Classical music lovers in Boise have a rare opportunity to observe some of the most talented conductors in the orchestral world as they audition during the 2016-17 concert season to become music director of the Boise Philharmonic.
The competition is fierce and Boise is definitely on the map. “We had more than 200 candidates from 22 countries, including several from behind the old Iron Curtain,” said Hon. Stephen S. Trott, federal judge of the 9th District U.S. Court of Appeals and co-chair of the search committee. He shares that honor with Jeanie Smith, a board member and Philharmonic volunteer.
“We have outstanding conductor candidates, great guest artists, and it’s going to be a super season,” enthused Smith.
The search committee is comprised of six board members and six orchestra members, including concertmaster Geoffrey Trabichoff, who were chosen by the orchestra. Two others who are instrumental (pun intended) in the search effort are Tony Boatman, executive director of the organization from 2000-2010 and interim director from 2012-2013, and Sandra Culhane, who assumed the reins of executive director in 2013.
The selection process has progressed at lightning speed. “It was batten down the hatches and full speed ahead,” laughed Boatman. “Everyone was very cooperative and supportive, and that’s what got us through it in such a short time frame.”
The position was posted in January, and by April, the full season program was ready to be printed in promotional materials. “Kudos to the committee and the leadership of Steve and Jeanie,” noted Culhane. “We were able to accelerate the process because we had such a good team in place.”
Steve Trott took up the narrative. “We split the committee into three groups, each with two board members and two musicians, which were headed by the musicians. The relationship between the musicians and the conductor is the product that comes off the stage, and we told them we won’t pick someone you don’t want to play for. Then we culled the applicants down to 16 semi-finalists. We looked at resumes, websites, references—it was very labor intensive.”
Those 16 candidates interviewed with the committee via Skype calls. “In the past, candidates sent in VHS tapes and CDs,” said Boatman. “Now everyone has a website or something on YouTube. With Skype, you can actually converse and then see them in performance on the Internet.
The Philharmonic needed to begin marketing the coming season in February, so they created the outlines of a season. “We filled each concert slot with a blockbuster concerto and contracted with soloists,” explained Trott. “Then we assigned a concerto to each candidate and asked them to build three or four programs around the concerto and the soloist.” Boatman said this approach was a test of the candidates’ innovation and ability to build a program. The result is what promises to be a smash hit of a season.
After each concert, the public will have an opportunity to weigh in by completing a survey that will be inserted into the programs, available online and over the phone.
The most important qualities the next music director must have are musicianship and chemistry with both the orchestra and the public. “Chemistry creates a great product, great music,” said Trott. “Our musicians are highly skilled and intelligent, and they want to go onstage and give an A-plus performance. So they have to want to play for this person.”
The successful candidate will also have the ability to build relationships and collaborate with the community and other arts groups. “It seems as if this crop of young candidates has been trained in a similar way—to collaborate,” said board member and search committee member Ann Hay. “With collaboration skills, they can work with the community and also build a new audience. I think it’s marvelous!”
Culhane stressed that there is a significant difference between the role of a conductor and that of a music director. “A conductor’s role is to bring the vision of what the piece is,” she said. “Some orchestras play a piece many times, but it is the conductor’s personal vision that shapes how it is played.”
Added Boatman, “It’s a big leap from conductor to music director. A music director has artistic decisions and programming as well as administrative responsibilities such as building and maintaining the orchestra.
“Becoming a music director is standing on the shoulders of your predecessors. Our previous music director— Daniel Stern, James Ogle and Robert Franz—each brought a new level of professionalism and collaboration to the Philharmonic, as well as the strengths of their individual personalities. People often remark on the caliber of this orchestra in a town the size of Boise.”
And once again, the Philharmonic is poised to take a leap to the next level. “We have seven excellent candidates who met the criteria of excellence,” said Culhane. “The experience and artistry they bring to the table is impressive. The fact that they want to be part of us speaks highly of the orchestra itself.”