It's lucky that Christof Perick had a nonstop flight from Germany to Charlotte. Otherwise, Mother Nature might've gotten in his way for the second time -- which would've been particularly ungrateful of her this week, since the music he'll conduct with the Charlotte Symphony is a celebration of nature's power and beauty.
A volcanic eruption in April 2010 blasted a dust cloud over Europe that kept Perick from conducting his last concerts as the orchestra's music director. But he circumvented Sandy on Monday. So he's back for a three-week U.S. visit. It will not only return him to the Charlotte podium he occupied for nine seasons, but offer him other reminiscences of his work on this side of the Atlantic -- or, as he put it Tuesday, his "28-year history of conducting in this wonderful country."
He plans visit friends in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles -- all cities where he has conducted prominently -- and close with the San Diego Symphony, which he has guest-conducted repeatedly over 20-plus years. (A Perick travel tip: If you ever travel from L.A. to San Diego, go by train. The ride offers spectacular views of the coast.)
But first: The Charlotte Symphony concerts this weekend may offer some reminiscences of their own. They'll start with Carl Maria von Weber's Overture to "Der Freischutz," an opera that received full-length, concert-style performances from Perick and the orchestra in 2003. Next will come the "Spring" Symphony, Schumann's exuberant hymn to nature's annual rebirth. To cap things off, two of Bedrich Smetana's portraits of his native Bohemia: the beloved "The Moldau" and the less-famous but equally catchy "From Bohemia's Forests and Meadows."
Perick hadn't yet gotten in front of the orchestra Tuesday morning. But he credited his successor, Christopher Warren-Green, for the fact that the orchestra is financially "safer" -- quickly rapping his knuckles on a wooden table in the Charlotte Symphony's office -- than it was during Perick's time.
"I think it's probably because Christopher is living here," Perick said. He thinks Warren-Green's presence in Charlotte, promoting the orchestra around town, is "very important. I think it's very good. I was always saying that -- the orchestra needs someone who is (visible) at the arena, across the street."
"I couldn't do that," Perick, who's based in Germany, added. "I didn't have the time to do that. In that regard, I'm not a good American music director. Because you need that talent and that outgoing personality to do all those things (in the community) convincingly."
But Perick takes pride in cultivating the Charlotte Symphony's style and precision -- something Warren-Green has complimented from his own perspective. Perick points to similar work back home in Germany, where he last year finished a stint as music director of the Nuremberg State Theater. Zeroing in on a cycle of Mozart operas with the company's singers -- such as the vibrant Heidi Meier, who also made a couple of visits to Charlotte -- was a highlight, he said.
For the time being, at least, Perick is a freelancer, leaving the day-to-day complications of opera houses and orchestras to others. "It's less office work," he said, "which is good."
"I thought it would be a little more restful," Perick said. "But I'm very busy." While orchestral appearances dominate his schedule, some of his operatic standbys are in the offing, too. He'll go to Berlin to help celebrate Richard Wagner's bicentennial with "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg." Next summer he'll re-cross the Atlantic to lead Richard Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier" in Cincinnati.
"Someone who's as infected with opera as I am -- you get nervous if you don't put your fingers at least once a year into Wagner or Strauss operas," he says with a chuckle.
That may be why, even after a string of opera-house posts dating back to the start of his career in the 1970s, Perick might consider one more.
What kind of opera job might appeal to him?
"Not something huge," Perick said. "Something where you can do something good with young singers." There's no rush, though.
"Am I putting a new music director burden on my shoulders or not? That's the question," he said, again with a laugh. "I'm allowing myself two or three years to find that out. There are chances. There are options. You get asked.
"But it's very comfortable at the moment," he added, "going from one orchestra to another. It's very nice."
(Photo: Jutta Missbach)