Tuesday, October 13, 2009

RSO Director Candidate: Christian Knapp

My profile of Mr. Knapp appeared in the Sunday Times-Dispatch.

Our phone conversation lasted an hour, so as is always the case, much of the challenge of writing the piece was getting it down to length. He spent quite a bit of time talking about "reaching out" to the community and used some specific, interesting examples of ways in which other orchestras have done this. But every candidate says he wants to reach out. Duh! So I decided not to use any of that part of the conversation.

I did want to try to work in this remark of Mr. Knapp, though: "The worst thing a conductor can do is to show up for the concerts and then leave when it's over."

If Knapp is chosen, will he remember he pronounced this judgment? This is pretty much what Mark Russell Smith did, spending most of his time in Minnesota with his other orchestra (and family), and it's certainly what Knapp and most of the other candidates are doing right now, gigging as guest conductors.

I don't know how many conductors lead this fly-around life by choice, because they're invigorated by its variety and challenge, and how many do it out of necessity, because as orchestras shrink in size and programming schedules, they're simply hiring fewer people and for fewer hours.

The coattails conductor may be the "worst thing," but unfortunately it may be a reality. Can the Richmond Symphony afford the financial incentive it would take to get its first choice of conductor to move (including, perhaps, a family) to Richmond full-time? I don't know.

(But I bet we'll land in the middle ground between "show up and leave" and "send my kids to local schools.")

However, I don't agree with Mr. Knapp, who may be inclined to overestimate the importance of a music director to the life of the orchestra as an entire organization. I think the worst thing a conductor can do, from the public's perspective, is to disrespect the audience by not taking into account its variety, intelligence and sincere desire to support the symphony.

Certainly, a conductor needs to spend enough time in a city to understand an orchestra's audience (and potential audience), and certainly a dedicated conductor could make the difference between a good orchestra and a phenomenal orchestral organization.

Personally, I would be flattered and delighted if a conductor chose to live full-time in this city I love. But I've got enough faith in the musicians and the staff of the orchestra that I'm relatively unconcerned if our new conductor doesn't move to Richmond.

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