Conductor Christopher Dragon compares his last job tryout to a tension-filled reality show.
“I think there were over 200 candidates,” recalls Dragon of his audition for the associate conductor position at the Colorado Symphony Orchestra in Denver.
Of the 200, Dragon was one of just 10 who were chosen to conduct the orchestra over three days.
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“At the end of each day you’d get a phone call about whether you’d made it to the next round, and they’d cut down the candidates each day,” recalls Dragon.
At the stunningly young age of 24, Dragon won the coveted associate conductor position and is now in his fourth season at the CSO in Denver, where he lives full time.
He is also one of four finalists for the music director position at the Wyoming Symphony Orchestra, and is in Casper this week leading up to his performance with the orchestra this Saturday.
“I grew up playing piano, but the clarinet was my main instrument,” said the Perth, Australia, native.
Dragon eventually became attracted to the idea of conducting, but with no specific training available to him in Australia he took it upon himself to learn the art however he could.
“My training was basically in Australia, I conducted every amateur ensemble, community ensemble, youth orchestra…so every day I was conducting a different group,” said Dragon.
“Being a conductor, unlike playing an instrument, you don’t have that luxury of being able to practice whenever you want,” said Dragon, “so being able to be in front of a different group every night was my kind of practice.”
The old-school image of an authoritarian conductor striking terror into orchestra members is instantly erased upon meeting Dragon. Easy to laugh, energetic and passionate about music, Dragon is keen to connect with the players on a human level.
“A music director’s role is very different now to what it was even 20 years ago,” said Dragon. “Before it used to be kind of like a dictatorship of what the conductor says, goes. That’s not my philosophy with music making at all, it’s very much a collaboration process.”
Musically, Dragon refuses to be locked into a specific style or era. He believes the orchestra can tackle all styles of music.
“I feel like there’s kind this stigma with classical music…but the fact is so much classical music is around us all of the time,” said Dragon, “whether it’s film music, video game music, TV shows…people are listening to symphonic music all the time and they don’t realize it.”
Dragon’s become something of a YouTube star after a video of him conducting John Williams’ score to “Jurassic Park” in a T-Rex costume during Comic Con surfaced.
He has also pushed concert repertoire out of the envelope in Colorado, leading concerts ranging from performing live as the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark” plays on a large screen to performing with legendary alternative band The Flaming Lips.
While he isn’t afraid to lighten up the concert hall, his programming choices for this weekend show serious classical cred.
The main highlight is the wickedly difficult 2nd piano concerto by Sergei Rachmaninoff, with renowned guest pianist Steven Lin.
Dragon says he understands the importance of community building within arts programs, particularly seeing the contrast between support of the arts in his homeland and the U.S.
“In Australia we are very fortunate that we have a decent amount of government funding,” said Dragon. “I realize that in America there isn’t as much of that government funding, so it really relies on the community and local companies supporting the symphony orchestra. An orchestra can only work when it’s a central part of the community.”
“All great cities have a symphony orchestra,” said Dragon. “It really is a defining part of a city.”
Christopher Dragon will guest conduct the Wyoming Symphony Orchestra this Saturday, at the John F. Welsh Auditorium starting at 7:30 p.m. A pre-show talk with Dragon takes place at the Lyric at 5 p.m. Click here for tickets and information.