Friday, April 10, 2009

Niagara Symphony announces four conductors to vie for Music Director's post

Last week I wrote about the Niagara Symphony set to announce the four candidates to audition next season to become the next Music Director of the venerable orchestra. The four candidates were announced from the stage at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at the Centre for the Arts at Brock University on Sunday afternoon, April 5th. NSA Search Committee Chair, Christopher Newton, says "The next twelve months provide us with a great opportunity to include the community-at-large in helping to select a new artistic leader." That they will, as all four candidates will conduct one Pops and one Masters concert next season, and all will conduct one short piece at one of their concerts so we can compare sound and style, if you will. This is by no means a novel approach, but I think it is an approach that makes sense at this stage of the orchestra's history.

On Sunday afternoon, two of the candidates were in attendance: one in the audience; the other guest conducting the performance. And what a performance it was! John Morris Russell, the present Music Director of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra, put the orchestra through their paces with three works, including a fairly muscular performance of the Beethoven Symphony No. 5. It's a work we've heard dozens of times in the past, and one I think every conductor really wants to get their teeth into given the chance. John Morris Russell not only got his teeth into it, he wouldn't let go like a pit bull showing dogged determination. I think many people in attendance - myself included - didn't think the orchestra could sound so big and, well, full. But they did, and you can credit Morris for working hard to impress a few people in the early going. It was perhaps not the most refined performance of the work, but hey, when you go for the gusto, you sometimes give up a little finesse, right?

Of the four candidates, I would have to think Russell has the inside track in the early going, at least, as he still has his two performances to go next season to prove his work last week was no fluke. Generally, the feedback last week from most quarters was very favourable; talking to Russell after the performance, he seems genuinely interested in the position and the future of a performing arts centre eventually taking shape in downtown St. Catharines.

For the record, the other three candidates are: Timothy Hankewich, Music Director of the Cedar Rapids Symphony Orchestra; Bradley Thachuk, Associate Conductor of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic and Music Director of the Fort Wayne Youth Symphony; and Diane Wittry, Music Director of both the Allentown Symphony Orchestra and Norwalk Symphony Orchestra. So that means Russell appears to be the only conductor leading a Canadian orchestra in the running for the position, although Thachuk was actually born in Toronto. In all, there were over 100 applications for the position, which speaks well of how other conductors view the position here in Niagara and how well situated geographically they would be.

So now, we wait and see what plays out next season with four eager young conductors ready to put the orchestra through their paces twice each. At the end of it all, we should have a pretty good idea what's in store for all of us once the new Music Director takes over in the 2010/2011 season. Should be fun...let the battle begin!

April 10th, 2009.

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