Committee to search for new YSO conductor

The Yale Symphony Orchestra is looking for a perfect 10 — its 10th conductor, that is.

This week, Yale College Dean Peter Salovey expects to name a committee to select the 10th permanent conductor in the YSO’s nearly 40-year history. YSO’s former conductor, Shinik Hahm, was tapped last year to serve as the music director of the School of Music’s Philharmonia Orchestra of Yale. He was replaced by interim conductor George Rothman for this academic year.

Salovey appointed Thomas Duffy, Yale’s director of bands, to chair the search committee, which will include Yale Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg and Yale Dean of Administrative Affairs John Meeske, along with two faculty members and two undergraduates whom Salovey will name shortly.

The new conductor will play an important role in the University’s music community, School of Music Dean Robert Blocker said.

“Yale is really fortunate to have not one, but two orchestras,” Blocker said. “It is a rare occasion that a university has that kind of presence of first rate music-making.”

Duffy said the search committee will likely choose the new conductor by the spring and confirm a final choice by next July, though the members will have to work quickly to meet the deadline.

“The most difficult part is the practical aspect of factoring auditions into a very tight season,” he said.

Though Duffy said he cannot predict how many candidates might apply for the permanent position, he said applicants from as far away as Europe responded to the YSO’s word-of-mouth call for an interim director last year and he expects many qualified applicants from both the professional world and other schools.

“We’re looking for someone who has experience as a conductor,” Duffy said. “Especially someone who has led a musical ensemble in an academic setting before — who has complete facility with technique and repertoire.”

Duffy said the new conductor would have flexibility in shaping the orchestra, and he or she could choose to limit the YSO to undergraduate musicians. Currently a few graduate students play in the group.

Hahm, who had led the YSO since 1995, gave his debut performance with the Philharmonia Sept. 25. He said he decided to accept the new position in order to challenge himself with more experienced students in need of professional instruction, but he will miss leading the generally younger and less experienced YSO.

“YSO is a wonderful group and it gave me so much,” Hahm said. “But this move will be good for both me and YSO, as a new chapter in our careers. It will give them a new, fresh leadership that will make them grow further.”

But Hahm said the new YSO conductor should expect the job to be challenging, requiring not only leadership and musical talent, but also the organizational skills necessary to raise money and plan trips. He said the position requires “ambition and focus.”

“A conductor must inspire the students to go beyond their playing potential,” Hahm said. “You must treat them like professionals, but have to have room to embrace them as kids.”

Blocker said Hahm, who was chosen from about 100 national and international candidates to lead the Philharmonia, has the experience and reputation of a great conductor.

“He brings to the podium a very, very high level of musicianship,” Blocker said. “His sensitivity to music is most impressive.”

Katie Elder ’06, who has played the viola with the YSO since her freshman year, said she has high expectations for whoever will be chosen to replace Hahm.

“Maestro Hahm was energetic and passionate about music,” Elder said. “I would hope for someone who really likes working with young people and wants to help build the reputation of our orchestra.”

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Courtesy BillStrom
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