At the small Pacific Northwest school where I attended college, there was an oddly large population of aspiring conductors. They were objects of mystery to the rest of us, because none of the usual earnest college kid getting-to-know-you ploys worked. You couldn't ask them about their ambitions, their course material, or, god forbid, their philosophy of life. If you wanted to get a sense of who they were, the only way to do it was to ask them about music.
Turns out music majors never really change, even when they've spent six seasons as the principal trombonist of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, currently work as the Resident Conductor of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, and have just returned to the States from a two-month conducting debut at the Norwegian Opera. When I spoke with Colorado Springs Philharmonic music director candidate Ward Stare, who will be auditioning for the position as guest conductor this weekend, we spent little time talking about his career highlights or future plans. Instead, we talked about music.
Indy: You just got off the plane from Oslo two days ago. How has your experience at the Norwegian Opera informed your outlook as a conductor?
Ward Stare: Opera is something that has been a big part of my musical life. The voice is something that informs my own music-making, because I like to say that a great orchestra should always be thinking in a lyrical way. Great instrumentalists, I think, have the ability to breathe and spin phrases like great singers, so the two really inform each other. I am grateful that I'm able to do both opera and symphonic work in my career, because I love them both.
Indy: Put that in the context of the repertoire you'll be conducting when you're here.
WS: The first piece is Berlioz's Roman Carnival Overture, then we do the Bruch Scottish Fantasy, and then Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. Doing the Scottish Fantasy with [violin soloist] Brian Lewis is something that I'm very much looking forward to, because it's got a lot of opportunities for expression. I can't wait to meet him and see what his take is on the piece, you know, have our interpretations sort of meld together with the orchestra.
Indy: Any operatic elements you'll be playing up?
WS: Oh, sure. One thing I always think about when I approach a piece by Berlioz is that you have to feel the phrases, there's a lot of pushing and pulling in Berlioz. It's a lot of fun, and it gives the conductor and the orchestra a really great chance to feed off each other's energy and feel each other out, because when performances with a lot of rubato like that come together, it can be tremendously exciting. There's this constant give-and-take of musical ideas between the conductor and the orchestra and I really love that interaction. I thrive on it; it's very addictive.
Indy: What are some of the challenges or keys to building trust with people you may only have met the week before?
WS: Once an orchestra understands that a conductor is actually listening to them, rather than just expelling all sorts of directions, then I think the spark sort of lights the fire of this great interaction. And then we find our own interpretation together. And that's what I really enjoy.