Behind the Baton with Christopher Confessore

The Brevard Symphony Orchestra's tireless conductor and music director relishes Vero Beach's May Pops event

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Behind the Baton with Christopher Confessore. Photo by Roxanne Scianna Photography
Behind the Baton with Christopher Confessore. Photo by Roxanne Scianna Photography

Vero Beach and the surrounding region is home to many people who have attained standout status in their chosen fields: business, sports, medicine, and many more.

The arts can certainly be numbered among those pursuits, and the musical realm is no exception. With regular access to the Brevard Symphony Orchestra, we are privileged to experience the irrepressible energy of Music Director and Principal Conductor Christopher Confessore, a man who wears many hats and yet still manages to bring a personal touch to everything he does.

A native Floridian,  Confessore has held his positions with the BSO since 1995. He is also the principal pops conductor of the Birmingham-based Alabama Symphony Orchestra. Since 2010, he has worked as a conductor at Walt Disney World, where he leads the orchestra for such productions as EPCOT’s annual Christmastime “Candlelight Processional.” He makes several appearances as a guest conductor each season; this year, these engagements include the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, the Amarillo Symphony Orchestra, the Sarasota Orchestra, and the Orlando Philharmonic.

The bassoon has been Confessore’s primary instrument since his high school band days.
The bassoon has been Confessore’s primary instrument since his high school band days.

Music came early to Confessore’s life. With encouragement from his mother, he learned to play several instruments as he grew up: clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, tenor saxophone, piano, and bassoon. Eventually, he zeroed in on the bassoon, which became his primary instrument in the high school band and the subject of his subsequent studies.

Confessore earned his bachelor of music degree in bassoon performance from Florida State University and went on to study instrumental conducting with the esteemed Daniel Lewis at the University of Southern California, where he obtained his master of music degree.

“The conductors I admire most are phenomenal and passionate musicians who are also inspiring motivators,” Confessore says. “They have the ability to lead performances that speak to a broad audience, leaving listeners with the feeling that what they’ve experienced was new, fresh, and alive—even if it was a performance of a familiar classic.”

Indeed, connecting with the audience is of paramount importance to Confessore. “I am always striving to break down barriers of pretense and make our music and the symphonic concert experience as engaging and welcoming as possible to all listeners,” he says.

Christopher Confessore has held the titles of music director and principal conductor for the BSO since 1995
Christopher Confessore has held the titles of music director and principal conductor for the BSO since 1995.

This accessibility is especially important when the audience is made up of children. Throughout his career, Confessore has been enthusiastic about sharing symphonic music with young people, conducting dozens of performances each year in conjunction with educational programs in various locations.

The BSO has long offered annual educational concerts that are attended by all fifth graders
in Brevard County in the form of special field trips. Since 1999, the Indian River Symphonic Association has teamed up with the BSO to present these concerts to Indian River County fifth graders as well.

“I personally consider these concerts to be the most important events the BSO presents each year,” Confessore says. “Our program is designed specifically for a fifth-grade audience in coordination with teachers and administrators to reinforce and enhance state curriculum standards.

“Our fabulous music specialists and classroom teachers have the students extremely well prepared to attend these concerts. The young listeners are engaged and enthusiastically responsive throughout the performances. For most students attending, this field trip is their first exposure to live symphonic music performed by a professional orchestra. The impression we make on these students will last a lifetime—I take that responsibility very seriously and find the experience to be immensely rewarding.”

BSO Executive Director David Schillhammer and sponsor Wendy Brandon join Confessore on opening night of the BSO’s 2022–23 season. Photo by Roxanne Scianna Photography
BSO Executive Director David Schillhammer and sponsor Wendy Brandon join Confessore on opening night of the BSO’s 2022–23 season. Photo by Roxanne Scianna Photography

Introducing youngsters to live classical music is just one facet of the BSO’s approach
to education; another is showing them how much symphonic music they have already been exposed to without even realizing it. For example, “The Symphony Is All Around You,” a free, family-friendly concert held at the King Center for the Performing Arts in Melbourne, the BSO’s home venue, featured selections from Jurassic Park, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, and other familiar entertainment.

Confessore’s vibrant, energetic personality serves him well in his busy career. He is also noted among musicians for his uncanny ability to know exactly how much rehearsal time is necessary for each particular program. That skill, which he attributes to “lots of experience,” helps him balance the demands on his time. “Most classical concerts we present have a total of four rehearsals, which means a total of about nine and a half hours of rehearsal time,” he explains.

The BSO plays upwards of 30 concerts each season, with Confessore conducting varying numbers of musicians, depending on the selections being played. “Music by

Mozart typically requires fewer musicians than music by Tchaikovsky,” he explains. One “large-scale BSO concert featuring flashy showpieces by Respighi” placed more than 80 musicians before his baton, while a more straightforward concert featuring compositions of Beethoven and Mendelssohn required about 50.

Confessore directs the Brevard Symphony Orchestra at a free Fourth of July concert in Cocoa Riverfront Park in 2022. Photo by Roxanne Scianna Photography
Confessore directs the Brevard Symphony Orchestra at a free Fourth of July concert in Cocoa Riverfront Park in 2022. Photo by Roxanne Scianna Photography

Beyond their major stage concerts, these musicians participate in many outreach and small-ensemble performances as well. The BSO is very much a community orchestra for the residents of both Brevard and Indian River Counties.

The Alabama Symphony Orchestra, with which Confessore performs 10 to 12 weeks per season, also places an emphasis on the accessibility of the genre, reaching out to “beginners” and encouraging them to feel comfortable attending a symphonic concert and not to be intimidated by fears that they will be expected to dress a certain way or be familiar with all of the music beforehand.

Back in Florida, in addition to the administrative duties inherent to his job as the BSO’s music director, he is responsible for selecting each season’s repertoire and guest artists.

Since his conducting work is concentrated primarily in the fall, winter, and spring months, he spends a prodigious amount of time over the summer studying. “A great conductor never stops learning,” he says. Confessore is far too humble to consider himself a great conductor, but there is no doubt he is unwavering in his aspirations.

The Brevard Symphony Orchestra performs close to 30 concerts each year, with its home venue being the King Center for the Performing Arts in Melbourne. Photo by Roxanne Scianna Photography
The Brevard Symphony Orchestra performs close to 30 concerts each year, with its home venue being the King Center for the Performing Arts in Melbourne. Photo by Roxanne Scianna Photography

One of the perennial highlights of Confessore’s busy season is the outdoor May Pops concert held at Windsor’s polo grounds. Each year, this highly anticipated and well- attended event, which serves as a fundraiser for the Cleveland Clinic Indian River Foundation, welcomes the BSO and two guest vocalists.

Confessore celebrates another successful May Pops concert at Windsor with Broadway performers Susan Egan and David Burnham in 2018
Confessore celebrates another successful May Pops concert at Windsor with Broadway performers Susan Egan and David Burnham in 2018.

This year’s audience will enjoy the voices of Sarah Uriarte Berry and Sal Viviano. Berry has appeared on Broadway and in regional theaters, playing such prominent roles as Eponine in Les Misérables and Belle in Beauty and the Beast. Viviano has appeared on Broadway, toured with Evita and The Pirates of Penzance, and sung with nearly 150 orchestras around the United States and abroad.

“I look forward to performing at the annual May Pops concert at Windsor,” Confessore says of the event set to take place May 7 at 5:30 p.m. “I’m a huge fan of Broadway music, so getting to accompany Broadway-caliber singers for such a large and appreciative audience is an absolute thrill!”

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