“I love movie music, I love Broadway, I love jazz,” says Francesco Lecce-Chong, music director of the Eugene Symphony. “I spend my time listening to them, not conducting them.”
At a New Year’s Eve concert on Dec. 31 at the Hult Center, Lecce-Chong will conduct the Eugene Symphony and vocalists Peter and Evynne Hollens. This is a new move for the orchestra; the New Year’s slot at the Hult was for years the territory of Eugene Opera.
Lecce-Chong is eager to include scores from Broadway classics in the New Year’s Eve performance, such as An American in Paris, Into the Woods and The Sound of Music. “We’re even doing our own rendition of a piece from Hamilton,” he says. The piece in question is none other than Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “You’ll Be Back.”
“Every once in a while,” Lecce-Chong says, “at our summer concerts and now on New Year’s Eve, I get to pull at some different genres.” This freedom allows him to incorporate music that he enjoys listening to but doesn’t get to perform very often.
Eugene singers Peter and Evynne Hollens share Lecce-Chong’s love of Broadway. “Their specialty is Broadway and we’re really excited to partner with them on this program,” he says. “They’re wonderful vocalists who are well known nationwide.”
The music director wants to make sure there’s something for everyone in the program. “Even Disney stuff,” Lecce-Chong says, “like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.”
Not to worry if you’re not a fan of Broadway or Disney. Another huge inspiration for Lecce-Chong is the Vienna New Year’s Concert, which is broadcast around the world. “They always do Viennese waltzes and polkas,” he says. “We’re definitely going to pay homage to that.” The performance will also include Strauss waltzes and a rendition of “Auld Lang Syne.”
When it comes to curating a concert experience, Lecce-Chong learned from the best. During the first year of his assistant conductorship in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he had the privilege of working alongside Marvin Hamlisch. One may recall Hamlisch as the composer of A Chorus Line or from winning the coveted EGOT, a collection of Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards.
“Marvin was perhaps the greatest entertainer of all time,” Lecce-Chong says. “I got to watch how he put together shows.” For concerts like this, “I try to channel my inner Marvin,” he says. Like Hamlisch, Lecce-Chong aspires to “find those things that really surprise and delight people throughout the evening.” It’s about taking people on a journey through the creation of an engaging narrative, he explains.
The excitement doesn’t end with the concert but continues in the Hult Center lobby. “We’re going to party. We’ll have a DJ, we’ll have a dance floor,” he says. Sometimes Lecce-Chong will run into patrons at a local bar after a symphony concert. He says he enjoys these interactions, and welcomes the chance to celebrate alongside his audience on New Year’s.
“We’re excited to hopefully start a new tradition,” Lecce-Chong says.
As for the song that will ring in the new year, Lecce-Chong’s not ready to reveal it just yet. “I’m going to keep that in my pocket,” he laughs.
Eugene Symphony’s New Year’s Eve concert with Peter and Evynne Hollens is 8:30 pm Saturday, Dec. 31, at the Hult Center. Tickets and more information at HultCenter.org