Neal Gittleman, artistic director and conductor of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, will return to the podium March 10-11 following a brief medical leave to recuperate from a surgical procedure.
Gittleman was diagnosed with intermediate-stage prostate cancer in late 2022. Associate conductor Patrick Reynolds conducted the orchestra throughout Gittleman’s recovery.
“I’m thrilled to be getting back to conducting again after recovering from successful prostate surgery in early January,” he said.
Gittleman will spearhead the DPO Masterworks Series presentation of “Perspectives: War and Peace.” Held at the Schuster Center, the concert features three composers’ musical reactions to war and their hopes for peace.
The selections are comprised of: Lili Boulanger’s “For a Soldiers Funeral,” featuring baritone Kenneth Shaw and the Dayton Philharmonic Chorus; the Dayton premiere of Michael Schelle’s “Resilience,” showcasing DPO’s violist Sheridan Currie and cellist Johnathan Lee; and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Pastoral” Symphony No. 3 with soprano and Dayton Opera Artist in Residence Kayla Oderah.
Gittleman returned to rehearsals on Feb. 28. While working with the Dayton Philharmonic Chorus on “For a Soldier’s Funeral,” he was excited to find his rhythm again.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” he said. “Would I get all emotional? My guess was probably not – that I’d just fall right back into the rhythm of rehearsal, listen-analyze-correct-repeat. And I was right. Back in the saddle from the jump. A few times a little voice in my head said, ‘Hey, isn’t this fun? You’re rehearsing again!’ But then another voice, who I call the Traffic Cop, would say, ‘Focus on the work!’ So I did.”
Gittleman has been eager to program “Perspectives” for the Dayton audience.
“The tale of this program begins about a dozen years ago when I heard a performance of the Vaughan Williams Pastoral Symphony –connected to World War I – at a summer festival,” he said. “I didn’t know the piece and was blown away by its beauty and the emotional wallop it packed – despite being mostly quiet, well, pastoral piece. Then when Mike Schelle wrote ‘Resilience’ for us we had a perfect companion piece – connected to World War II and more energetic in character. I’d known about Lili Boulanger’s ‘For a Soldier’s Funeral’ since my student days in Paris, and it made the perfect opener for a concert that’s not, strictly speaking, about war, but instead, about people thinking about war.”
Jointly commissioned by Dayton Philharmonic and the Fort Smith (AR) Symphony, Schelle based his composition on the powerful emotions of suffering and human resilience he experienced while visiting significant sites from World War II’s European and Japanese theaters. “Resilience” premiered in 2015 by the Fort Smith (AR) Symphony. Dayton Philharmonic’s premiere had several delays, most recently because of COVID.
“I wrote ‘Resilience’ a few years after my dad’s passing at age 89, the piece quickly became my most deeply personal creation,” said Schelle. “The piece is inspired by WWII, but in the eight years since the premiere – and subsequent performances across the U.S. – ‘Resilience’ has grown to embrace for me a much larger dramatic landscape of suffering and resilience, including some situations that have affected me personally (such as) the Ukraine invasion and the catastrophic Japanese tsunami of 2011.”
Gittleman and Schelle will host a “Take Note Talk” discussion from 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. before each evening’s concert inside the Schuster Center’s Mead Theatre. Take Note Talks provide an in-depth perspective of the evening’s programming. After the concert, DPO members Currie and Lee will join Gittleman and Schelle for a “Talk Back” to answer questions from the audience once most of the crowd leaves the theater.
“I’m also thrilled that I have such a beautiful and moving program as my first one back – a dramatic mini-requiem by the sister of my most important teacher, a powerful and exciting new piece by a best friend/composer, and a hauntingly gorgeous symphony by a composer whose music I love and want to get to know even better,” added Gittleman. “And a big thank you to associate conductor Patrick Reynolds and all my colleagues in the DPO who put on one fabulous performance after another in my absence.”