Friday, July 31, 2015

Apprentices and Assistants: An Overview

Since my arrival here in 1986, the KSO has had a succession of apprentice and assistant conductors who have brought new approaches and twists to the podium while learning the tricks of the trade.  I thought it would be interesting to dig a little bit to see the achievements these folks have made.  I can't tell you how much easier the internet makes this task.

Sergio Bernal was the apprentice conductor during my second season with the KSO, 1987-88.  His easy-going manner and Latin charm won over the musicians, who claimed him as “one of us.” He has been busy ever since- from 1997-2001, he was employed by the National System of Orchestras in Venezuela (aka El Sistema), of which our Principal Second Violinist Edward Pulgar is a product.  Since 2001, he has been the Music Director of the Utah State University Symphony Orchestra in Logan, UT.

Sergio Bernal before... (center, with shades, at a bad taste party in 1989)

and today.

Russell Vinick was the first musician I met in Knoxville who came from the same central Connecticut primordial soup as me.  It was such a relief to finally be able to go get a grinder (known as a “sub” or a “hoagie” most everywhere else) with someone and reminisce about the 1978 Hartford Civic Center roof collapse.  Today, Russ lives in Chicago and is the Music Director of (among other things) the Chicago Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, “Chicago's original community orchestra.”

Russ Vinick

Up until the mid-90s, the presence of an apprentice conductor was solely at the discretion of Maestro Trevor, but starting in 1995 (I THINK), the KSO instituted an official apprentice conductor position.  Tuba player Sande MacMorran was the official assistant conductor, whose job was to conduct rehearsals in the Maestro's absence, or to take to the podium so that the Maestro could hear orchestra balance from out in the house to check balance.  This situation was inherently awkward, since an orchestra member's part would then be missing from the mix- and the tuba is an important element in that mix.  I am a little sketchy on the exact dates the apprentices were in town, but I'm petty sure they are as follows.

A native of Dawson Creek, BC, Charles Demuynck is currently a composer and conductor heard throughout Canada and the US.  My stand partner at the time (1995-96), Carey Cheney, was also a Canuck, and the two of them were always reminiscing about good times in the “old country.”  Charles is now Music Director of the Oakville (ON) Chamber Orchestra, and is in heavy demand in the Toronto area.

Charles Demuynck

Conductor-violinist Navroj “Nuvi” Mehta came to Knoxville for the 1996-97 season.  Nuvi had the distinction of having the longest arms I have ever seen on a conductor (rivaling Leif Seigerstam), and his performance of David Diamonds Rounds for String Orchestra was an exciting experience.  He has been the Director of Educational Outreach for the San Diego Chamber Orchestra since 1999, and continues to be involved with the San Diego Symphony.   He can be seen here in a podcast interview for a performance of Beethoven's 5th by the SDSO.

Nuvi Mehta

Tara Simoncic was here for the 1997-98 season, another apprentice who the musicians could relate to and bond with.  Her current activities take her all over the world, but she is probably most well-known as the long-time conductor for the Louisville Ballet's annual Nutcracker performances.

Tara Simoncic

Our apprentice conductor for 1998-99 was Rufus Jones, Jr.  Rufus was a studious conductor with a passion for the music of African-American composers such as William Grant Still and Samuel Coleridge Taylor.  After his stint with the KSO, he went on to guest conduct near and far, including the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (Musical May) in Florence, Italy, but his major focus has been on research in the area of African-American conductors and composers.  You may have seen him on PBS's Tavis Smiley just a couple weeks ago, on which he plugged his new book entitled Dean Dixon: Negro at Home, Maestro Abroad.  The book explores the fascinating yet tragic life and career of Dean Dixon, the first African-American conductor to lead the New York Philharmonic. Here is that interview.

Rufus Jones, Jr.

Daniel Meyer was enlisted as the KSO's apprentice conductor for the 1999-2000 season.  The orchestra's strong financial condition fostered the creation of a new Assistant Conductor position, with former Assistant Sande MacMorran now Associate Conductor.  Dan's confidence and ability on the podium were such that he was hired in that capacity.  I will always remember his performances of the Young People's Concerts, in which I played The Swan from Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals.  When Maestro Lucas Richman was selected as Music Director of the KSO in 2003, he essentially traded places with Dan, who assumed the Assistant Conductor position with the Pittsburgh Symphony which Maestro Richman had vacated to come here.  Currently the Music Director of both the Erie Philharmonic and the Asheville Symphony, Dan somehow found the time in March of 2011 to return to Knoxville to conduct the KSO in Holst's The Planets.

Daniel Meyer

Swiss native Cornelia Laemmli Orth brought a refined European style, an effervescent sense of humor, and an unflagging, sincere smile to the podium in 2002.  Her tenure here tided the orchestra over during the transition between Maestro Trevor's and Maestro Richman's Music Directorships.  In the years since her appointment, Cornelia has been Music Director of the Oak Ridge Symphony and the Symphony of the Mountains (formerly the Kingsport Symphony) in upper East Tennessee.  Since the apprentice conductor post was discontinued during Maestro Richman's tenure, her proximity to Knoxville has fortunately resulted in repeat engagements with the KSO on Pops concerts and run-outs.

Cornelia Laemmli Orth

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