Monday, April 26, 1999

Local boy seeks to learn how to conduct himself

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        They haven't taken out a want-ad yet. But the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is definitely shopping for a new conductor.

        Jesus Lopez-Cobos ends his 15-year string as music director in the fall of 2001. So, it won't be long before the orchestra will need somebody new to stand on the podium and wave his arms in front of the musicians.

        I'm their man.

        I plan on tossing my baton into the ring on Wednesday at Music Hall. The CSO's Music Director Search Committee holds a public forum at 5:30 p.m. that day in the hall's Corbett Tower.

        The meeting is the first in a series of suggestion and snack sessions — soft drinks are on the house — designed to hear people's ideas on what they want to see in Jesus' successor.

        The picture may be a little fuzzy, but I can see myself on the podium. Here's why:

        My friends — all two of them — say I look good in a tuxedo.

        I've got experience. I once put down my trombone in high school to conduct the marching band for part of one song. (“Seventy-six Trombones,” no less).

        And I'm a hometown boy. I know my way around Music Hall. None of the CSO music directors came from Cincinnati. The closest was Thomas Schippers. That classy conductor was a native of Kalamazoo, Mich.

        Last week, I asked Jack Rouse to put my name on the list. He's the CSO board member who'll ask questions, change subjects and, in general, keep the ball rolling at Wednesday's forum. When Jack stopped laughing, he reminded me of the job's importance.

        “This is a huge deal,” he said. “The symphony is as much a part of the fabric of the community as our parks. The person who leads the symphony will be running one of the things we can point to in Cincinnati and say it is world-class.”

        As I talked with other people about the music director's position, I learned how important this job opening is to the community. Choosing a music director means more to Cincinnati than selecting someone who can pick tunes for the orchestra and carry a small stick.

        “The music director is an ambassador to the community and for the community,” said Mark Gibson, director of orchestral studies at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music.

        “A symphony concert,” he said, “is a great source for tourist dollars. Get the right person in the job, a great musician with great charisma, and he can do great things for the economy of the city.”

        Arts patron Patricia Corbett has long played an instrumental role in helping select the CSO's music directors. In addition having musical talent, she wants a conductor to have the ability to smile.

        “You have to win over the audience,” she said.

        Ken Welsh, orchestra director at Walnut Hills High School, said it should be a very strong field of candidates. “The high caliber of talent at this level is a given. Having a good personality, looking good for the women, being a glamorous presence like Thomas Schippers is what excites your audience.”

        And that audience extends beyond the confines of Music Hall.

        “A music director must be a part of the community,” said Carmon DeLeone, who smiles every time he takes the podium as the Cincinnati Ballet's music director. An orchestra conductor, he said, “must go to the shopping malls, go into the schools and build an audience for tomorrow.”

        Even if I don't get the job, or even get in the door for an interview, I have to put in two more cents' worth about the job. Along with all of the above, I think a music director must reach out to the schools, let kids hear Beethoven for the first time, expose them to the powerful emotions in symphonic music. It's called audience development. And having fun. Done right, this can become a conductor's lasting legacy.

        You may have other ideas or opinions about a music director's duties or who can do the job. Share them with the CSO's Music Director Search Committee on Wednesday at Music Hall. Think of it as your chance to take up the baton and call the tune.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.