Relationship issues? Memphis Symphony Orchestra (MSO) conductor-in-waiting Robert Moody is here to help. With his assuring South Carolina drawl, the man chosen to replace departing MSO music director Mei-Ann Chen offers this piece of advice: "If you're in the doghouse because maybe you didn't get your wife, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, or partner exactly what you were supposed to for Valentine's Day, now is your chance to make up for it and buy tickets to the symphony this weekend." The concert is built around romantic themes with performances of Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet, Leonard Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, and Ravel's Boléro.
"There's something to be said about rhythm," Moody opines, working to explain why Ravel's 16-minute workout on a single theme is so frequently coupled with erotic imagery. "The one instrument that plays from the first note to the last, without ever stopping, is the snare drum. It starts at four-p, the softest it's possible to play. By the end, it's blowing the roof off. There's just something about that incessant, driving beat. You don't have to take too much time to explain it. People understand."
Moody thinks Bernstein's score for the musical West Side Story may be the greatest sonic achievement of the 20th century. "It's groundbreaking on every level," he says. "This is a tour de force work for the orchestra. It's so poignant and one of my favorite pieces to conduct."
The MSO and Moody have been courting since 2006, when he was first invited to guest conduct a special concert in honor of Elvis Presley's birthday. They flirted hard when the orchestra was searching for David Loebel's replacement in 2010 and will be joined together at last when Chen steps down at the end of the 2015-16 season.