Longtime readers of management guru Peter Drucker know that one of his favorite examples of leadership is the bond that exists between a conductor and an orchestra. Drucker's use of the analogy was informed by a lifelong appreciation of music and also by his friendships with many of the 20th century's great musicians and conductors. "There are two secrets of the good conductor -- he has a vision, and he communicates," Drucker said for a January 2000 telecast of Live from Lincoln Center. "But not only to the orchestra -- he communicates to the audience, too."
That second point helps shed some light on the dilemma faced by a symphony when it loses a music director. The symphony must find not only a good replacement who will work well with the individual musicians, but also someone who can just as easily inspire, educate and interact with audiences.
The Spokane Symphony is in just such a position, as current Music Director Fabio Mechetti concludes his 10-year tenure with the organization next spring. As early as last May, the symphony was putting together a music director search committee and publicizing the position's opening. Their thorough and committed approach has paid off in that out of nearly 220 applicants, the symphony now has five highly qualified music director finalists.
"It speaks very highly of both Spokane and the orchestra that this many applicants wanted to be considered for the position," says Annie Matlow, marketing and public relations director for the Symphony. "The symphony has a good reputation, and I think a lot of that has to do with our guest artists, who come here, work with us and then go out to other cities and talk about their great experience here."
Spokane audiences will get a chance to know the first of the five finalists, Lawrence Loh, this week as he conducts the symphony in a concert that includes Strauss's Don Quixote, and features guest cellist Gustav Rivinius. Loh is currently the assistant conductor of the Dallas Symphony, a position he has held since the beginning of the 2001-02 season. Previously, the 32-year-old Yale grad enjoyed a three-year tenure as associate conductor of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra in Denver. While there, he conducted more than 50 concerts a year and also served as music director of the Denver Young Artists Orchestra. And although his various gigs have also included the Vichy Opera House in France and the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, he's not exactly a stranger to Spokane. His experience as a guest conductor during the Spokane Symphony's 2000-01 season is directly responsible for his decision to pursue the position of music director here.
"I loved it," says Loh, who is married with a toddler. "I thought the orchestra was very facile and they had a good attitude about doing pops, which are sometimes more difficult than a regular classical program. I loved the city, too. Great downtown, strong arts community. When I heard about the job, I wanted to apply immediately."
The decision on who will succeed Fabio Mechetti rests with the 12 members of the Music Director Search Committee, consisting of six board members and six symphony musicians. The position has four components in that the candidate is first and foremost a conductor, but also an artistic director, an educator and an arts leader in the community. In addition to his considerable experience as a conductor and his excitement about the opportunity to take on the behind-the-scenes work of an artistic director, Loh shows a clear edge in terms of his passion for education and his friendly, approachable stage presence. While in Colorado, Loh guided the Denver Museum of Nature and Science's enormously popular "What Makes Music?" interactive exhibit, as well as creating concert programs in collaboration with the public library and the zoo.
"The world of classical music -- particularly the orchestra -- should not be an unfamiliar place for young people. I think you can make it familiar, comfortable, fun, exciting and inspiring, and hopefully, you're creating future musicians, future listeners and supporters," he says. "I enjoy meeting new people in general and my hope is to demystify the orchestra and classical music in general."
In Dallas, Loh works closely with Music Director Andrew Litton, who describes him as "a brilliantly talented young conductor with a sparkling wit and delightful podium presence." Loh smiles at the description but maintains his demeanor of quiet confidence. He's even able to joke a bit at the suggestion that as the first of five candidates, there might be cause for concern in that the symphony committee might not remember him as well as the others when it comes time to make a decision this time next year.
"Well, I worry about that a little bit, but I hope to set the bar really high in that everyone else that comes after me will be compared to me," he laughs. "That's what I hope. But I try not to think of it in terms of a competition so much as a compatibility test. I think John [Hancock] put it well. There's a certain chemistry that exists between the audience and a conductor, and it can't really be defined but you can see it if it's there. If it's not there, it wasn't meant to be. But if it is there, the audience knows it."