Our December 16th Home for the Holidays guest conductor Maria Sensi Sellner grew up in Westmoreland County and graduated from Valley High School. She then went on to Carnegie Mellon where she double majored in Mechanical Engineering and Music Composition. Ms. Sellner is the first three-time winner of the American Prize for Opera Conducting and is the Artistic & General Director of Resonance Works | Pittsburgh.
Q&A with Maria Sensi Sellner, guest conductor
WSO: Do you have any special holiday memories from Westmoreland County?
MSS: My childhood Christmas memories mostly center on Christmas Eve. My grandparents hosted a traditional Polish “Wigilia” celebration and my Dziadziu (grandfather in Polish) was Santa Claus bringing presents for everyone. He had a set of old handheld church bells that he rang outside of the house, sending all of the kids from window to window anxious for him to arrive. He even had an old notebook with his “list” of who had been naughty and nice, and would insist that we join in choruses of Jingle Bells – it was a big production!
WSO: What are you most looking forward to when conducting the WSO’s Home for the Holidays?
I’m looking forward to making my Westmoreland Symphony debut, for one! I am also excited about working with Shannon Jennings, who is a marvelous soprano, as well as the All-Star Choir of Westmoreland County.
WSO: How do you assemble a holiday concert program?
I am such a programming nerd! I’m always interested in taking the audience (and the artists) on a journey through any program of music. For me, a lot of that lives in the transitions between pieces – thinking about pacing, mood shifts, and storytelling. For a holiday program, I want to bring up the warm feelings that come with memories of years past. I prefer a mix of holiday favorites alongside “classical” pieces that share the themes and mood of the season. I had the great privilege of working with Robert Page in my time at Carnegie Mellon – his holiday concerts are legendary and could include the Poulenc Gloria and Be a Santa on the same program and it was brilliant. Our Home for the Holidays program includes some of my own traditions that I love, like the Arthur Harris’ arrangement of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. However, we also have some pieces I have not yet had the chance conduct including Randy Bass’ The Night Before Christmas, which takes me right back to my childhood Christmases, and the Hanukkah Medley that just makes me want to dance!
WSO: You started out as an engineer, what made you move into a classical music career?
Music has always been a part of my life thanks to my parents. I took piano lessons at age 5, played the flute, and sang in choirs at church and school. At Carnegie Mellon, I was a double major in Mechanical Engineering and Music Composition. In retrospect, this might have been more about not wanting to choose one over the other. Ultimately, I realized that music truly had my heart, and I took the leap. In conducting, I found the perfect application of my artistic and analytical sides, and the rest I guess, is history!
Join us for Home for the Holidays click here for tickets