dina gilbert

Eugene Symphony music director search: Clear choice

With the orchestra’s series of audition concerts now complete, one candidate stands head, shoulders, and baton above the rest

by TOM MANOFF

The Eugene Symphony has announced three candidates to succeed current conductor Danail Rachev: Dina Gilbert, Ryan McAdams and Francesco Lecce-Chong. As ArtsWatch’s feature about the selection process showed, all three young, rising conductors offered strong credentials in the race to join a distinguished lineage that includes stars Marin Alsop and Giancarlo Guerrero.

Francesco Lecce-Chong led the Eugene Symphony last week. Photo: Amanda Smith.

But the ultimate test was how successfully they directed the musicians each aspires to lead. Last week’s final audition concert leaves no doubt about the most qualified choice — the candidate who best meets Eugene’s needs today. Here are my observations from all three audition concerts.

Dina Gilbert

Active in Quebec, Gilbert has been the assistant conductor at the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal and has also conducted a number of youth orchestras around the world. Compared with the other two candidates, her bio is particularly thin.

At her December 8 audition concert, Gilbert seemed quite nervous walking to the podium, which carried into the first piece: the overture to Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute.  Perhaps these nerves prompted her too-fast tempo for the overture’s opening, a pace the orchestra had a hard time keeping up with.

This Mozart overture is widely known, and, as it happens, has a tricky part for conductors, a section that many conducting students struggle to master. Mozart wrote a threefold utterance of an Eb -flat chord at the opening on the work (in homage to the Masons,) each of these chords with a short “pick-up.” Under Gilbert’s baton, the initial series of threefold statements was a bit shaky, but passable. However, when the threefold statement with pick-ups returned midway through the work, one was botched quite badly. The mistake revealed a flaw in Gilbert’s conducting technique, a problem that dogged her throughout the night.

Dina Gilbert conducted the Eugene Symphony in December. Photo: Amanda Smith.

Because I’m especially interested in conducting technique – there are so many styles that work – I was sitting in the balcony as far left as allowed. From that vantage point I could see most of what the conductor was doing. Gilbert has a hitch in her beat, coming down and then bouncing forward, a confusing motion, and certainly the problem with that missed Mozart chord.

Best performance on this night came next – Korngold’s schmaltzy Violin Concerto, played by a wonderful violinist , Elena Urioste. While Gilbert rarely imparted phrasing to the orchestra, the violinist did, and the result was satisfying.

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Eugene Symphony music director search: Next star?

Orchestra's successful track record of finding exciting young conductors has made it a national model

On Thursday, the Eugene Symphony auditions its final candidate for music director — in front of an audience of thousands at its Hult Center performance. Francesco Lecce-Chong will be the third finalist, chosen from dozens of worthy applicants, to lead the orchestra this season.

Francesco Lecce-Chong, rehearsing with Eugene Symphony musicians, leads the orchestra Thursday. Photo: Amanda L. Smith.

Choosing a new Eugene Symphony music director is big news in Oregon, of course, but it’s also national news. That’s because the orchestra in a middling sized town far from cultural centers has launched the careers of three important American conductors:

• Marin Alsop, the first woman to lead a major American orchestra, in Baltimore, who regularly conducts the world’s greatest orchestras.

• Miguel Harth-Bedoya, who now leads the Fort Worth Symphony and his own Latin American classical music ensemble and guest conducts major orchestras around the world.

• Giancarlo Guerrero, who’s winning an international reputation for showcasing new music with his Nashville Symphony, recently helping the orchestra collect a trove of Grammies for some of the new abundant new American music the symphony has performed and recorded during his tenure. (It’s too early to tell where Guerrero’s successor, Danail Rachev, whose eight-year term ends this spring, will go next.)

Former ESO music director Giancarlo Guerrero has energized the Nashville Symphony with new American music. Photo: Amanda L. Smith.

And the intensive, exhaustive process used to choose them all, largely created by local lawyer and arts supporter Roger Saydack, has become a national model — “he literally wrote the book” on picking a music director, says ESO executive director Scott Freck, noting that Saydack wrote the League of American Orchestras’ manual on orchestra MD searches. So who becomes the next ESO artistic leader matters — not just here, but nationally.

“There’s no more exciting time in the life of an orchestra than when we go through this process,” Freck says. “Every time we start from scratch. It’s a time of introspection and renewal.” Every seven or so years (which is about as long most rising stars would want to stay with a mid-sized orchestra), the search for its next director forces ESO to consider what kind of orchestra it wants to be, what music it wants to play, what role it wants to play in its community. Here’s how Eugene Symphony makes the magic happen — and what to expect from the three finalists if one of them is chosen when the process concludes this spring.

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