Dressed in a comfortable old sweater and with coffee cup in hand, Stefan Sanderling moves casually through the offices of the Toledo Symphony. Personable and quick to laugh, the 38-year-old conductor foils stereotypes about the austerity of classical music and those who make it.
Sanderling, who is in the first year of a two-year appointment as the symphony's principal guest conductor and artistic adviser, spoke on Monday afternoon about the orchestra, its challenges and successes.
Tomorrow evening Sanderling and the Toledo Symphony will be joined by pianist Navah Perlman in a program of music by Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert in the Franciscan Center of Lourdes College.
The concert is important, giving the orchestra an opportunity to open the second half of its season in the same strong fashion that it kicked off the concert year on Sept. 11. Sanderling conducted that memorable program.
The event offers Sanderling an opportunity to further engage Toledo Symphony supporters. That too is important. The symphony, like orchestras across the country, continues to suffer from the recession-based downturn in attendance and charitable giving.
“A music director is an ambassador for his orchestra,” says Sanderling. “My job is to sell the spirit of the orchestra to the public. The public has to understand that this is their orchestra, that we musicians are on stage because we want to give something special to the people of Toledo.”
Sanderling looks to demystify classical music. “We have to get away from the feeling that classical music is a sacred event,” he says.
Not that he doesn't take his work seriously. Reared in the shadow of the inflexible East German regime, he is the son of Kurt Sanderling, one of Europe's most respected conductors. Early in life, Stefan Sanderling learned plenty about struggle and fortitude. Somewhere along the line, he also learned about the power of the soft touch.
Sanderling insists that his colleagues address him by his first name rather than the stodgy old-school term “maestro.”
“We have to build greater trust at all levels,” he says. “We can only live if we do everything together.”
Sanderling is plenty busy when he's not in Toledo. This fall he took over duties as the music director of the Tampa-based Florida Symphony. Sanderling continues to hold the post of chief conductor of the Orchestre de Bretange in Rennes, France.
Despite the range of his responsibilities, Sanderling has made a strong commitment to Toledo. He has bought a home in Perrysburg and, despite the short term of his contract, hopes to make a personal impact within the community at large.
“I have to get to know the people here, to find out what Toledo audiences want,” he says. “We have to continue to look for new ways to reach out to the community.”
Pianist Navah Perlman will join conductor Stefan Sanderling and the Toledo Symphony in a program of music by Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow in the Franciscan Center of Lourdes College, 6832 Convent Blvd., Sylvania. Tickets are $28 and $32. Information: 419-246-8000.