As artistic director of the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra and music director of the Joffrey Ballet, Scott Speck is a busy man. Despite his whirlwind schedule, he insists, “I love my life. It’s a really good balance. There are a couple of weeks a year that are very stressful, where I try to figure out which dates are going to be where next season. Once that is set and everyone has their expectations, then it’s relatively easy, because I feel like I’m going home in every direction.”
A frequent guest at Symphony Center, Speck returns Oct. 17 for a Soundpost event titled “Beethoven: The First Romantic,” as part of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s season-long celebration of the composer’s 250th birthday. In a discussion of the great composer’s life and times, Speck will explain how Beethoven propelled the music world into the Romantic era. Special attention will be given to Symphony No. 3 (Eroica), the work that he believes started it all.
“As I see it, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Third Symphony is one of the most astonishing works ever composed — because, like an asteroid blast, it created a whole new era,” Speck said. “With this one piece, Beethoven dragged the whole world of music, kicking and screaming, into the Romantic period.”
Along with his Chicago-area posts, Speck also serves as music director of the Mobile (Ala.) Symphony and the West Michigan Symphony, based in Muskegon. In each of his conducting positions, Speck tries to buck conventions so that people might find a key to unlocking classical music. One such effort is talking at least once from the podium during concerts. Although that might not sound like a big deal, it has only become a common practice in the last decade or two, and it is still frowned on by some conductors.
Speck also has been heavily involved in educational concerts for young people and families. He estimates that he has led nearly a thousand programs of this sort since he started as assistant conductor of the Honolulu Symphony in 1991. In addition, the West Michigan Symphony is one of the 10 original orchestras to take part in Carnegie Hall’s Link Up program. Through this nationwide initiative, musicians travel to New York City for regular training, and once back home, they work with educators to bring music to students in their region.
As the co-author of the best sellers Classical Music for Dummies and Opera for Dummies, Speck believes in taking a down-home approach to an art form often considered beyond the realm of the common man. Responding to a question of whether he’d rather have a beer with Beethoven or Mozart, Speck doesn’t hesitate to select his stein partner of choice. “Beethoven, because I could ask him about his composition process,” he said. “Mozart just took dictation from some inner power, but Beethoven composed consciously. Of course, I’d want to meet him before he went completely deaf.”
TOP: Scott Speck addresses the audience during a CSO Family Matinee concert. | ©Todd Rosenberg Photography