Conducting interviews can be wonderfully invigorating. No matter how much you research your subject, there's always something to learn.

And if you're really, really fortunate, a subject may reveal something so illuminating that you feel you've gotten an unobstructed glimpse of the essence of the person.

Louis Langrée, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's music director designate — he doesn't begin full-time until the 2013-14 season — charmed the crowd that assembled in April to hear the announcement of his appointment. And it was the same when we spoke a few months later. Affable, quick to laugh and unabashedly intellectual, he's a great interview.

As our hour-long conversation neared its end, I asked if it was all right if I kept his phone number. You know, in case of last-minute questions. "No problem," he says, offering his personal email address as well.

"You can reach me any time," he says. "Any day but tomorrow."

"What's so special about tomorrow," I ask. A particularly demanding performance? A grueling rehearsal? After all, when we spoke, he was midway through Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival, where he has been music director since 2002.

"No, no," he says. "It's my daughter's birthday. When I come here, I tell them that I can be on duty every day at any time, but there is one day I must have completely off, that I will be unavailable; my daughter Celeste's birthday."

No False Sincerity

Artists demand all sorts of curious things in their contracts; odd-colored M&Ms, cases of expensive champagne, complete isolation, daily newspapers from their hometowns. The requests usually have more to do with power-flexing than with any real need.

But insisting on a day off for your daughter's birthday is distinctly out of the ordinary in high-flying arts circles like this. Remember, Langrée was begging time off from his role as the leader of one of the world's great music festivals.

Langrée doesn't see it as odd. Since the family is always away from its Paris home for Celeste's birthday, Langrée has a deal with his daughter, who turned 13 this year. She gets to choose a musical and the entire family — including his wife and 10-year-old son Antoine — joins her to see it. This year, it was Newsies, a term that Langrée admitted baffled him.

"I don't know this word," he laughs. "But if you ask me in two days, I will be an expert, I am sure."

Family is a priority. Likewise, Langrée places enormous value on things such as emotion, passion and sincerity. Without real life to draw on, he says, without friends and relationships, what is the value of art?

Clearly, Langrée is not one of those tyrannical conductors you see in the movies. He's easy-going, a guy who seems comfortable in his own skin. He's charming, talkative and confident. And he is, as much as a globetrotting maestro can be, a regular guy. He's as comfy discussing the collapse of France's 2010 World Cup soccer team as he is describing the intimate relationship between Beethoven's symphonies and Fidelio, his only opera.

Modern Musician

Born in 1961, Louis Langrée is, in every sense, a man of the modern world.

"From what I can tell, the orchestra is very fond of him," says Thom Mariner, executive director of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra. "You can understand why. His personality is very different from Paav'™s," referring to Langrée's predecessor, Paavo Järvi, who left the CSO in 2011. "Louis is more overtly enthusiastic. I think his energy will be very good for them."

Langrée feels the same way about the orchestra.

"I'm still so excited about Cincinnati," he says, four months after his appointment. "This is a wonderful orchestra. Not only the level of the music, but also the collective spirit and the positive energy of the musicians. Every time I spoke with people in Cincinnati, they talk about how much they care for their orchestra, how much they care for their city. It's something that is very special.

"You don't feel that all the time, especially with these big institutions. I have the feeling that the people who work or are close to the CSO have this pride that is absolutely wonderful. The spirit is so high. They understand why art is essential for a city."

Like most successful conductors of his generation, Langrée has a collection of orchestras he calls his own. In addition to his position with the Mostly Mozart Festival, he is the chief conductor of the Camerata Salzburg in Austria, a regular conductor at the Vienna State Opera and the Metropolitan Opera and has made notable recordings with a half-dozen important orchestras.

But even with all of those responsibilities, he has very distinct plans for the CSO.

He won't make any major changes, he insists. But when he talks about the music that he believes should form the heart of the CS'™s repertory, it's clear that the future will sound very different from the Järvi years.

Break From Predecessor

"There are three aspects which are fundamental," Langrée says.

First are the Viennese classics, led by Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn and Schubert.

Then, of course, there is the German music.

"This orchestra and this city has a lot of German roots, which is one of the reasons they still have this warm sound with a lot of density, which I love so much."

The third, he says, is American music. It's the one he knows least about. And perhaps, because of that, you get the sense that it's the one that is most exciting to him.

"This is an American orchestra. And that has a special responsibility. For several months, I've been listening to American pieces, American music. This really is an important part of the history of this orchestra. I didn't know that Aaron Copland's A Lincoln Portrait was a Cincinnati piece. And Fanfare for the Common Man. They were written for this orchestra. We need to keep this strong, beautiful tradition of creation alive so that we do not become a museum.

"In the past, I have conducted some John Adams and (Samuel) Barber and Copland. But I want to do more. It's part of the culture of the city, of the people, of the orchestra."

Shared Vision

Langrée is not one of those musicians who views music in a purely analytical way. He is passionate about it. It is something that has enveloped him his entire life. His father, an organist, taught him to play piano. His first paying job, in fact, was playing for dance classes at the conservatory where he studied in Strasbourg when he was 18. He has special affection for those classes, he says — it's where he met the woman who became his wife, Aimée. He's coached opera singers, too.

Interestingly, one thing he never studied was conducting. But that doesn't seem to have held him back.

"I love the soul of this orchestra," Langrée says. "They understand that music is why we are together. Music is what we share and with Cincinnati and its music lovers. And we'll even share it with the people who don't know that they care about music yet.

"We will work together. It's enjoyable when you feel it's not only the music director who has an opinion, but they have an opinion, too, which is important. What we have here is rare. I am lucky. We are lucky. And I will do my best to try to continue that."