Hat tricks may be the province of hockey players, but conductor Taras Krysa is performing one of his own this fall. In the space of less than two months, he will lead concerts with the Henderson and UNLV symphonies — including an Oct. 12 all-Russian program with the Henderson Symphony Orchestra — and make his debut with the Las Vegas Philharmonic. Krysa’s sudden podium omnipresence is the lucky confluence of opportunity and preparation.
Last spring, the Las Vegas Philharmonic announced a live orchestral rendition of Charlie Chaplin’s 1931 film City Lights as a keystone of its 2012-13 season. Hardly was the ink dry on the press release when then-music director David Itkin tendered his resignation via e-mail blast. Rather than go a full year with a lame-duck music director — and possibly another year auditioning possible successors — Philharmonic CEO Jeri Crawford bought Itkin out, replacing him with a slate of guest conductors.
So, with City Lights slated for Nov. 3, what’s a philharmonic to do? Turn to Krysa, a sometime Philharmonic violinist who, as Henderson Symphony music director, had led a synchronized performance of the score in 2011, following it up a year later with Chaplin’s 1936 classic Modern Times. Krysa had first encountered City Lights’ music while playing in the St. Louis Symphony in the late 1980s. So it was a natural choice when he wanted to change up the HSO’s traditional June light-classics concerts: “I grew up with [Chaplin’s] movies,” says the 44-year-old Kiev native.
“It’s a very expensive undertaking,” he adds, crediting the City of Henderson with making it affordable: The 35mm print came from Paris, the orchestra parts from New York and two synchronization technicians were imported from Los Angeles. Modern Times was “by far more difficult,” because of the sheer amount of music involved (although both films run 87 minutes) and additional complexities of synchronization: Unlike City Lights, the later film incorporates vocal and mechanical sound effects.
As Krysa puts it, “You have to memorize the movie because there’s so many intricate details” interlaced with the score, making it even more difficult than opera. A conductor can slow down for a singer, but “Chaplin’s not going to wait for us!” Still, he puts his challenge into historical perspective: “That’s how it used to be in silent movies. They had no computer clicks” to cue the accompaniment.
Modern Times’ was the HSO’s biggest turnstile success to date, reportedly drawing 1,600 spectators to the Henderson Pavilion on a sticky summer weekend. Those in attendance included the grandson of Chaplin’s leading lady, Paulette Goddard. Chaplin fans are like devotees of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Krysa discovered, traveling hundreds, even thousands of miles to hear The Little Tramp’s music performed live.
On Friday, the Ukranian maestro conducts the HSO in Modest Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina Prelude, Piotr Illyich Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto (featuring Dimitri Berlinsky) and Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5. Prokofiev’s fiendish orchestral clockwork is part and parcel of Krysa’s goal to “challenge [the HSO] musically and technically, and that assures their growth. Audiences know when an orchestra plays their heart out.” Such growth includes repertory at which Philharmonic subscribers would balk, like Leos Janacek’s brass-rich, exotic Sinfonietta. Henderson “audiences loved it,” the conductor recalls.
Taking the UNLV Symphony podium in 2006, Krysa auditioned for the HSO job the following year. “When I began, it was basically a group of retirees who wanted to play together,” performing in a recreation center, he recounts. “It’s slowly evolved into a formidable community cultural organization” whose audiences have grown tenfold. “As we’re hitting the thousand mark, it seems to me a lot of them are first-time comers,” Krysa observes, heavy on families drawn by free admission.
Krysa increased rehearsals, ended an open-door membership policy and now auditions players — and then only when there’s a vacancy. While the Pavilion is “a difficult venue for a symphony orchestra,” a mix of very good and very bad acoustics, Krysa eschews electronic “enhancement,” saying, “I’ve experimented with amplification, and every single time it was worse because of the reverberation” in the echo-prone Pavilion.
Having conducted Chaplin twice, UNLV Opera Theatre maestro Krysa is now mulling opera-in-concert for upcoming June HSO extravaganzas. In the meantime, the Philharmonic awaits (including a marathon of eight January youth concerts in four days). Unlike Henderson, the Philharmonic will use a digital copy of City Lights and in-house technicians. “This’ll be putting a little bit more pressure on Taras to keep it synchronized,” predicts Philharmonic spokeswoman Jennifer Scott. “We’re lucky he’s done it before.”
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE Oct. 12, 8 p.m.; Henderson Pavilion, 200 S. Green Valley Parkway, 267-2171, free.