Conversation with Luca Antonucci

‘I was surrounded by music’

By Tim Leininger
Journal Inquirer
Saturday-Sunday, July 6-7, 2019

Luca Antonucci is the newest musical director and conductor of the Manchester Symphony Orchestra. (Siena photo)

At first glance, Luca Antonucci, 26, the newest musical director and conductor for the Manchester Symphony Orchestra, replacing Joseph Hodge this past February, appears to be rather unassuming and disarming.
The Boston native and Hartt School grad, though, has quite a history with music at such a young age. It has been a part of his life for as long as he can remember.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I’m originally from the Boston area. I grew up in Watertown. I went to school in Boston and went to college at Amherst and then got a master’s at Hartt.
Q: When did you first start studying music?
A: Both my parents are pretty serious musicians. My mother’s a professional pianist. So we just had music in the house all the time and I always kind of assumed it was normal. I picked up the trumpet in fourth grade and wasn’t serious about it at all. I totally was going to be a baseball player. It really wasn’t until high school that I started getting interested in music more seriously. I was surrounded by music. By the time I finished eighth grade I could tell you how many piano trios Beethoven had written and in what keys they were in. I knew the difference between Schumann and Schubert and I can sing you the main themes from the Ravel Trio. There was just a kind of general background of music literacy that I always took for granted. I assume that everybody had that. Then as I got more into it, I started playing in an orchestra in high school. There’s this whole other world of music that I had really no direct connection to until that. I’ve gone to hear the Boston Symphony, but I didn’t really know that repertoire as much.
Q: Are you referring to this “whole other world” as the large symphonic sound?
A: Yeah. It was really the sound that was the powerful experience for me. It was the first time sitting in an orchestra and just having the sound envelop you. It’s an amazing powerful experience and that was the first time that I really got to play music that was at the level of a masterpiece.
Q: Did you want to be a conductor by college or were you looking to be in the ensemble?
A: It was kind of an evolving process. In high school I was doing everything, so I was playing trumpet really seriously, and studying music theory and learning about music history mostly on my own, and going to concerts at the Early Music Festival. I went to a couple of music camps and trumpet workshops and kept broadening my horizon that way. Around that time at my Unitarian Church, our family put together an ensemble where we recruited the various instrumentalists that were in the congregation. My brother and I spent a lot of time composing also. Our parents had Finale, the composition software, and we would spend hours composing. I’d get home from school and went to the computer and would spend hours doing that. Then we put this little group together; this little orchestra and I started arranging music for it. I arranged parts of (Mussorgsky’s) “Pictures at an Exhibition” and some of the Schubert … that my mom was playing. That was an awesome experience. Originally my mom started conducting the group and I think we all realized that she wasn’t necessarily suited for that. I really wanted to try it out myself. I went to college knowing that conducting was something I was really interested in doing more of. I still thought I was probably going to be a lawyer or something like that. I had left the baseball player dream, but I wasn’t-thinking music is what I want to do professionally. At Amherst I was doing as much as I could, I sang in the chorus, I played in the orchestra. I was taking lessons at UMass, played in the UMass Wind Ensemble, in the UMass Orchestra for a couple of semesters. I got to work with a lot of really excellent conductors and teachers. I played with a quintet. Eventually I realized I should just be a music major because these are most of the classes that I’m interested in. I decided to do a senior thesis project, which was going to be a conducting recital. I picked repertoire. I took notes; did a bunch of research and put it together. It was instrumental and choral. I think that was the moment, which I realized that was going to be a career path that I wanted to pursue. I thought maybe I was going to be a musicologist and also conduct. So I spent a year in Vienna as a Fulbright doing musicology research at the Arnold Schoenberg Center, which was great. I think also kind of convinced me that I wasn’t really that interested in musicology. I definitely wanted to be performing more and conducting more.
Q: How’s the rehearsal process been with Manchester Symphony been so far?
A: It’s been great. They’re such a great group to work with. Their level of musicianship is off the charts. It’s really, really impressive. With community orchestras, there’s a wide range in terms of what you’re going to get and this group is far and away one of the better groups that I’ve heard and worked with. There’s a level of dedication and seriousness to it that’s really exciting. I have the feeling that everybody is on the same page musically and then we’re really able to dig in and really get into the music.
Q: Do you have any goals or objectives with them at this point?
A: Next season is going to be pretty ambitious. There are some big things on the program. I’ve been thinking about this. There are a few aspects to it. One thing that’s important to me as a personal goal is I really want to get to know everybody who’s in the orchestra. That is one thing.
Another thing is I want to get more involved with is audience outreach and sort of creating a concert experience that informs people about the music and makes it more relatable. I’m very much collaboration oriented. I’m not the type that’s going to come in and say here’s what I want to do. I find it much more valuable to find out, what are the needs here? How can we make this most successfully serve everybody’s needs? That process for me is going to be really getting to know people and finding out what are their goals for the group. Why do they play in the orchestra? What would they like to see? Harnessing that can be really powerful. There’s tremendous power in that.
Q: What do you hope the audience will receive from the music?
A: It’s such a personal experience and it varies so much from person to person. One person may come away from a piece with one feeling or set of feelings and another person might come away with an entirely different experience. The main thing for me is that it creates some kind of meaningful experience for the listeners. Everybody comes to it with their own stuff and leaves with some kind of an experience. There’re some pieces where people can just connect on an anesthetic level and enjoy it for what it is as a sonic experience. For me that hasn’t always been true and often I resonate better with music just because of how my mind works. I feel like part of my job as a conductor both for the people in the ensemble and for the audience is to be an educator in the sense that I am able to help them to build that kind of bridge, to find ways to connect. I think it’s so important also for musicians to be able to connect personally with the music. For me, that’s a big part of it. It’s not just putting the notes together. It’s getting everybody hooked into it so they’re engaged as much as they can possibly be.