In a biographical statement, conductor Alan Pierson credits a certain Chicago Symphony maestro for his move to the podium. The composer-conductor, who leads CSO members in a MusicNOW program titled “Chicago’s Own” on Nov. 19 at the Harris Theater, also reveals his love for science fiction, comedy and “Star Trek,” and his abiding bond to the New York-based contemporary music group Alarm Will Sound.
“It’s fun to pick out early evidence that I was destined for a conducting career. There’s a picture of me at age 6, waving Sir Georg Solti’s baton. And a few years later, I led the first all pre-teen production of ‘The Amazing Snowman: The Musical.’ But the photo was a fluke—someone thought I looked cute with the baton and asked me to model it for an auction catalog—and my ‘Amazing Snowman’ performance ended tragically when the title actor, supposedly having melted, emerged from the teacher’s office in her kimono, shouting ‘I’m the Chinese snowman.’
“Music was actually just one among many childhood interests: I directed the fifth grade’s only weekly comedy news show, and spent most of high school writing science-fiction novels and scripts, which got rejected by ‘Star Trek.’ Then, as an undergraduate at MIT, I majored in physics and developed a new algorithm for modeling planetary system dynamics that I can no longer explain to anyone.
“But whatever I’ve been interested in, I’ve always been an organizer, dreaming up big projects and bringing together people with diverse talents and their own big ideas to make things happen. And when I eventually decided to focus on music—initially as a composer rather than a conductor—I started doing the same. I helped to found Ossia, the Eastman School of Music group, which launched Alarm Will Sound, and was soon spending most of my time producing concerts, playing chamber music, and leading ensembles. Without these Eastman School experiencees with the musicians who would eventually found Alarm Will Sound with me, I don’t think I’d be conducting today.
“In recent years, I’ve conducted many other ensembles, including Ireland’s wonderful Crash Ensemble, where I am principal conductor. But coming back to work with Alarm Will Sound is always like coming home, and I can’t imagine my life without these people.”