Evan Rogister, a 34-year-old opera and concert conductor based in New York, is a fast-rising star within classical music. After leaving Raleigh about 15 years ago, Rogister made his name on the international circuit, manning the podium for many of the nation’s great orchestras and serving as Kapellmeister at the Deutsche Oper Berlin from 2009 to 2011.
At 7:30 this Sunday, January 19, Rogister returns to Raleigh to conduct the NC Symphony—with the young, renowned violinist Hilary Hahn, whose daunting age-to-accomplishment ratio rivals Rogister’s—in a gala concert at Meymandi that centers on Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5. The INDY recently spoke with Rogister about the NC Symphony’s influence on his career, his path to the world’s most prestigious stages, and the uncanny artistry of Hahn.
For more information on Sunday’s concert and for tickets, see the Symphony’s website.
INDY: Tell us about growing up in Raleigh.
EVAN ROGISTER: I was born in Durham, but then lived in Raleigh and went to high school at Enloe. I graduated in 1998. Enloe had a wonderful music program. I grew up going to a lot of NC Symphony concerts, and they were certainly the first orchestra I ever heard. Gerhardt Zimmermann was the conductor at the time. It’s very meaningful for me to come back and conduct them, because they were the first source of music for me.
How did you become attracted to classical music?
My grandmother was a voice and music teacher. She started teaching me when I was only 6 or 7. My family went to lots of concerts, and it felt normal to develop an interest in classical music. My mother says that even when I was 3 or 4, I would ask to have a record put on and then go stand on the hearth and conduct along. I definitely remember seeing a video of a conductor when I was really little and thinking that was something fun to do.
Do you remember any particular NC Symphony concerts that made a big impression on you?
I do. I remember a concert of Mahler’s sixth, an extremely dramatic and gut-wrenching piece. I didn’t know until then that music could affect you that much, in so many almost confusing emotional ways—that classical music could be an overwhelming experience.
You started out as a musician, right?
Yes, I started out as a trombonist and was pretty serious about it all through high school. I ended up going to Indiana University as a trombone major, and they had a really wonderful facility for opera. I started singing, and for a while, I did a double major in voice and trombone. I was always interested in conducting, but the best way to learn that line of work is to do as many different parts of the field as possible, so that you have a broad knowledge of all the things that go into making a concert or opera happen.
Tell us about some of the highlights of your career since leaving Raleigh.
For the longest period of time, almost three years, I lived in Berlin and was the resident conductor at the German National Opera. That was an incredible experience, and very meaningful for me, because my grandmother was born in Berlin. So it was like completing the family circle to work there, and for any musician, Berlin is kind of heaven, because it has five major symphony orchestras and three opera houses. The only equivalent in the world is, I think, New York, in terms of the number of events happening and the number of master musicians touring through. Some other highlights have been Stockholm, Chicago and Santa Fe. It’s a lot of travel, but that makes it very fun as well.
How does the classical music culture in Raleigh compare to other places you’ve worked?
I feel like it’s always thrived. Raleigh has been very fortunate to have some strong supporters. Meymandi Concert Hall is very unique, such a special performing-arts space for an orchestra. That design of having the orchestra sort of in the round, where the audience can sit on the sides and behind them, is really fantastic. It’s a situation I really like to work in because it makes the orchestra and conductor seem more accessible. The NC Symphony has always had one of the strongest education missions in the country, which makes the orchestra feel like not just something for people with subscriptions and a lot of money.
For me personally, it was really helpful that the orchestra was so engaged in the community because I found my trombone teacher, James Miller, who was at the time the principal trombonist of the NC Symphony. He was a wonderful mentor who brought me to lots of concerts and rehearsals, which made orchestra culture feel accessible. It can be very daunting to go to a rehearsal, with these highly trained people with specialized skills interacting in a group. If you don’t know the dynamic, you can really feel on the outside. But they were very welcoming, and through my teacher, I got a taste of that early on.
Have you ever worked with violin soloist Hilary Hahn?
I have. She’s a fantastic collaborator and one of the great soloists . It’s very exciting for Raleigh to have her. The concerto she’s playing, Mozart’s fifth, is really one of the cornerstones of the repertoire and it will be very special to hear her play it. She has a standard of accomplishment that very few soloists ever reach, and Hilary’s in her early 30s. It’s really exciting to hear someone who’s such an accessible person but is also on this incredible level.
And you’ve surely conducted Mozart’s fifth before.
Yes, I think it has a really beautiful dialogue between the soloists and the orchestra. It’s simply a joy to conduct Mozart because it’s such inspired music, and it has a simplicity that’s accessible to anyone. Even a child can immediately recognize the joy and tunefulness of the music. But it also has a depth of structure and drama that could only be thought up by the greatest genius ever. There’s a juxtaposition of simple beauty and very complex craftsmanship. One of the most fun moments I ever had on the podium was conducting The Magic Flute in Berlin. There are some repeating chords in the overture, and every time they repeated, a small child about five rows back cried out, “HAHHH!” That’s what Mozart is all about: instant joy.
Is there anything else that’s special about this program of music?
The Schubert and the Weber all come from this period in the mid-1820s, around the same time as Beethoven’s ninth. Weber and Schubert actually knew each other; Schubert sort of went to Weber for some professional help. And Weber was the first cousin of Mozart’s wife, Constanze. Also, not to sound morose, but none of these guys lived for very long. Weber died during the run of his opera Oberon, which we’re doing the overture from. Schubert lived for a number of years after the “Unfinished” symphony, and we always wonder why he didn’t go back to it. There are some really interesting extra connections in the program.