By Montague Gammon III
The Virginia Symphony announced Wednesday that Eric Jacobsen, conductor and cellist, is the VSO’s new Music Director, the twelfth in its century-long history..
Jacobsen brings along an engaging smile and wit, a 1745 cello made by the Turinese luthier Giovanni Battista Genova, a multi-page resume packed to its small-print margins with achievements and forward thinking success, and, befitting his image as an orchestral conductor, a mass of upstanding hair as wavy as a prestissimo baton tip, looking on his website and on YouTube like someone blind sided by a blow dryer.
He was VSO’s guest conductor in March of 2018 for Philip Glass’s Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra, Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings and Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1888 symphonic suite Scheherazade.
“My first interaction with the orchestra back in 2018 felt very like-minded…instantly really great. Realizing…that the feeling was mutual, that the musicians and orchestra also responded to the time we had together made it even more exciting,” he said by email at the beginning of a whirlwind 48 hour visit to Hampton Roads. In person, he said that concert was “Love at first hear.”
Jacobsen grew up in a musical family, initially regarding music as “almost…like playing games, sports and eating.” There’s a prize for young flute players in his native Long Island named after his late mother, Ivy. His violinist father Edmund, a Met Opera Orchestra veteran of 30 years, told him, “the better you get, the more fun you have.”
Jacobsen is married to Grammy winning and Prairie Home Companion performer singer-songwriter Aoife O’Donovan. Their daughter Ivy Jo turns 4 this year and will start Suzuki instrumental lessons in September. (Jacobsen began as a Suzuki student himself.)
Jacobsen turns 39 just about two weeks after he takes up his VSO position July 1, and he’s already had the sort of multi-continental, ocean spanning career that, between tours and guest conducting, racks up the frequent flier miles.
In addition to being Music Director of both the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra (Florida) and the Greater Bridgeport Symphony (Connecticut), he’s conductor of The Knights, a New York based, Carnegie Hall experienced, sort-of-chamber orchestra, self described as “Flexible in size and repertory,” which he and his violinist brother Colin co-founded.
The Knights – originally “The Knights of the Multi-Sided Table” – have collaborated with a host of greats, including names familiar to VSO and Virginia Arts Festival audiences such as Avital, Ax, Fleck, Ma, Mark Morris, Perlman, Shaham…
His 2019-20 season in Orlando included Inside the Score; he led the audience on a guided exploration of Hector Berlioz’s five part Symphonie fantastique, notorious as the finest piece of musical art ever composed by a drug addled celebrity stalking genius in his eventually successful pursuit of a wife.
Bridgeport’s webpage credits him as having “revitalized the orchestra and brought a new level of excitement and youthful energy that is unique among regional orchestras in Connecticut.”
As a chamber musician he’s part of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, and was for a time a founding member of Brooklyn Rider, a string quartet that the Los Angeles Times termed “one of the wonders of contemporary music.”
Jacobsen, whom the New York Times called “an interpretive dynamo,” concluded his comments about the VSO with these words: “The potential for great artistic projects here felt so heightened because we’re already starting from [a strong] footing…every event can be memorable. And if we’re not creating memories in a community and with ourselves, why do anything?”