Roger Kalia, the current associate conductor of the Pacific Symphony, has been chosen to be the new music director for the Nashua-based Symphony NH.
Kalia, 34, was selected after an 18-month search and has signed a three-year contract with Symphony NH. A native of Manhasset, N.Y., Kalia is also music director for Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra, Orchestra Santa Monica and the Lake George Music Festival in New York.
Following are excerpts of an interview conducted just days after his selection was announced last week.
What’s your primary instrument?
What drew you to the trumpet?
My grandfather was a big fan of jazz, Louis Armstrong especially, so that was something I had in my ear growing up. And I loved the sound of jazz. So when time came to pick an instrument it was without a doubt the trumpet. I also chose it because it had three valves. It looked a lot less complicated than, say, the saxophone or clarinet.
You obviously have talent. If you went into pop or rock you’d have CDs, a Spotify channel. Why classical?
I actually preferred jazz. It wasn’t until my freshman year in high school when I heard an orchestra live for the first time. That was a field trip to see the New York Philharmonic. It was an open rehearsal; I remember the “Rite of Spring” by Stravinsky, and the great conductor Zubin Mehta was conducting the rehearsal. It was just an amazing, captivating experience hearing these intense sounds and almost these tribal rhythms.
Two years later, I took a youth orchestra tour to China with the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York. At that point, I said I would love to dedicate my life and go into music in some way. I didn’t know whether it would be conducting or trumpet at that point.
Don’t most conductors have a string background?
As a trumpet player it was something I needed to really learn about if I wanted to conduct orchestras. I took a strings technique class as an undergrad. I ended up marrying a violinist. Christine (Wisch) was really a helpful resource as I started to conduct orchestras. I never got proficient in violin but learned some of the basics.
What show did you audition for Symphony NH?
We opened the concert with Fauve’s “Pavane,” then Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, and then we did a contemporary work by a Polish composer named Voiche Kila, and it was called “Orawa.” Then we ended the program with Beethoven’s Fifth. So it was a really well-balanced program, a lot of variety and different conducting challenges, which was really fantastic.
What are your initial impressions of New Hampshire?
I love New Hampshire. I think it’s a beautiful part of the country. There’s so much different types of landscapes. I’m originally from Long Island. Where I grew up is only 3½ hours or so from here. So it’s like coming home in many ways. New England will always hold a special place in my heart.
The press release announcing your appointment mentions four organizations where you’re either the music director or associate conductor.
It’s very common for a conductor to have four positions or three or two. For my first year here I will have to split my time between the West Coast and New Hampshire. We plan to move here. My main priority right now is New Hampshire.
You have a show booked for a weekend in October. Tell me what your plans are for arrival, rehearsal, community engagement.
We typically have three rehearsals. The first is on a Tuesday. Then we have a day off. On that day off, I’d love to try an outreach event. Something I’ve done here on the West Coast, they’re called Symphony Happy Hour. It takes place at a brewery or a bar in town, and we invite the community to come, spend an hour having a drink, and it’s basically me talking about the program. Sometimes we have musicians perform. Thursday would be a second rehearsal. Friday would be the dress rehearsal and Saturday’s the concert.
Talk about the first concert you will have with Symphony NH.
That concert is a big concert with Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, Brahm’s violin concerto and actually the New Hampshire premiere of a brand new work that was written a few years ago by a dear friend of mine, Chris Rogerson, called “Luminosity.”
As for Rogerson’s piece. I believe we need to have variety in every concert program, and we need to feature composers working in this country and doing amazing things, young and up-and-coming composers.
What is it about modern orchestral music? It doesn’t seem to draw crowds. Whose fault is that, and what can be done about it?
I think as conductors we have to really engage with our audiences in order for them to give the music a chance. At one point Beethoven was new music, Mozart was new music and it was met with a little bit of hesitation. If we’re doing a new piece of music I will talk a little bit about the background of the piece and what to listen for.
I always like to invite the actual composer. There’s so much (new) music that is going to have a special place in the orchestral canon. It’s our mission to keep new music relevant and not be a museum.