New Music Man In Town

by Kathleen Moye

AFTER more than a year of searching and auditioning, the Southwest Florida Symphony has chosen a new Music Director: Maestro Michael Hall.

Maestro Hall has programmed an exciting 47th season, beginning November 3, 2007, for his debut. The Symphony’s website promises familiar favorites and new treasures to uplift and inspire audiences and showcase incredibly talented musicians.

I spoke with the Maestro recently.

Kathleen Moye: So, you’ve had quite a journey to arrive in Fort Myers as the new Music Director for the Southwest Florida Symphony. Can you give me a few highlights?

Maestro Michael Hall: I was the Associate Conductor of the Pacific Symphony in California. Previous to that, I was the Resident Conductor of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. I got my masters at the University of Michigan and an advanced degree at the Royal Academy of Music in London, England.

What do you do as Music Director?

A Music Director does many things, but the primary responsibility is maintaining and increasing the artistic level of the orchestra. This is done by hiring the right personnel and guest artists, programming a rewarding season both for the orchestra and audience, and helping the orchestra to perform at the highest of their abilities. All with a view of giving the audience the best concerts possible.

There are several conductors with the Symphony. Can you explain what your role is and how do you coordinate with Maestro Joseph Caulkins, Children’s Chorus Director Catherine Truesdale, and Guest Conductor Erich Kunzel?

We are all a team. Joe is a tremendously gifted conductor who works with the Symphony Chorus as well as with the orchestra. We work very closely together. Catherine Truesdale is the new conductor of the Children’s Chorus and although they do not often work with the orchestra, it is all representative of the high level of professionalism of the Southwest Florida Symphony. Erich Kunzel is a real coup for us. He is one of the finest pops conductors in the country and really enjoys working with our orchestra.

Who are the musicians of the Southwest Florida Symphony?

They are talented, professional musicians from all around the State that come together to make music. They are all very hard working; some play many engagements in order to make a living.

Tell me about the different concert style offerings of the Southwest Florida Symphony— Stained Glass, Pops, Classical.

The Classical series presents the great masterworks from the past and present. The pops series is a fun night out at the symphony. The Stained Glass series are works with chorus and at times with orchestra as well. The Sanibel Series is our chamber music series. It is a smaller orchestra in a more intimate atmosphere.

What element of this season are you most looking forward to?

Working with this great orchestra again. And bringing the thrill of musical performance to as many people as I can.

What makes a maestro a performance artist, not just a leader of performers?

This is because music is a living art. Even when things are decided in rehearsal, things can change in performance and from performance to performance. The orchestra is like an instrument that the conductor plays, yet always remembering that the conductor does not make a sound. This is one of the paradoxes of conducting.

What’s your style and how does that influence the musical result by the orchestra and choir?

A conductor can influence the sound by what he says at rehearsal. But after that, in rehearsal and also in performance, a conductor establishes everything he wants musically with his gestures. He not only sets the tempo but indicates how he wants the music to be played, phrasing, volume etc. Gestures are not only through the baton and hands, but also his facial expressions and his eye contact.

It seems that orchestras and symphonies may have a difficult time bringing in new audience members. What do you think is a common misconception in, or something that most people may not know about, the current classical music scene?

Yes, this is unfortunately true. Many people feel that classical music is elitist, it is not for them, it is irrelevant in their lives. It is my great mission, and that of the orchestra, to change this. Classical music is for everyone, you don’t need to have specialized knowledge, you just need to feel something.

How can you work to change or clarify that issue from your podium?

We need to change the way concerts are presented: their length, adding visual elements, collaborating with other artistic groups. In short, giving the audience different tools to get as much out of the music as they can. Another element is speaking to the audience from the podium, letting them know why this piece they are about to here is so cool and why you chose it for them to listen to. But also, the music always needs to be performed with great passion and commitment. An audience recognizes this and will respond to it.

Maestro Michael Hall will be honored with a champagne and hors d’ oeuvres reception prior to the first concert, ‘Beethoven’s Joy’ on Saturday, November 3 in the Judd Pavilion at Barbara B. Mann Hall. The concert follows in the main Performing Arts Hall at 8pm and again at 2:30pm on Sunday November 4. This concert is conducted by Michael Hall, featuring the Symphony Chorus and guest soloists: Esther Hardenbergh, soprano, Kathleen Sonnentag, mezzo-soprano, Arnold Rawls, tenor, and Lester Lynch, bass.

For more information, call the Southwest Florida Symphony at 418-0996 or visit their website at www.swflso.org. •

from the November-December 2007 issue

Maestro Michael Hall
"Classical music is for everyone. You don't need to have specialized knowledge – you just need to feel something."

Triangle Pose
Courtesy Health & Harmony Center