For an introduction to an artist, analyze their work. To truly understand an artist, examine from where, and from whom, they derive inspiration.
For Jayce Ogren, the man chosen as the next music director for the Monterey Symphony, both of these metrics tilt toward the weird, unconventional and fresh. Ogren, who has conducted for the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, as well as the Boston, Dallas and San Francisco symphonies, has been called one of the most innovative and versatile conductors of his generation.
“The kinds of projects that I’ve championed and have taken on are outside the normal symphonic repertoire of overture, concerto, symphony, two-hour concert, we all go home,” Ogren says from Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he is house hunting in order to be closer to his other new gig: assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theater & Dance. “That can be great, and we’ll do some of that at the Monterey Symphony, but a lot of my work has been projects of contemporary music that are outside of that mold.”
In 2017, Ogren teamed up with Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang to conduct the “Symphony for a Broken Orchestra.” The piece was played with 400 broken instruments found in the closets of the Philadelphia public school system. The project helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for local music programs and to repair the instruments.
A few years earlier, Ogren led an orchestra through Igor Stravinsky’s masterpiece, “Rite of Spring.” Stravinsky’s 1913 debut of the piece was highly anticipated but proved too avant-garde for contemporary ears. Although the piece was considered Stravinsky’s opus by the time Ogren conducted it 101 years later, the performance maintained the original spirit of startling abstraction by featuring a puppet show of truly epic proportion.
“I think I’ve established a bit of a calling card of conducting the stuff that is challenging and can push the envelope,” Ogren says.
In the case of the Monterey Symphony, Ogren says he feels a healthy pressure to create a sustainable program that makes classical music for a 21st-century audience.
“We need to hold ourselves to a high standard when it comes to connecting with people, bringing new folks in and playing great music,” Ogren says. “We have to play concerts like our lives depend upon it.”