Colorado Symphony’s New Associate Conductor: More Than A Musical Understudy

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Photo: Christopher Dragon, Associate Conductor Colorado Symphony
Christopher Dragon, associate conductor of the Colorado Symphony

Christopher Dragon, the Colorado Symphony's 25-year-old new associate conductor, makes his official debut Wednesday night as the musicians accompany eclectic big band Pink Martini at Red Rocks Amphitheatre.

While Dragon's excited about leading the musicians at the new National Historic Landmark and other upcoming concerts, a lot of his most important work will happen behind the scenes at Boettcher Concert Hall.

Dragon will often help out at symphony rehearsals, checking the orchestra's balance from the audience's vantage point or helping the musicians practice tricky passages in smaller groups.

And he'll serve as musical understudy for Music Director Andrew Litton and other marquee conductors, learning every score inside out in case the scheduled conductor falls ill and can't perform. That's actually how a young New York Philharmonic assistant conductor named Leonard Bernstein got his big break in 1943.

Dragon, who's conducted many Australian ensembles in recent years, is one of two new faces replacing Scott O'Neil, the symphony's outgoing resident conductor for nine seasons. The second, Andres Lopera, 31, joins the orchestra in September.

Dragon spoke with Ryan Warner about winning over the musicians in a new orchestra, reaching younger audiences and his Red Rocks debut. Click the audio above to listen.

Interview highlights:

On the instant rapport with the Colorado Symphony musicians at his audition

“From the first 10, 15 minutes it just felt right. There was a connection there and you can’t explain it. I think as long as a conductor respects the people they’re in front of and they have a clear idea of what they want to do, and they use their time efficiently, I don’t think there’s any reason why the musicians shouldn’t go along with what you do.”

On working to reach younger audiences for the symphony

“A majority of my friends don’t really know much about classical music or don’t listen to it. I feel sorry for those people that are missing this huge, amazing world -- this sound world. So it’s definitely something I want to do here.”