German Conductor Alexander Mickelthwate is the Music Director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. Since his appointment in 2006, Alexander has played a pivotal role in the development of the orchestra, which culminated in a highly successful and critically acclaimed performance at Carnegie Hall in May 2014 as part of the Spring For Music festival. The New York Times noted the performance was “conducted expertly” and the New York Classical review stated “under music director Alexander Mickelthwate, they play with excellent intonation and such a fine overall blend and balance of sound that, on their own terms, they may be the best orchestra to appear in the week’s worth of concerts.”
Alexander began his career in North America as Assistant Conductor with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and then Associate Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Essa-Pekka Salonen. He has guest conducted the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Houston Symphony, Vancouver Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Milwaukee Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic and Toronto Symphony amongst others.
Alexander gave his European debut was with the Hamburg Symphony in 2006. He has also conducted the Stuttgart Radio Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen and NDR Hannover. Other notable performances include the Sao Paulo Symphony and the Simon Bolivar Orchestra in Venezuela. He made his Australian debut with the Adelaide and Tasmanian symphony orchestras where he recorded the Mozart piano concerti Nos. 7 and 10 with the Silber Garburg Duo.
Deeply rooted in his German heritage, Alexander began his tenure in Winnipeg with an inventive Beethoven cycle, pairing these great symphonies with other revolutionary compositions. His interpretation of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 prompted the pianist Anton Kuerti to write a letter to the newspaper saying “I would like to call attention to the stunning performance heard after the intermission. To play Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 with the passion, profundity, emotional intensity, subtlety and degree of perfection achieved by conductor Alexander Mickelthwate and the Winnipeg Symphony can only be called miraculous.” Alexander has since led the orchestra on the first out-of-province tour since 1979, with an all Tchaikovsky program at the National Arts Center in Ottawa.
Through very strong and passionate community engagement Alexander has played a major role in significantly raising the overall Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra budget enabling them to increase the season by two weeks. Single ticket sales have risen by 63%, season subscriptions by 42% and the Soundcheck under thirty program by a staggering 1020%. Alexander also played an instrumental part in creating Sistema Winnipeg after guest conducting the Simon Bolivar Orchestra and experiencing the life-changing power of the Sistema program in Venezuela for underprivileged children. He has also led the creation of a highly successful summer season where he works annually with different rock, pop and country bands together with the symphony to connect with younger audiences.
For three years Alexander created the critically acclaimed Indigenous Festival. Passionate to connect with all cultures he created artistic collaborations between the First Nations and Western cultures that culminated in the performances of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Revueltas’ Les Noches de los Mayas with new choreographies of contemporary and First Nations dance. Already an international institution, Alexander has broadened the repertoire of Winnipeg New Music Festival forming many new collaborations and connecting with different audiences. As a result the orchestra was chosen to perform at the Spring for Music Festival at Carnegie Hall in 2014.
Highlights of the festivals include retrospectives of the music of Glen Branca, Steve Reich, Georg Friedrich Haas and John Corigliano with the composers in attendance and many world premieres including the music of John Tavener and Johann Johannsson and the Canadian composers Christos Hatzis, Derek Charke, Vincent Ho, and Orjan Sandred. Some of Alexander’s most creative projects have included a performance of movie director Guy Maddin’s Brand upon a Brain with narration by Isabella Rossellini and the workshop of Tesla, a new opera by movie director Jim Jarmusch and composer Phil Klein.
Alexander has conducted two world premieres of percussion concerti by Vincent Ho with Dame Evelyn Glennie. He also worked with Dawn Upshaw, Plácido Domingo, Ben Heppner, Leila Josefowitz, James Ehnes, Janina Fialkowska, Alban Gerhardt, Anton Kuerti, Horatio Gutiérrez, Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos and Sarah Chang amongst many others; and he worked very closely with composers Sofia Gubaidulina, Kaija Saariaho, John Adams, R. Murray Schafer, Steven Stucky, Gabriel Prokofiev, Unsuk Chin and Mason Bates.
Born and raised in Frankfurt Germany to a musical family, Alexander received his degree from the Peabody Institute of Music. He studied conducting under Fredric Prausnitz and Gustav Meier as well as with Seiji Ozawa, Andre Previn, Daniel Barenboim and Robert Spano at Tanglewood.