Growing up in Seattle, the Colorado Symphony’s new music director didn’t listen to a single Beethoven piece until high school. He was too busy rocking out to Kurt Cobain. Brett Mitchell, 38, officially takes over as the symphony’s new conductor when the 2017-’18 season kicks off on July 1. Every bit a product of his era, Mitchell’s musical tastes formed while listening to ’90s Seattle grunge bands and iconic scores from films like Raiders of the Lost Ark (not to mention his parents’ Beatles records). That affinity for pop culture and relatability is just what the Colorado Symphony has been seeking.

In recent years, the group has catered to younger audiences with programs like its well-attended Movie at the Symphony series (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and La La Land are in the lineup this year) and Red Rocks concert accompaniments. Now, with a bona fide Star Wars and Game of Thrones fan holding the baton, the symphony hopes to bring in even more newcomers. “If we have all these other things in common, I bet I can get you excited about the orchestra, even if you don’t think it’s for you,” Mitchell says.

The black sheep of his otherwise nonmusical family, Mitchell started playing piano at age six and conducted his first concert when he was 16 at Lynnwood High School. Around that time, Mitchell made the connection that his rock idol, Cobain, patron saint of the Seattle ’90s music scene, was a sort of modern-day version of Beethoven. The two were “both these rebels leading tortured lives,” Mitchell says. (Like Cobain, Beethoven was known for suffering bouts of depression and challenging authority.) When Mitchell entered college, he knew he wanted to pursue a career in music, regardless of genre. After completing degrees in composition and conducting, he advanced to assistant conductor roles with groups like the Houston Symphony, the French National Orchestra, and the Cleveland Orchestra (his latest post).

This summer, as Mitchell and his wife, Angela, settle in the Mile High City, he’ll be infusing the Colorado Symphony’s new programming with classical takes on popular culture—and nothing appears to be off-limits. The upcoming season includes a performance of the music from The Legend of Zelda video game, alongside more familiar fare like the symphony’s annual All Beethoven weekend in December. And if a little teen spirit sneaks in this year, well, you’ll know who to thank.

Where to See Mitchell
July 22, during the Colorado Symphony’s free season preview (tickets still required) when Mitchell will conduct select works from the upcoming season
Venue: Boettcher Concert Hall

This article was originally published in 5280 July 2017.
Allyson Reedy
Allyson Reedy
Allyson Reedy is a freelance writer and ice cream fanatic living in Broomfield.