Part 2 of 2: Conductors Talk About What it Takes to Win the Job

Oct 18, 2017

NOTE: This is the second in a two-part series on the Asheville Symphony Orchestra's search for its next music director.


Here’s an interesting situation that becomes a piece of obscure trivia:

Daniel Meyer was among six finalists this past season to become the next music director of the Fresno Philharmonic, in California. The person who won the position is Rei Hotoda. Now, Hotoda is one of six finalists to succeed Meyer on the podium of the Asheville Symphony.

That intersection isn’t all that rare in the world of professional conducting. Meyer has the easy answer to why.

“There have always been more conductors than space for conductors to work, and every community only has one,” he said.

Such is the nature of the business that most conducting jobs are with part-time orchestras -- that is, Meyer still holds the music directorship in Erie Pennsylvania, and Hotoda is just beginning in Fresno, so both are still on the hunt for other dependable work.

Rei Hotoda is one of six finalists vying for the Music Directorship of the Asheville Symphony Orchestra.

“Every time I’m on the podium, I’m auditioning,” Hotoda said. “I have to not only prove myself, but I have to be on every single time.”

For this story, Meyer and Hotoda spoke about this business, their strategies, approaches and motivations and lessons they’ve learned. They also addressed what it takes to craft long, satisfying careers in one of the world’s most competitive fields?

Hotoda is the first of six finalists to take a turn with the Asheville Symphony this season with an Oct. 21 concert at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium Oct. 21. Meyer returns for his farewell concert with this orchestra on New Year’s Eve.

“For me, it’s not about the job more than making great music and how we get there,” Hotoda said. “So I just look forward to the next conducting opportunity I have.”

Still, these conductors need to make a winning impression -- with the musicians, the board, the audience. Now that they’re finalists, that impression starts with programming. How will these conductors craft a concert experience that wins everyone over?

Hotoda took perhaps the greatest reach and risk among the Asheville finalists. Between staples from Dvorak and Tchaikovsky, Hotoda is leading the orchestra through a tabla concerto by the Sri Lankan composer Dinuk Wijeratne. Hotoda hasn’t presented it before anywhere else, so it will be as new for her as it is for the musicians.

“You always take a risk when you program something contemporary and the first time you’re with an orchestra,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s trial by fire. It’s always been that way, and if something doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work, and you learn not to do that again.”

She related a story any conductor would find harrowing. Her musicians stood up during a rehearsal to tell her they didn’t like a certain piece of music and weren’t going to perform it.

“I said ‘Well, let’s finish this rehearsal and read through it and have a discussion about it afterward,’” she recalled. “So it’s a matter for the leadership role to say this is why we’re doing it and this is why it’s important. You may not like it, but the audience might love it.”

What happens in the concert hall is only the most visible piece of what has become a wide-reaching job. There are educational run-outs to schools and civic groups, lunches, receptions and rounds of golf with donors and sponsors. And there’s the role of ambassador for a city’s arts community to civic leaders and citizens at large.

“When I was going through school, we never discussed any of the off-podium responsibilities of the conductor, and I wish we had, frankly,” Meyer said. “It becomes more and more important to establish a rapport and relationship with your donors and audience, and no longer can you just devote yourself to your art.”

Meyer’s bottom-line advice to every candidate advice: Think of Asheville as a unique community.

“One of the answers is to take people seriously and respect them, and not dumb things down for them,” Meyer said. “Set the bar higher and higher.”

“Each organization has their own agenda, and if my resume fits their agewnda, that’s great,” Hotoda said. “But if it doesn’t, then that means for me--and it’s very cliche--but it wasn’t meant to be.”

Hotoda is on the podium at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium Oct. 21 and Meyer returns for his farewell concert with this orchestra on New Year’s Eve.