Excellence out West, Part 1: The Boise Philharmonic
It happened again. More than once. Someone would ask me where I was going next in my travels to various American orchestras, and I would answer: "Boise, Idaho and Walla Walla, Washington." "Oh," would come the response. "I'm sorry." It seems that most people still do not understand the actual thrill I feel when traveling around the country and encountering orchestras - and the immense gratification I get from visiting two more orchestras that serve as vivid demonstrations of the good health and vitality of orchestras in the United States...
The Boise Philharmonic is in a music director search, and I saw one of their candidates (Matthew Savery, music director in Bozeman, Montana) conduct a program that would challenge any orchestra: Ravel's Valses nobles et sentimentales, Mozart's Fourth Horn Concerto with soloist Eric Ruske, and Copland's Third Symphony. The Ravel requires finesse, dynamic sensitivity, and keen internal ensemble, and the Copland is notorious for the difficulty of much of its writing - particularly for the strings. Boise, a $1.6 million per year orchestra, faces a hurdle that similarly budgeted orchestras located near other cities don't have to face. As the only orchestra in a 350-mile radius, they cannot attract musicians who can put together a full-time livelihood by playing in three, four, or five orchestras or acting as free-lancers in a big city. Virtually everyone in the Boise Philharmonic also does something else professionally. And yet, they played the living daylights out of this program - they and Savery were seductive in the Ravel and gave a thrilling reading of the Copland that made one see why some still consider this the great American symphony. This was once again a concert that an experienced listener could enjoy without making an allowance for the small community in which it was occurring.
I think it is so great that Alex Ross has been writing in The New Yorker about some of our smaller orchestras - he is the single national music critic who has begun to write about the scope and depth of the orchestral quality that is out there. Here was one more concert to underline the point. Meeting with the search committee seeking the new music director, one was struck by the internal culture of the organization. Musicians and board members (equally represented - six of each on the committee), spoke with equal authority and vigor and exhibiting complete mutual respect, debating important issues about the position. Everything about the discussion was a clear indication of an open, comfortable institutional culture where people could ask tough questions and wrestle with them honestly. In my next blog, I'll share my Walla Walla experiences.