Tuesday, April 20, 2021

San Francisco Classical Voice: Roderick Cox Blazes His Own Trail

Roderick Cox

San Francisco Classical Voice

Victoria Looseleaf on April 19, 2021

Born in Macon, Georgia, Roderick Cox became enamored of music as a child attending the Seventh Day Adventist Church, where his mother sang in the choir. Taking up the French horn, he eventually attended the Schwob School of Music at Columbia State University before attending Northwestern University and graduating with a master’s degree in conducting in 2011. Studying with Mallory Thompson and Victor Yampolsky, Cox, an African American, has since seen his star rise in this very competitive field.

Indeed, as the winner of the 2018 Georg Solti Conducting Award from the U.S. Solti Foundation, 33-year-old Cox, who is based in Berlin, has been praised as a conductor who is “paving the way” (NBC News), with the Minnesota Star Tribune hailing him as a “trailblazer ... a conductor who will be amongst the vanguard.” Finding success in the States and abroad, the musician has appeared with, among others, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Houston Grand Opera, and London’s Philharmonia Orchestra. 

Moving at a breakneck pace, Cox was slated to make his debut at the Metropolitan Opera and San Francisco Opera — both with Rossini’s The Barber of Seville — as well as appear with the LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl, Aspen Music Festival Chamber Orchestra, and with the New York Philharmonic (Young Peoples Concerts). These concerts, as musicians know all too well, were canceled because of COVID-19.

Then SF Opera made an offer he couldn’t refuse: Determined to return to live performances, the organization’s general director, Matthew Shilvock, re-envisioned Rossini’s comic masterpiece in a new production that would be presented in a drive-in setting at San Rafael’s Marin Center. Marking the company’s first live performances since the beginning of the pandemic, the beloved work runs for 11 performances beginning April 23 – May 15, and has been adapted by director Matthew Ozawa.

Sung in English, the production now runs a sleek, intermissionless 90-minutes, sans chorus and several characters, but with 17 musicians. And it will take place on the unit set originally intended for SFO’s new production of Beethoven’s Fidelio, also postponed because of the pandemic.

Contributing to the unique drive-in experience, Bay Area designer Alexander V. Nichols’s set and projection designs will take on the appearance of the War Memorial Opera House’s backstage dressing rooms, and singers, including baritone Lucas Meachem in the title role and mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack as Rosina (Laura Krumm sings the final three performances), will be sporting new costumes designed by Jessica Jahn, while lighting for the open-air production is provided by JAX Messenger. 

I spoke with Cox by phone from Marin County, where he had managed to squeeze in a workout in addition to rehearsing. We chatted about an array of topics, from the protocols of mounting a live performance in the time of COVID to making it as a Black conductor in a white-dominated arena.

First of all, how have you been faring during the pandemic and have you spent most of this past year in Berlin? Also: Have you been vaxxed yet?

I am vaxxed, and spent most of the pandemic in Berlin, but I’m fortunate to have an American passport and a German visa, which has allowed me to travel home and work with orchestras here and there. My schedule has taken a variety of hits like many artists, but I’ve also realized that I’ve been fortunate to put together a few concerts in different places.

How does one go from singing in church to being a world-class conductor — and aside from your mother’s singing, was there music in your family?

I don’t consider them classical musicians, but music was important in my upbringing. It was almost required or expected that we go to church each Saturday and it was also expected that we would participate in the musical ensemble. For me, I was always fascinated with going to my mother’s rehearsals on Friday nights, but not many kids would like that. I enjoyed seeing the rehearsal process and seeing it all come together.

As I grew older and my ear developed, I received more training and music evolved for me in a natural way. I never thought I’d become a conductor with a professional orchestra or be doing what I do now, but Macon [Georgia] had a robust music education program and I thought I would become a music educator. 

No comments: