When I accepted the position as Music Director of the Utah Symphony in 2009, I never thought about how long the relationship would last. I was focused on what I wanted to achieve and there were many projects to realise, based on talks at my home in Geneva with Pat Richards, Melia Tourangeau and a player representative. In fact, it wasn’t until the 2011/12 season that I first conducted the orchestra as Music Director, so back in 2009 I had time to put long-term artistic plans in place.
Today, I begin a new chapter with the Utah Symphony that will see me through until 2022. I, along with the entire organisation, am convinced that there is even more we can achieve. Together we have built a solid foundation and have enjoyed much success and therefore we are ready for the next step in this exciting journey.
Over the years as Music Director, I have found myself enjoying aspects of leadership that I didn’t even contemplate when I accepted the position. In particular, I have found enormous pleasure in working not only with the musicians, but also with the administration, the Board, the media, members of the local community and everything that comes with guiding such an organisation. I have learned before making important decisions to listen, watch and observe. It’s a constant process.
My approach to leadership has naturally evolved with time, but one aspect has always remained the same: a complete commitment to excellence. When I stand in front of the Utah Symphony musicians, I am fully prepared and present. I have convictions. I soon realised, it’s one thing to believe in your concepts yourself, but another to get a whole organisation behind you. This notion of leadership has been challenging and rewarding, making all of us ready to reach even higher, riskier and more innovative projects. And without the strength of the entire organisation you have nothing. What appears on stage cannot exist without a stable foundation working away in the shadows.
Since 2009, I have appointed more than 35 players to the orchestra. We now have a wonderful mix of highly motivated experienced players as well as energetic new talent, who are both closely connected to today’s world and committed to our future. Managing to make these two generations of musicians give their best individually for the collective has been captivating. Over the years, I have taken the time to get to know where the musicians and the organisation have come from. This knowledge is vital to be able to effectively lead and develop their potential.
The hard work in rehearsals over the years has certainly paid off with the recent successes we have enjoyed. But success only comes before intensive preparatory work. I always do my best to be one step ahead, seeking ever greater heights and pushing the musicians further than they even knew possible.
The Utah Symphony edge
What makes the Utah symphony so special is the legacy of Maurice Abravanel. Without his thirty years of leadership, nothing I do today would be possible. His vision was characterised by four elements: community, education, recording and touring. Today, these still stand true and are strongly guiding our vision for the next five years.
The organisation is a merging of two companies, the Utah Symphony and Utah Opera, which is rare in the United States. It is led by one CEO, Paul Meecham, and the orchestra plays for both. This gives Salt Lake City a hugely varied season, with subscription concerts, opera performances, education work, summer festivals, pops and film concerts for all to enjoy.
Our 75th anniversary season has been the highlight so far for me as Music Director. It was truly extraordinary what we achieved in that one season. In particular, the recordings we made and commissioning numerous new works will have a lasting impact on the orchestra’s global reach. I am very proud that we were able to attract such creative talents who have inspired us all with their compositions, namely Simon Holt, Michael Jarrell, Nico Muhly, Tristan Murail, Andrew Norman and Augusta Reed Thomas.
When we went to Carnegie Hall in April 2016, the first time in 40 years, I was asked by everyone from musicians, to the press and administration, “How does it feel to perform in Carnegie Hall?” and my answer was always the same: “Think of the concert, not of the event.” While this was a momentous occasion, I must set the expectation of excellence everywhere I go, to keep the orchestra motivated and alive, always looking to the future and aiming for further achievements.
All of these achievements make me extremely happy, but I have noticed in recent years that when I start to feel satisfied with my work, when things are running well, I very rapidly fall one step behind the crucial notion of creating the next innovative step for the organisation. In that spirit…
The next chapter
Over the next three seasons we will further cement Abravanel’s commitment to Salt Lake City, developing collaborations, education, recording and touring. In terms of education, we are looking at using the technology of today to bring the orchestra into school classrooms. We will to continue attracting world-class soloists and guest conductors to bring artistic excellence to Abravanel Hall. We have very ambitious touring plans as well as development of our recording strategy, and a new initiative for the orchestra is to have both a composer and an artist-in-residence from 2018. As part of our ongoing goal of building new audiences, we will continue our incredibly popular series of films with live scores.
I am in a privileged position with the Utah Symphony in that I don’t have any limitations put on my imagination; long may this continue. This allows me to work to the best of my abilities and strive for the unreachable utopian idea of beauty and excellence.