A stage is sacred. The Coeur d’Alene Symphony’s new conductor treats each as his last.
Each concert is an attempt to unify roughly 80 souls to create an unforgettable sound. On stage, Jan Pellant momentarily finds heaven through music.
“It’s transcendence,” he said.
Pellant is joining Coeur d’Alene Symphony for its 40th season. He is young conductor who ambitiously wandered for years before being adopted by one of the Northwest’s leading performing arts organizations.
The Czech musician started with the violin at 5 years old, and the viola at 13.
The son of a professional violinist, his childhood was spent in the wake of his father, a demanding but talented musician who helped prepare Jan for a difficult craft.
At 18, Pellant set his sights on the future, but said his father tried to persuade him out of a tough career in music. Reflecting on his time in the orchestra, the decision was simple.
“I could not live without it,” he said.
Pellant studied at the Prague Conservatory, Carnegie Mellon and is now finishing up his doctorate, having spent time at the University of Kentucky.
His professional work blurs borders — having conducted in locations such as Japan, China, France, Romania, Germany, Thailand, Kentucky, Pittsburgh and the Czech Republic.
Soon, he’ll add Ghana to that list. And now, Coeur d’Alene.
He said he has specific intentions here.
First, he’ll be working closely with individual musicians in the symphony to create a unique sound, a sort of harmonic, regional thumbprint, he said.
This requires extraordinary effort to build relationships between the region’s musicians, Pellant said.
“It’s about listening to each other. If you play any instrument in the orchestra, you want to make sure that you are also listening to what your colleagues are doing,” he said. “So you are not only looking into the music, but you are also paying attention to what is going around you.”
When truly playing together, he said the orchestra breathes as one organism and moves together.
Being able to identify that unified sound on stage is difficult to describe, he said, but simple to feel.
“To build unique sound means that musicians in the orchestra are listening to each other and by doing that, this sound will naturally come,” Pellant said. “You cannot explain. You cannot say what is love. You just know that you love someone. You can just explain that there is some unique sound going on.”
His role as a conductor seems simple, he said.
“You know, it’s not so hard to conduct … You can learn it in one or two days, how to move with your hands, but to be able to show some energy in your hands, true energy, that conductor has to have imagination in the mind,” he said. “There is a big difference between the conductor who is just beating and the conductor who has energy in the hands.”
That energy is emphatic direction to various sections of instruments.
Although, he said he admits musicians can easily play without him. His presence isn’t strictly mandatory.
Consider an orchestra a horse, Pellant said. It can run by itself, but with the right jockey it can run much faster in a much more controlled direction.
He said his role on stage is also to accurately portray the original composer’s intention when first writing the score. He is a servant to a long-gone creator.
“Of course this requires a lot of hard work … to know that your role is to be understanding the composer’s intention like a servant,” Pellant said. “There are so many great composers in the music history. The conductor’s job is to understand the intentions of the composer and make them happen.”
For example, some composers may have written a piece of music when a family member passed, so then Pellant must accurately portray that sorrow through collaboration with musicians in the Northwest.
Music is also an opportunity to represent Coeur d’Alene internationally, Pellant said. Over time, the Northwest’s musicians may symbolize the region on the world stage.
“It’s not just enough to me—it’s not just enough to make nice concerts where everyone has a great time and then forget it. My goal is really to make sure that every person in the audience has unforgettable moments in their life,” he said. “Coeur d’Alene Symphony orchestra, in my opinion, they have this ability and I would love to develop this potential while I am here.”