Wurm Distinguished Professor Leads GSU Orchestra in “Figaro”

When the Georgia State University School of Music stages  “Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro)” this week, the audience will know what to expect in the farcical plot by the cues of the orchestral music.

Commanding those musical cues will be Michael Palmer, the Charles Thomas Wurm Distinguished Professor of Orchestral Studies and conductor of the GSU Orchestra.

While Figaro is one of the most popular operas in the world, making it fresh and exciting begins with the musical leadership from Palmer. His inspiration comes from his “inner ear,” the talent to interpret the score debuted by Mozart in 1786 into a compelling experience for the audience in GSU’s Rialto Center for the Arts.

“The orchestra in a Mozart opera is one of the characters,” he said in a recent interview at the Landmark Diner on Forsyth Street downtown, where many Rialto patrons go before or after performances. “It telegraphs to the audience who is on stage and what the situation is. Most of the arias have some sort of orchestral introduction ‒ some short, some longer – and they literally set the stage for those moments.”

The three weekend performances of “Figaro” highlight the impact of donors to the arts at GSU. Palmer’s professorship is funded through Atlanta developer Thomas G. Cousins, the grandson of Charles T. Wurm, who led a popular orchestra in Atlanta in the 1800s.

The artistic director of “Figaro” is Carroll Freeman, the Valerie Adams Distinguished Professor of Opera, who is responsible for the acting, stage movement and overall concept (described as “anexploration of love in the digital age… set in today’s culture of social networking and ever accelerating technology.”)

The role of Cherubino will be played by Serafina Furgiuele, recipient of the Florence Kopleff Vocal Scholarship.

A $3 million gift from Kopleff, the School of Music’s first artist-in-residence, led to the renovation of the GSU recital hall and renaming for her (the hall’s lobby is named for Wurm).

Kopleff and Palmer’s friendship began in the late 1960s, when her career as a concert singer was at its zenith and he was an up-and-coming mentee of Atlanta Symphony Orchestra legend Robert Shaw. Kopleff helped recruit Palmer – by then a nationally and internationally acclaimed conductor ‒ to join the GSU faculty in 2004; he assumed his distinguished professorship in 2006.

At the GSU School of Music, Palmer serves as Director of Orchestras. He teaches conducting and symphonic literature. He also is working to establish a GSU-ASO partnership with leaders of both institutions.

“The distinguished professorship does help, certainly,” said Palmer, who regards it as recognition of his long career and musical standing. “The director of the School of Music, Dwight Coleman, is a terrific leader, very forward-thinking and innovative in his outlook for GSU to be a major performing institution in the city.

The professorship supports and focuses the weight and authority I carry with members of the GSU and ASO community, in helping to establish Atlanta and GSU as the home of the greatest conservatory of music in the southeastern United States.”

—By Michelle Hiskey; Contact Kim Cretors, (404) 413-3424