The music they make is different, but their goals are remarkably similar.
As of this past July, Opera Columbus has a new artistic director in Peggy Kriha Dye. And effective this coming September, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra will have a new artistic director in Rossen Milanov.
One has lived in central Ohio for years after previously living in American artistic hot spots such as New York and San Francisco; the other is a native of Bulgaria who will soon make Columbus his home. One was recruited after a lengthy and intensive search process; the other landed the job thanks in part to years of above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty support for the organization.
But both are keenly interested in collaboration. And both are dedicated to revolutionizing what their respective artistic media mean to central Ohio.
Milanov doesn’t officially start as symphony artistic director for another eight months, but he’s already gotten heavily involved in planning the orchestra’s 2015-16 – and future – seasons.
“We have a lot of things to do here,” says Milanov, whose title until September is music director designee.
He’s dropped by a few times in the last few months, and he’ll be back again to lead the orchestra through two shows in its 2014-15 Masterworks line-up: Organ Symphony, Jan. 30-31, and Bolero & Percussion, March 20-21. He’ll also be here for the orchestra’s second Side by Side program, in which 50 amateur musicians will rehearse with the orchestra, led by Milanov, at the Ohio Theatre. That program is Jan. 27.
Side by Side is just one of many opportunities Milanov plans to use to engage with central Ohio residents, which is one of his major goals as incoming artistic director. He recognizes the city’s momentum, he says – from its flair for the arts to its economy to its vibrant Downtown – and wants to contribute to it.
“I think the moment is right for Columbus to capitalize on all those … energies,” he says.
At the moment, Milanov is music director of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra and Symphony in C, both in New Jersey, and principal conductor of Orquesta Sinfonica del Principado de Asturias in Spain. He’s held leadership positions and performed all over the world, from Philadelphia and Seattle to Sao Paulo and Tokyo.
“It gives me quite a number of tools to really judge each orchestra – primarily by the way it performs, but also how it fits its own particular location,” Milanov says.
Among the things that define Columbus’ character to Milanov are its emphasis on hard work and its connections to education through The Ohio State University and other institutions. He also points to the city’s burgeoning culinary scene; the big companies here that draw young people to town; and arts-friendly areas such as Downtown and the Short North.
“The Downtown area has one of the most amazing collections of theaters in the country,” he says.
Though first-rate music is one of the biggest things Milanov hopes to bring to town, he also hopes to expand the orchestra’s educational efforts. He’s already spearheaded such efforts in the other cities he conducts in, and he’ll be bringing the program he started in New York – which works with area schools and teachers to bring in students who can perform with the symphony orchestra – to Columbus.
“That active component changes completely the balance of (students’) preparation and their investment in what they do,” Milanov says. “My passion really is in educating children and making sure that what we do reaches the widest possible audience and opens up the world of the child.”
He’s also been making tentative outreach efforts to big Columbus cultural organizations, hoping to plant the seeds of major collaborations.
When Kriha Dye became artistic director of Opera Columbus six months ago, it was the culmination of an ever-deepening level of involvement with the organization.
A professional opera singer, Kriha Dye has performed in Versailles, Toronto, Houston, Washington, Shanghai and more. After she and her family moved to central Ohio seven years ago, she typically performed in about five national shows a year, she says.
At the time, Opera Columbus was not organizing its own shows, but bringing in productions from other opera companies to perform locally. Kriha Dye happened to be in one of those shows, and when organizers realized that, they had her help recruit a local chorus.
“It wasn’t really planned,” she says. “It just kind of happened – right place at the right time.”
Soon thereafter, she began helping with the opera’s education program. She got more and more involved until she was named general manager in January 2013, then named artistic director this past year.
It was Kriha Dye’s drive to expand local opera that pushed her to ramp up her participation, and it continues to push her as she leads Opera Columbus forward. She’s looking to branch out and offer patrons something they haven’t seen before.
“There is an appetite for something new and fresh and innovative here in Columbus,” she says. “The city is ready and ripe for this kind of art.”
Collaboration is a major point of emphasis for Kriha Dye. Twisted – a September show that brought together the opera, the symphony and BalletMet – was a big success, she says.
“We had standing ovations before we even finished the show,” she says.
There are several more team projects planned, including a chamber opera in conjunction with ProMusica and a baroque opera in conjunction with BalletMet.
“I’d like to bring in new, fresh talent, new productions … things on stage that have been created just for that show,” Kriha Dye says.
Presenting opera as audiences have never seen it before is a tightrope walk, Kriha Dye says; after all, most popular operas are well-traveled, and the art form has lasted because of the quality of the music and the epic nature of the singing. But even with a traditional opera, there are ways to bring in a new audience, she says.
Putting care into aesthetics – making sure opera matches the glamour of the modern day, both in sets and in costumes – is one method. Keeping the shows to a reasonable length is another.
“Some operas are four hours long,” says Kriha Dye. “I don’t want anybody to be in the audience for more than two and a half, three hours.”
Like Milanov, Kriha Dye sees Columbus’ artistic potential as limitless. Not only does the city have a dedicated arts community, it’s already inspiring other cities – Cincinnati is going to have its own version of Twisted, for example – and that’s something Kriha Dye hopes to support.
What Else Is New?
Peggy Kriha Dye and Rossen Milanov aren’t the only relative newcomers on Columbus’ performing arts scene. Other recent additions include:
Edwaard Liang, BalletMet
Started July 2013
David Danzmayr, ProMusica
Started October 2013
Garth Bishop is managing editor. Feedback welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.