Two Hats, One Baton

Rossen Milanov is the music director of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, and Symphony C, a training orchestra based in Camden.

Courtesy of Princeton Symphony Orchestra.

Rossen Milanov considers himself the two-fisted Pied Piper of classical music in New Jersey.

“To be able to bring classical music to vastly different audiences, well, that is a privilege, an honor,” says Milanov, who in July 2009 became the music director of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra. He remains the music director of Symphony in C, based in Camden.

“They are very different, and yet that is what is so exciting about doing both,” says Milanov, 45, who is also artistic director of the Philadelphia Orchestra in the city where he lives and music director of the New Symphony Orchestra in his native Bulgaria.

The Princeton Symphony Orchestra is a traditional performing group, founded in 1980, with musicians who live in central Jersey, New York, and Philadelphia. It does a five-concert subscription series each year at Richardson Auditorium on the Princeton University campus. Symphony in C is a training orchestra—one of only three in the country—devoted to the education of its young members and outreach to the community at large.

For Symphony in C, that outreach is primarily in Camden, the poorest city in the state. Most of the musicians are young—primarily in their 20s, but as young as 19—and recent graduates of prestigious schools like the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and Juilliard in New York.

“They need a few years to grow. This helps them fill this gap and provides them an environment to hone skills,” says Milanov. “When you are in your 20s, you are probably at the height of technical achievement, but in terms of experience and living through the music, you need something more—like this.”

The Symphony in C players visit the Camden public schools to teach and mentor musicians there. Their concerts, given at the Gordon Theater on the Rutgers-Camden campus, often cater to young classical enthusiasts. In addition, Symphony in C, founded in 1952 as the Haddonfield Symphony in that upscale Camden County borough, gives outdoor lunchtime concerts in Camden parks.

Milanov started with the Philadelphia Orchestra as assistant conductor in 2000 and was promoted to associate conductor four years later.

“Rossen is a widely respected conductor who is known for his musicality, broad repertoire, easygoing demeanor, and his ability to connect with audiences of all ages,” says Jeremy Rothman, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s vice president for artistic planning. He calls Milanov, “one of the most promising talents on the classical music scene today.”

Milanov does not plan to duplicate repertoire between the Princeton and Camden groups. Yet he does not consider one more sophisticated than the other. The May 8 Symphony in C concert will feature Schumann’s Konzertstück and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7. The May 16 program in Princeton is to include Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, Currier’s Broken Minuets, and Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

The difference, Milanov says, may be in the sound—the subtle evidence of the musicians’ age groups and “the musical tradition of each of the orchestras, as well as their unique role in the community.” In Princeton, he says, the sounds will be typically lush from more experienced players.

“But it is exciting in Camden,” he says. “The sound is the sound of youth, very optimistic, not afraid to do anything. You sometimes have to contain them so they don’t become impulsive.

“In both cases,” he says, “we are reaching out to show what classical music is all about. Something has to be passed on so that more people of all ages can appreciate it.”

For more information on Symphony in C, contact 856-963-6683 or symphonyinc.org; for the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, contact 609-497-0020 or princetonsymphony.org.

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