Simon MacDonald joins the RSO as the new kung fu master…I mean, the new concertmaster
The Regina Symphony Orchestra (RSO) is going through a number of changes in staff that will change its recognizable face. No, Victor Sawa is not leaving. Well, not yet.
“We are coming to the end of Maestro Sawa’s tenure,” says new Concertmaster Simon MacDonald. “He has had a remarkable 20 years with the RSO. We need to celebrate that; that’s awesome. And, it’s exciting that we are looking for a new music director. That can bring a new dimension to the orchestra and build on what Victor has done with the orchestra over the past 20 years, which has maintained and developed its exceptional reputation.”
MacDonald is the newest member of the RSO staff. He replaces interim Concertmaster Karen Constant, an exceptional violinist who held the position for two years after the retirement of Eduard Minevich.
Concertmaster is a hugely important position in a symphony. He is responsible for leading the violinists of the orchestra, acting as a liaison between musicians and the conductor when there are musical concerns, playing first violin solos, and taking care of what MacDonald calls “little administrative things like bowing and articulation: what we play, how it sounds, what direction our bow goes in, etc.”
“I may be leading,” MacDonald explains. “But, I am leading with the intention of being in concert with the principle cello, and the principle second [violin], and the principle viola, and the principle bass.”
MacDonald comes from an exceptionally successful career as a violinist with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO). He has played at Carnegie Hall, twice at the Juno’s in Winnipeg, onstage alongside the Lithuanian State Ballet in Germany, just to name a few of his many performances across the country and around the world. While all of these are among his favourite memories, he made special mention of last year’s performance with the RSO, when they performed Sergei Prokofiev’s deeply moving Romeo and Juliet.
But when it comes down to it, “My favourite piece to play is whatever piece I am working on that week,” says MacDonald.
And there is neither a week that goes by without MacDonald working on a score, nor are there hours in a day that he isn’t practicing. Okay, well almost.
“All of the hours.” says MacDonald, only half-jokingly, when asked how many hours he practices. “It’s a lifestyle choice.”
This year, his dedication to music is particularly evident, as he is doubly employed as Concertmaster for the RSO and as first violin section violinist at the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. He will be splitting his time and talents as he plays half of the RSO’s main stage series while fulfilling his contract with the WSO. With a wife and young boy in Winnipeg, many friends, and a history of 16 years with the WSO, MacDonald says he will miss the life he has established there.
MacDonald states, “Essentially, I owe [the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra] my career. I won an orchestra job in Winnipeg, and all of the opportunities have come because I have been able to be a full-time performer. Winnipeg offered me [that] in the first place. It’s kind of like your first contract in the Major Leagues. They drafted me. They had faith in me.”
However, MacDonald is excited and grateful for the opportunity to have a more musically responsible role in the symphony. He assured me that he is dedicated to the RSO and is excited to move to Regina with his family in the spring of 2015.
“[The RSO has] a great tradition and a great history: one of the reasons I was honoured to be asked even just to be on the short-list,” says MacDonald. “They have really wonderful community roots. There is a sense of pride of place in this orchestra, and that’s very attractive.”
* UPDATED Sept. 27, 2014 2:04 p.m : We’ve been informed that Simon MacDonald is currently in the first violin section Winnipeg, not the first second violin like we published earlier. Apologies! MacDonald wrote us saying that “that job (principal 2nd) belongs to my wonderful colleague Darryl Strain.”