Cristian Macelaru, Decorated Maestro, to Lead Cincinnati Symphony

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, which has a history of attracting top conductors, including Fritz Reiner and Leopold Stokowski, announced on Wednesday that its next music director would be Cristian Macelaru, a Romanian-born maestro who has helped champion music education.

Macelaru, 44, will begin a four-year term as music director in Cincinnati in the 2025-26 season and become music director designate in September, the ensemble said. Macelaru, who holds prestigious posts in Europe, leading both the Orchestre National de France and the WDR Sinfonieorchester in Cologne, Germany, will succeed the veteran conductor Louis Langrée, the ensemble’s leader since 2013.

Macelaru said he felt a sense of possibility with the orchestra and the community.

“This was the one orchestra I really wanted to be with in America,” he said in a telephone interview from China, where he was leading a tour with the WDR Sinfonieorchester.

Macelaru has often spoken of making classical music accessible to a broader audience, and said he hoped to help expand music education efforts in Cincinnati.

“I’m very disappointed when I see so many orchestras and colleagues who feel that the music should speak for itself,” he said. “We have to tell people why this music is so beautiful and how they can discover even more beauty in it. I have done this all my life. And now I feel like I have a platform that is even more evident and more visible to be able to spread this message.”

Jonathan Martin, the Cincinnati Symphony’s president and chief executive, said in an interview that the orchestra’s leaders were impressed not only by Macelaru’s conducting talents but also by his desire to help expand the orchestra’s presence in the community.

“He’s got this unique ability to unlock the power of music to reach audiences,” Martin said. “He understands that orchestras in American communities have the power to serve much better than we have in the past.”

The Cincinnati Symphony, like many orchestras, is working to recover from the setbacks of the pandemic. Attendance at concerts is still below prepandemic levels — about 66 percent this season compared with 78 percent in the 2018-19 season — though it has been gradually rising. Subscriptions have been in decline, following a national trend: There are 3,901 subscribers this season, compared with 5,380 in the 2018-19 season.

But the orchestra, founded in 1895, has a robust endowment, valued at about $358 million, relatively large for an ensemble of its size, and several other advantages: Fund-raising has been strong, the number of performances has increased and the budget has grown to about $38 million this season from about $31 million in the 2018-19 season.

Macelaru was born in Timisoara, Romania, the youngest of 10 children, and grew up playing the violin. His father worked in a factory but conducted a local church orchestra on the side. He made sure that all of his children practiced an instrument every day.

At 17, Macelaru came to the United States to enroll at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. In the early part of his career, he focused on violin — he was the concertmaster of the Miami Symphony Orchestra and played in the Houston Symphony Orchestra.

But he was drawn to conducting, and in 2011, he became an assistant conductor in Philadelphia. Soon, he was winning top posts: He began his tenure in Cologne in 2019 and at the Orchestre National de France the next year.

Macelaru, who became an American citizen in 2019, plans to split his time between Paris and Cincinnati. His tenure at the WDR Sinfonieorchester concludes next year.

He said he would work to refine the Cincinnati Symphony’s sound, saying he admired the versatility of the musicians.

“They wear so many hats when playing for an opera or ballet or pops or symphonic repertoire,” he said. “My next challenge with them will be creating the palette of the sound.”

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