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Wavin’ sticks and makin’ music

The RSO continues its search for a Musical Director

So much conducting pleasure. / Destiny Kaus
So much conducting pleasure. / Destiny Kaus

Last January, the much-loved Musical Director, Victor Sawa, announced he would be leaving the Regina Symphony Orchestra (RSO). Sawa is a living legend in the community. He has been the face and spirit of the RSO for twenty years, and finding a replacement is no easy feat. Audiences, musicians, and RSO staff expect a leader and representative with personality, spunk, and humility.

Faced with the daunting task of replacing Sawa, the RSO board formed a Succession Committee, and musicians, donors, and staff created an Advisory Committee. In addition, the RSO wanted the public to be able to give their own opinion on who would be interacting with them and leading the talented musicians we love to hear play. The RSO came up with something unique: an interactive search for the new RSO Music Director.

Six candidates were selected, and each was tasked with conducting a Mosaic Masterworks Concert. After the concert, audience members are encouraged to fill out a paper or electronic survey to give their opinion of the Musical Director’s stage presence, conducting abilities, and the like.

On Jan. 10, Antonio Méndes took his turn on the stage to direct A Hero’s Symphony. I was in the audience, and the musicians played incredibly beautiful. Unfortunately, Méndes’ voice had fallen victim to the harsh Saskatchewan weather, so we did not get a chance to experience how he interacts with the audience. However, he was musically brilliant — pleasing the audience and the musicians.

“[The orchestra] felt that he really was a very musical person, that he knew how to inspire the musicians to play really well and work together as an ensemble, and that as the week went on — rehearsals started on Tuesday and the concert on Saturday — that the whole ensemble had really done a lot of great work … They developed a great chemistry during the week, and worked together really well actually. They quite enjoyed it,” Executive Director Tanya Derksen explains.

Méndes is the third of six candidates, and thus far, Derksen said all candidates have found success musically with the orchestra, stating, “Without exception, the orchestra has felt that all three of them, from a musical and artistic perspective, were really high quality.”

So what is it that the candidates for Musical Director need to prove to musicians, staff, and audiences? Their job is a lot more technical and complex than it looks when they gracefully wave a baton around from atop a platform onstage. Music Directors must have a clear vision of what they want the orchestra to achieve, while being receptive to the dynamics and abilities of the musicians they are leading.

“Some of the players in the RSO have played these pieces of music many, many times, some are playing it for the first or second time. They are definitely looking for someone who has a concept of what the piece is, how they want to do it, and who is able to communicate that properly,” says Derksen. “But also someone who understands the orchestra they are working with because every orchestra has their own personality as well.”

Derksen emphasized how important it is that the new Music Director be as involved and approachable as Sawa has been.

She says, “I believe that there is a strong tradition here in Regina with Victor being that kind of person who interacts with the public and goes to events and talks to the audience from the stage. So, our impression is that the audience really would like to see that kind of interaction continue.”

Three candidates have yet to showcase their talent in the race to become the next Music Director of the RSO, and the audience is a valued and important voice in the decision. So, check out the next Mosaic Masterpiece Concert (tickets are only seven dollars!), and help choose the musical force behind the RSO.

About laura billett

I grew up dancing and have never been able to stop. I have been addicted to reading and dreamed of writing for as long as I can remember and am always looking for new inspiration, adventures, and a good laugh.