Guest Conductor Richard Westerfield Leads The TSO Through Mozart And Shostakovich.
By Emil Franzi
RICHARD WESTERFIELD, RECENTLY appointed Associate Conductor of the Boston Symphony, will lead the Tucson Symphony in two performances this week, with a program of Mozart and Shostakovich. He'll be joined in the Mozart clarinet concerto by Burt Hara.
Westerfield is currently the director of the Harrisburg Symphony. Boston Maestro Seija Ozawa made Westerfield the first full Associate Conductor there since Michael Tilson Thomas held the post 25 years ago. Like Thomas and our own George Hanson, the 40-year-old Westerfield is a protégé of the late Leonard Bernstein. At the end of this year, he'll leave that post to take up residence as Music Director of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.
He's had a fascinating career so far. He never heard a real orchestra until he was 18 and went to Yale University, initially to major in math and economics. He switched to music, had his own chamber orchestra in New Haven, and became an assistant to John Mauceri at the New York City Opera. He also worked with Bernstein and Ozawa at Tanglewood. In the early '80s, he won a Fulbright scholarship to Romania, where he met two of the most important people in his life.
One was his wife Helen, a choral conductor studying in Frankfurt. He would take the Orient Express to meet her in Vienna. (They now have two children, ages 8 and 11.) The other was the little-known Romanian conductor Mircea Cristescu. Westerfield considers Cristescu to have been a major influence on his artistic development. Asked to compare Cristescu to Bernstein, he replied, "great artists are always unique."
After two years in Romania, where Westerfield states they don't have toilet paper or wear socks, but every town has an orchestra, he returned to the United States and ended up a stock broker at J.P. Morgan to support his family. His career in music remained on hold until early 1993, when he received a panic call from the NY Philharmonic to replace an ailing Erich Leinsdorf. He conducted one rehearsal, the musicians liked him and Leinsdorf remained ill, and he got to do the whole series to excellent reviews.
That got him back in the conducting game, and led to guest positions with orchestras in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Florida, Indianapolis, Minnesota, and the permanent job in Harrisburg in 1995. In February 1999, he'll conduct Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini at the Kirov Opera in St. Petersburg, at the request of its director, Valery Gergiev.
Westerfield has a great affinity for Berlioz, and a similar one for Shostakovich. He's conducted most of the Shostakovich symphonies, and was originally set to give us the extremely complex Fifteenth Symphony. Unfortunately, too much of the TSO's limited rehearsal time was focused on last weekend's Nutcracker (though the live music was a lovely addition to the Ballet Arizona production). Westerfield opted instead for the more tenable Shostakovich First Symphony. It's an unfortunate circumstance, as the Fifteenth would've been a real treat for the Tucson audience.
Westerfield is part of that younger generation of conductors--including Hanson and last year's smash guest, Giselle Ben-Dor, of the Santa Barbara Symphony--who understand their audiences far better than the marketing consultants and bean counters exerting their influence on the arts. While Westerfield finds a growing populism and anti-elitism in America, he also knows that "people are as vulnerable to a beautiful phrase as ever." Nonetheless, he isn't concerned about the future of orchestral music in America.
"American orchestras are wonderful, and there are more of them. A few have failed, mostly because of bad management." Nor is he concerned about the fact that most draw older audiences. "They always have," he notes. Westerfield appears to be a member of the "build it and they will come" school of arts funding.
Like Hanson and Ben-Dor, he makes most of the major decisions involving programming and guest artists--a healthy trend. His new post in Alabama will give him a $4-million budget, a $15-million endowment, and 48 core players. The TSO operates with $3 million and 34 players. We should remember that orchestras at the level of the TSO, like Alabama and Harrisburg, produce a superb product, and it is the glory of America that so many persevere...and are giving us a new generation of superb conductors who will someday replace the older guys at the major orchestras.
Westerfield will be joined by clarinetist Burt Hara, principal clarinetist of the Minnesota Orchestra, and formerly the principal clarinet of the Philadelphia Orchestra. That the latter would like to have him back tells you that you'll hear an excellent artist. What more do you want to know?
The Tucson Symphony Orchestra, under guest conductor Richard Westerfield, performs at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, December 10 and 11, at the TCC Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave. Single concert tickets range from $10.75 to $30. Call 882-8585 for tickets and information.
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