Memphis Symphony Orchestra conductor David Loebel is saying goodbye to Memphis on Saturday after 11 years, and his all-Beethoven concert brings his 11-year tenure full circle.
He acknowledged that there is plenty of sentiment in the choices as he reflected on his decade-plus of leadership at the symphony.
"My goal when I came was to wear well over time," he said. "I guess others will judge if I wore well, but for me it is as fresh this week as when I first laid eyes on the symphony in 1999. Memphis will always have a very special place in my heart. It's going to be difficult to say goodbye to the orchestra because for me it was a great relationship."
Loebel takes a certain satisfaction in his accomplishments. "There were probably the better part of 200 pieces we did over 11 years that the orchestra had never done — including some of this week's Beethoven. It's important to broaden the orchestra's repertoire and keep it challenging."
The MSO's concertmaster, Susanna Perry Gilmore, agreed. "He stretched the orchestra by challenging us to play so many contemporary American composers," she said. "He was very passionate about that, and guest composers were pleasantly surprised at the MSO's abilities to play the complicated rhythmic meters."
Loebel was also a champion of more traditional music. "I wanted to develop a strong sense of style in Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, particularly for string players," he said. "We accomplished a lot along these lines."
Gilmore also cited Loebel's role in creating the chamber orchestra series at the Buckman. "That was an extremely important and positive thing for the core players so we could keep playing with regularity."
There were non-performance highlights as well, including the opening of the Cannon Center, developing the MSO Radio Hour on WKNO-FM and reaching out for more community engagement like the partnership with Soulsville.
The highlight of Saturday night's Masterworks concert is Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony, which Loebel calls "an astonishing piece and always a pleasure to revisit." The MSO performed the "heroic" symphony not only in 1999 but also in a tribute performance just days after Sept. 11 and again in 2006.
Other than the overture, the ballet music from "The Creatures of Prometheus" is being performed by the MSO for the first time. Loebel, who loves it when one work in a program comments on another, points out that passages in "the last movements of the ballet are quoted by Beethoven in the fourth movement of 'Eroica.'"
Loebel has taken a job at the New England Conservatory in Boston where he will be associate director of orchestras. "I like to think of myself as a compulsive teacher and love working with college-age students," he said. "NEC students have a technical level that is amazing. They are wonderful people but very serious and work very hard."
Loebel pointed out that Mei-Ann Chen, named in February to replace him at the MSO, is a graduate of the Conservatory. She was the first student in the school's history to receive master's degrees simultaneously in violin and conducting.
Memphis Symphony Orchestra Masterworks Series Concert
Beethoven: Overture to Egmont; The Creatures of Prometheus; Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, "Eroica"; 8 p.m. Saturday at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, 255 N. Main St. Tickets: $15-$78. Call 537-2525 or go to memphissymphony.org.