New Haven Symphone Orchestra

Rebecca Miller conducted in front of a packed crowd at Woolsey Hall on Thursday to audition for music director of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra.

She performed as guest conductor for the New Haven Symphony Orchestra on Thursday night, the second of three conductors auditioning for New Haven Symphony Orchestra Music Director, a position that the soon-to-retire William Boughton has occupied since 2007. The two other candidates auditioning for the position of 11th New Haven Symphony Orchestra Music director are Sun Valley Symphony Orchestra Music Director Alastair Neale and Delaware Symphony Orchestra Music Director David Amado. The board of directors will make a final decision this summer.

Burton Alter, former president of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra and a current board member, said that all three candidates have fostered excitement within the New Haven Symphony Orchestra community.

“Any of the three finalists could be a success as music director,” Alter said. “It is a very difficult decision.”

The audition period began with Neale’s performance in February. Each candidate spends approximately a week in New Haven, meeting with city officials, board members, community members and local schools.

Miller faced an unexpected challenge this week: snow. Wednesday’s nor’easter resulted in myriad scheduling changes, including a cancelled rehearsal the day before the performance. Despite this difficulty, Miller seemed unfazed.

“It feels perfectly part of my job,” she said.

The event was titled “Miller Conducts Tchaikovsky” and included a full-Russian program. The performance began with Borodin’s “In the Steppes of Central Asia.” Starting slow, the Borodin piece was full of short, sharp notes from the strings section. Brilliantly simple and lasting only seven minutes, it was the perfect piece to begin the concert.

Shostakovich’s “Concerto for Cello No. 1” followed, and critically acclaimed cellist and New Haven Symphony Orchestra artist-in-residence Nicholas Canellakis featured in the piece. Miller lauded his ability, describing him as “absolutely wonderful.” Canellakis’s facial expressions conveyed the grief, passion and anger involved in the dramatic composition. With heavier percussion than the Borodin piece, the concerto frequently varied in rhythm, speed and, as a result, theme — at times energetic, at times lamentful.

The event concluded with the headlining “Symphony No. 4” by Tchaikovsky, famous for his melodious compositions. Lasting forty minutes in total, the symphony’s first movement alone lasted twenty minutes. But the piece merited the duration.

Miller conducted exceptionally. She stood with a wide stance at the conductor’s podium and performed with strength. Her movements varied with the music: She swayed with melodious phrases and attacked the air around her during dramatic segments.

Miller’s witty and pleasant disposition also contributed to her performance. After the intermission, she took a few moments to praise the New Haven Symphony Orchestra and the musicians with whom she shared the stage. She charmed and captivated the audience as she spoke. When gifted a bottle of wine at the end of the performance, she jokingly raised it to her mouth and left the stage.

Jenna Sullivan, an audience member and student at the University of New Haven, said that although she does not frequent symphonies, she thought Miller’s performance was brilliant.

“She was very into it,” Sullivan said. “You could tell how passionate she was. … It was really beautiful to watch.”

Katie Bonner Russo, the marketing director of New Haven Symphony Orchestra, said that both Neale and Miller’s performances have prompted enthusiastic engagement by the audience. At the end of each performance, audience members can answer an electronic poll about the performance. Bonner Russo also noted that attendance has increased at audition performances. She expects a similar increase in attendance for the third audition performance, to be conducted by David Amado.

“For both candidates so far, we are seeing a lot of excitement,” Bonner Russo said.

Originally from California, Miller has taken the European classical music scene by storm. In particular, she has thrived throughout the United Kingdom, where she is currently the principal conductor of the Bishop’s Stortford Sinfonia, along with other music director positions.

Miller told the News she was impressed by the New Haven community.

“I’ve had a terrific time meeting the people of New Haven who are all just so friendly,” she said. “And even if they’re not involved in the music business, they are interested in culture and music. It is a really lovely place.”

The New Haven Symphony Orchestra, which first performed in 1895, is the fourth oldest orchestra in America.

Nick Tabio | nick.tabio@yale.edu