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Clyde Mitchell - Conductor

A conductor with a difference

An interview article by Rosemary Phillips, October 2003

Clyde Mitchell - Conductor
Clyde Mitchell - Conductor
INTRO: It was Canadian Thanksgiving Sunday and Clyde Mitchell was getting ready to fly out to Los Angeles to be with his wife and cook a meal with her. That’s one thing I found out during the energetic, enthusiastic one-hour interview - that Clyde not only loves his music, he loves to cook and he loves people. As usual I could have written a book about him. Here is but a short story that just touches on this amazing and vibrant personality. (Update: While guest conducting for orchestras in North America, Montenegro, Romania and Japan, Clyde continues to lead the Lions Gate Sinfonia.)

Leading the Sinfonia Orchestra of the North Shore (now the Lions Gate Sinfonia of the North Shore)

"Every time we go out onto the stage I realize the audience has come out to hear us in our community rather than cross a bridge or listen to a CD," said music director and conductor Clyde Mitchell. He talked passionately, like a proud parent, about the birth and success of the Sinfonia Orchestra of the North Shore. As he spoke he revealed himself as a man who absolutely loves music, particularly Mozart, really cares about his community, and is devoted to the Sinfonia. He also loves food, BC wine, chocolate, travel and people.

Second Conductor with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra for nine years

For nine years Clyde was second conductor for the Vancouver Symphony doing the pops, children’s and light classical concerts. "During that time I kept looking over the waters of the Burrard Inlet and recognized there was a large audience there. So I started a series of VSO concerts at the Centennial Theatre. When my contract was over with the VSO the folks in North Vancouver suggested I stay."

Clyde Mitchell starts the Sinfonia Orchestra of the North Shore

And he did. "With the help of very dear friends and the support of volunteers and outstanding musicians a new professional orchestra was born. The Sinfonia is now an established professional chamber orchestra playing to a growing loyal and dedicated audience."

Then Clyde added, "There’s something very special going on here."

Could that something special include Clyde?

While discussing his love of music he said, "Throughout the world we sprinkle our words with musical phrases like ‘in tune’, ‘marching to a different drummer’…"

Clyde Mitchell marches to a different drummer

As he continued, this interviewer began to realize Clyde himself marches to a different drummer. "I just love to talk to the audience," he said. "Many are surprised that I do. I’m not a formal and stuffy type of conductor – I like to share with the audience. I want the musical experience to be comfortable and accessible, after all, I know not everyone has studied music in Vienna. I want people to find me approachable – I’m Clyde, not Maestro Mitchell."

You must know your audience…

As for being ‘in tune’ with his audience, growing numbers at performances indicate he certainly must be. When explaining how he pulls together a program he said, "You must know your audience before you put down your first piece of music, the artist, the performer. My vision for each concert is that every piece should have a reason for being in the program - that the music leads from one piece to the other to reach a conclusion. The audience now trusts me. This is one of the greatest confidences that a conductor can have. They trust we will play something they know and love – even those things that aren’t particularly familiar – they will sound familiar, like they have been listening to them for years."

Here Clyde was referring to the works of composer-in-residence Michael Conway Baker and other young Canadian composers. "We will always be doing music that I think is interesting and tune-full, even if it’s from a living composer. Many are afraid of that. We’re continuously battling up against the idea that if a piece came from a dead white European composer it must be good. So, when creating a program I just imagine if my mother was coming to the concert – what would she like to hear?"

Gratitude for supporters of Sinfonia

Clyde feels truly blessed that he is able to do what he does. "Frequently people give a lot of credit to the conductor but I recognize the work of the board of directors and all the volunteers and musicians. A rehearsal is like a party, a get-together every month. It’s a tremendous thrill for me to be the instigator in putting this thing together and creating this absolutely fantastic vision called Sinfonia. We are especially grateful to all the foundations and donors who have helped us get to this point."

Clyde Mitchell’s other passion - food

He is very serious about his craft and work, yet woven between his descriptions of music, the programs that include all Canadian artists, and his passionate vision for Sinfonia were words associated with food. For example; "I like to have a community presence, to be around people who are going to come to our concerts. One of those ways is by eating out."

When he talked excitedly about a recent fundraiser where his services as a chef put a few families into a bidding war, Clyde concluded with a chuckle, "I’m looking forward to cooking dinner for two families."

About food itself he said, "I love anything that’s presented in front of me, but my favourite all-time would be Sushi. I love vegetarian and I love meals that feature red meat. And I’m a huge fan of BC red wine."

Clyde sums himself up: "I’m a person who loves music. I also love food and wine and travel, to and from all places in the world. I enjoy many cultures and the music from those cultures. I’m the luckiest guy in the world because I’m married to a beautiful musician (Sarah Jackson) who is my greatest fan, and I can work in the most beautiful city in the world."

Just as a gourmet meal requires planning, careful cooking and artful serving it takes talent, experience, sensitivity and enthusiasm for a conductor to serve up a gourmet feast of music that will delight the palette of all symphony goers. Judging by audience response, Clyde Mitchell does just that!

For more information about their performances at the Centennial Theatre in North Vancouver, BC, visit Lions Gate Sinfonia's web site and for tickets visit the Centennial Theatre web site.

NOTE: There are many more articles on this site about great musicians and artists - see Index of Articles.

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