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.

December 7, 2007 9:29 AM | | Comments (3)



Henry: Walla Walla is only 269 miles from Bellevue. You're welcome here any time!

Gosh Henry. It seems that EVERY orchestra you visit is just beyond belief. Maybe you should start looking into some college orchestras, high school and middle school groups too.

And that Maestro Savery just became music director for the Wyoming Symphony is great news indeed (he's marvelous!). I have said in interviews for several years, that the orchestras in the nooks and crannies of our country are playing better than ever. In my conversations on site with audiences, for the most part, many say they are from other 'bigger' cities, and had set up 'shop' in these smaller cities and found new homes, new businesses, new places to be medical doctors, teachers, etc. The orchestral jobs come far and few between, and when they do, there are so many excellent players to fill the posts. This has stepped up the level of playing across the board. The Detroit transplants in Traverse City love their Traverse Symphony Orchestra, and the San Fransciscoans who made the moves inland love their orchestras and festivals just the same. In my travels for January/February to Milwaukee, Birmingham, Charleston, Key West, San Diego, Anchorage and Albuquerque, I am sure to meet the same situations and find the orchestras from the bigger cities to the tips of our USA on the highest level.


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This page contains a single entry by on the record published on December 7, 2007 9:29 AM.

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