and 1:40pm on Here and Now featuring the Sound of Applause on 90.3.

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