By George Basler
Evan Meccarello’s musical tastes run a wide gamut from Handel and Ravel to hip hop and rap.
Asked to name composers at the top of his listening list if he was marooned on a desert island, the Rochester-based conductor and violinist names Brahms and Bach.
But he also names Unsuk Chin, a modern-day Korean composer who has worked with electronic music. Her complex and “wild and incredible” compositions would keep his mind busy on that hypothetical island, he said.
Southern Tier audiences will have the opportunity to experience Meccarello’s eclectic tastes as he takes over as the new music director for the Binghamton Community Orchestra.
His appointment, announced in July, came after a yearlong search to find a permanent successor to Timothy Perry, who retired after the 2018-19 season.
One reason for Meccarello’s selection is his diverse tastes, said Nathan Raboy, a member of the orchestra’s board of directors. He foresees Meccarello bringing culturally diverse programing to the orchestra and performing pieces that range from familiar classical compositions to “interesting and exciting pieces you may not have heard before.”
He also thinks Meccarello’s nurturing personality will bring enthusiasm and encouragement to orchestra members.
Meccarello is no stranger to the Binghamton Community Orchestra. He conducted a concert here in February (before COVID-19 shut things down) that included a piece by Stephanie Berg, an American composer, that featured elements of Argentine tango music while dropping hints of “Habanera,” a well-known aria from the opera Carmen, Raboy said.
Just 31 years old, Meccarello’s conducting experience spans professional, collegiate, youth and community ensembles. His resume includes directing the Hochstein Alumni Orchestra, an ensemble that he founded in 2020 at the Hochstein School. In addition, he conducts the Nazareth College Symphony Orchestra, the Irondequoit Community Orchestra and the Thomas Valley Youth Symphony in New London, Ct.
He is vice president of the Keuka Lake Music Festival and radio host for Soundscape on WAYO-FM in Rochester, which broadcasts chamber music and contemporary classical music to listeners in Western New York.
His interest in classical music was piqued at the end of second grade in the Canandaiqua Central School District when a teacher gave a presentation on string instruments. “I was extremely fortunate to be given the opportunity to learn music in public schools,” he said. “If not for public school programs, I would never have become a violinist, or started much later.”
After high school, Meccarello studied as Nazareth College, earning a violin performance degree, and at Bowling Green University, where he completed a master’s degree in orchestral conducting.
Conducting community orchestras, such as the one in Binghamton, is a rewarding experience because members come from all walks of life to make a connection through music, he said. “It’s a familial place where we all can sit at the table and strive to perform at a high level,” he noted.
He heard about the Binghamton job through the “conductors’ grapevine” and considered it a prime opportunity because, he said, the orchestra, which dates from 1984, is well established and features a motivated group of people.
“There’s history here, and the community has pride in that history,” Meccarello said.
While emphasizing he is open to all types of music, Meccarello is especially focused on performing modern and contemporary music of the last 30 years or so. Otherwise a repertoire is incomplete, he said.
That means Binghamton audiences, while hearing pieces from the classical musical canon, will also hear music from contemporary composers who are less well known, he said. As examples, he named Grammy-winning composer Jennifer Higdon, Cuban composer Tania Leon and American composer Andrew Norman, whose work draws on an varied mix of instrumental sounds and notational practices.
“They’re some of the things I’m thinking about adding to repertoire,” Meccarello said.
To relax, Meccarello enjoys swing dancing and listening to Argentine tango music. He has performed with Uptown Tango, a duo that combines classical and jazz with traditional tango music.
Plans called for him to come to Binghamton once a week to rehearse the community orchestra before performing a fall schedule. But COVID-19 shredded that agenda and forced the cancellation of the fall concert. Even so, orchestra officials believed it was important to announce Meccarello’s appointment as a signal to the community that the orchestra is alive and well, Raboy said.
“With any arts organization, you want to let people know something will come out the other end of this,” he added.
The current plan is to resume traditional, in-person performance in the winter (early 2021), although these concerts may feature small group ensembles rather that the full orchestra, Meccarello said.
In the meantime, BCO officials are looking at creative options, such as offering recitals through video conferencing, he noted. He would love to do this for places such as nursing homes. But Meccarello emphasized this is only in the early discussion stage with nothing finalized.
On a personal level, Meccarello said he is working hard on his music to come back sharp whenever concerts resume.
“We’re very excited to have him and can’t wait to come back,” Raboy said.