Among all the new faces in the Yale Symphony Orchestra this year, one seems to stand out more than the rest.
As the YSO begins its 40th season, Maestro Toshiyuki Shimada takes the podium to become the 10th conductor of the orchestra. Appointed last May, he replaces interim director George Rothman, who assumed the position after former conductor Shinik Hahm became the Philharmonia Orchestra of Yale’s music director in 2003.
Before coming to Yale, Shimada served as the musical director of the Portland Symphony Orchestra in Portland, Me., for 18 years. Previously, he served in various positions with the Houston Symphony and the Nassau Symphony, among other organizations. Shimada said he came to Yale seeking a change of pace from many professional symphonies, which are financially troubled.
“Right now in professional symphony orchestra scene, there is a big problem in finance,” he said. The onus of fund-raising often falls on the conductor, he said. “I was responsible for constantly asking for money.”
As the YSO’s new musical director, Shimada said he is already enjoying working at Yale, which he called a “big, distinguished institution,” with secure finances.
“I wanted the change the scene for me. Yale University was at the top of my list,” he said.
Despite his rookie status, Shimada has ambitious goals for the symphony.
“I want to community here to be very proud of the YSO, almost to the point that they have a certain ownership in the orchestra,” he said. “We would like to be an official or unofficial ambassador for Yale College.”
While the orchestra is slated to play in Oregon, Washington, and Vancouver in a West Coast swing this year, the new conductor also wants the YSO to tour more foreign locales, especially in Asia and the European music capitals.
“I think it is important that when orchestras go on tour, we excel, become closer, get united and play better,” he said.
After the symphony’s first rehearsal last week, members praised Shimada, noting his charisma and vision.
Isaac Selya ’08 said Simada has fresh ideas, “even when you’re dealing with old classical music.”
The maestro said he is excited to work with students with enthusiasm.
“That’s something very refreshing to me,” he said. “I have worked with professional musicians, and many are jaded.”
Elizabeth Sebesky ’09 noted Shimada’s modesty, a trait she said was unusual among conductors.
“He treats us like equals,” she said. “He’s not superior.”
YSO President Bill Perdue ’07 also said the feedback from orchestra members on Shimada is “universally positive.”
Perdue added that the symphony’s relatively flawless performance at Thursday night’s Hurricane Katrina benefit concert served as an example of Shimada’s strong facility.
“We played a benefit concert on Thursday on one rehearsal,” Perdue said. “I think that speaks a lot about his musical abilities.”
The symphony begins its formal season on Oct. 15, with a concert featuring the works of Duffy, Kermis, Bartok and Brahms.