Thursday, March 24, 2011

rom Glimmerglass To Hong Kong, MacLeod Steers His Life Eastward


The Freeman’s Journal
One regret:  Michael MacLeod never did witness a baseball game.  Torrential rains flooded out the final Hall of Fame Game in 2008.

What a concept:  Government subsidizing the arts.
As Glimmerglass Opera’s general & artistic director, Michael MacLeod saw the state’s annual $120,000 grant disappear after the economy went south in 2008.
“In Europe,” said MacLeod, “many of the arts organizations are struggling, too, even in the U.K.  In Italy, it is a bomb site.”
He asked rhetorically, “Where is the new Land of Opportunity?”
“China,” he answered, where interest in Western Classical music continues to take great leaps forward.
And so it is that, after a decade in the U.S. – a second chapter in MacLeod’s professional life, after Europe – Glimmerglass’ 5-year chief executive is opening perhaps the last chapter, in Hong Kong.
“If you ask people to name the most famous orchestra in the East, most people will say, the Hong Kong Philharmonic,” said the 58-year-old MacLeod in an interview the other day while he was back in town packing up his home at Six Mile Point.
He assumes his new position as the Hong Kong Philharmonic’s chief executive April 1 in “The Pearl of the Orient,” overseeing a $12 million operation.  He replaces So Hau-leung, a member of the philharmonic’s Board of Governors since 2002 who served in the position during 2009.
He’s particularly excited about guiding the orchestra through the selection of a new conductor in the next year, and in providing input to a new philharmonic hall now in the planning.
MacLeod, who left Glimmerglass Opera at the end of the 2010 season after five years on Otsego Lake, had been praised for innovative seasons built around single themes.
The first was the Orpheus myth, with offerings in 2007 ranging from Monteverdi’s “L’Orfeo,” considered the first modern opera, to Philip Glass’ contemporary “Orphée” and Michael Camus’ movie, “Black Orpheus.”
“I am extraordinarily proud of that,” said MacLeod.
He followed up the next year with a Shakespeare theme, which included Richard Wagner’s adaptation of “Measure for Measure” and also Cole Porter’s musical, “Kiss Me Kate,” based on “The Taming of the Shrew.”  The set at the Alice Busch Opera Theatre was designed to echo Shakespeare’s Globe.
In 2010, Copeland’s “The Tender Land,” written for young voices, allowed Glimmerglass to maximize the contribution of its Young American Artists, its internship program for future opera stars.
“I feel my legacy is very imaginative programming at a time of deep recession,” MacLeod said.  “Normally these things don’t go together.”
A Scot (who also carries a U.S. passport) and son of a British diplomat, MacLeod was born in Bogota and was raised around the world, including stints in L.A. and Denver.  He graduated from Amherst College.
He came to the U.S. in 2001 as New Haven Symphony Orchestra executive director.  (Flying in on 9/11, his flight was sent back to London.  He returned a few days later.)
Previously, he had directed the City of London Festival and served as managing director of John Eliot Gardiner’s Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique.
He joined Glimmerglass in September 2005, succeeding Esther Miller, now Boston Lyric Opera executive director.  He has been succeeded by Francesca Zambello, who has rechristened the opera the Glimmerglass Festival, seeking to expand the offerings and community reach.
MacLeod’s introduction to Hong Kong came in 1989, while on a world tour with the Monteverdi, and was heralded in a front-page story in the South China Morning Post, the former crown colony’s daily.
It happened like this.  While in Taipei, there was a serial killing spree in Bombay. “India has been cancelled,” MacLeod was told.  “Good luck getting back to London.”
Setting up an ad hoc concert in Hong Kong to finance the rest of the trip, MacLeod sat next to a woman who turned out to be the manager of a newly opened Marriott in Hong Kong.
“I’ll give you a cheap rate because it’s good publicity for me,” she told him, “on the condition someone gives an interview to the newspaper.”
The Monteverdi Choir won a $25,000 prize from the Japanese Critic’s Circle.  In Tokyo to receive the award the next year, MacLeod then spent a couple of weeks in Hong Kong before returning home.
“Technically, it’s part of China again; the reality is it remains independent in spirit,” he said of his new home, where he’ll experience 90 degrees and high humidity most of the year.
“It has its own government, its own administration, its own currency, the Hong Kong dollar,” he said. “It’s a massive financial generator.  The Chinese have decided to leave Hong Kong alone.”
MacLeod said he’s leaving his lakeside home – and 2008 Jeep – with regret, but has fond memories of his stint here, including one fall when he took his boat on a trip down the Mississippi.
A fresh-water sailor, he nonetheless is looking forward to Hong Kong’s location on the China Sea:  “They have junks there; look for me on a junk.”

Many consider the Hong Kong Philharmonic the best orchestra in the Orient.

Michael MacLeod will be trading in Otsego Lake and his power boat for the South China Sea and, perhaps, a junk, he says.

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