Sarah Pearson, local music conductor and professor, has been given the “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to live out her dream of conducting a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
She will conduct a concert scheduled to take place April 9, 2021. It will feature a performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Psalm 42” by the New England Symphonic Ensemble and vocalists from across the country.
“I’m super excited!” Pearson said. “It is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. When you think of all the greats who have been on that stage, it is even more exciting.”
Pearson, who lives in Ooltewah, is the music director and conductor for the Cleveland Orchestra of Tennessee and the Cleveland Pops. She is also an adjunct music professor at Cleveland State Community College and is assistant conductor for the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas.
She has conducted for many other music ensembles in and out of Tennessee. These include the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Juilliard Symphony Orchestra, the Lviv Philharmonic Orchestra, the New Symphony Orchestra of Bulgaria, the Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic Orchestra of Czech Republic, the Blue Ash Montgomery Symphony Orchestra, the Gwinnett Symphony Chamber Orchestra, the Gwinnett Youth Symphony Orchestra, the Lee University Symphony Orchestra, the Lee University Wind Ensemble, the Honors Orchestra for Chattanooga, the Tabernacle Symphony of Praise and “numerous others.”
However, she said she is especially grateful to be preparing for a concert at Carnegie Hall, noting many musicians and singers dream of performing there.
“It all started with an email. When I first got it, I was kind of skeptical,” Pearson said. “It took me a couple of days for it to register that I had been invited to conduct at Carnegie Hall.”
She had received an email from Peter Tiboris, general music director for MidAmerica Productions, which organizes concerts in Carnegie Hall.
Pearson said she doesn't know why she was invited to be a guest conductor, but she suspects it has to do with connections she made while conducting at Juilliard in 2013.
For the April 2021 concert, Pearson will be working with the New England Symphonic Ensemble, an orchestra made up of musicians from in and around New York. Joining them will be choruses and soloists who are still to be announced.
“It will be a fabulous opportunity for all the musicians and singers who will be there,” Pearson said.
Carnegie Hall consists of multiple music venues, and this concert will be held in the famed Isaac Stern Auditorium/Ronald O. Perelman Stage. This five-level, 2,804-seat auditorium has been hosting concerts since 1891.
To figure out which classical work she would conduct, Pearson chose from a list of works already in the New England Symphonic Ensemble’s repertoire. She chose Mendelssohn’s "Psalm 42" in part because of its subject matter.
“It’s just beautiful. … It is one of those masterworks I think a lot of people can appreciate,” Pearson said. “I also think it’s a good choice given these times.”
Mendelssohn, a German composer who lived from 1809 to 1847, wrote “Psalm 42” based on Martin Luther’s translation of the same chapter in the Bible.
In the Bible, Psalm 42 uses the imagery of a deer panting for water to describe a man’s desire for God. Though the verses take on a desperate tone, the writer finds comfort in his faith.
The music composition, also known as "Wie der Hirsch schreit,” is often described as one of Mendelssohn’s best works of sacred music.
Pearson plans to travel to New York the week before the concert to work with the musicians and singers. Despite the short amount of time between her arrival and the concert, she is confident she will be successful.
“I’ve been guest conducting for a while, and I know how to budget my time,” Pearson said. “We will fit a lot of rehearsal time into that week.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic putting in-person concerts on hold, there is some uncertainty about Pearson’s concert date.
However, Pearson is celebrating this opportunity to conduct a classical masterwork on one of New York’s most famous concert stages.
“I feel very grateful and humbled by this opportunity,” Pearson said. “I hope this will lead to greater things. This is an experience I will always remember and bring back with me to this area.”
The choruses and soloists for the performances are still being finalized, though she said some Tennessee high school choruses are in talks to participate. She invites chorus directors to contact her through her website, www.sarahlpearson.com
Ticket details for the concert are not yet available but will likely be posted on Carnegie Hall’s website, www.carnegiehall.org