Sunday, August 14, 2011

Getting to know Guest Conductor David Commanday

Guest conductor David Commanday will be leading Longwood Symphony Orchestra on August 17, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. for its annual FREE summer concert at the DCR Hatch Memorial Shell on the Esplanade.

Music Director of the Heartland Festival Orchestra in Illinois, Commanday is no stranger to Boston, having previously attended Harvard University, and conducted the Boston Ballet and Greater Boston Youth Symphony.

David Commanday was recently named Conductor of the Year 2011 by the Illinois Council of Orchestras.

We caught up with Maestro Commanday a few days ago and he shared his thoughts about music and healing:

1. Where were you born? Do you come from a musical family?

I was born and grew up in Berkeley, California. My father was a musician who studied at Harvard and Juilliard, He was conductor of choruses at U.C. Berkeley, and then later music critic at the San Francisco Chronicle. My mother was a pianist, but her profession was teaching languages.

2. When did you start the cello? Was this your first instrument? Do you play other instruments?
My first instrument was piano, starting around 6 years old, but the cello is what captured me, when I started at age 9. I had a magic teacher, Margaret Rowell, who brought up generations of wonderful cellists in the Bay Area.

3. What is it about the cello that you love most?
The cello is how I found my most personal musical voice. When I play there is a very deep connection to who I am and what I need to express. That connection is what brought me into music. For me keeping that connection alive, on the cello or with the orchestra, is what making music is all about.

4. When did you start conducting? What was your inspiration?
I began conducting in college -- first at Indian Hill (summer arts workshop in Stockbridge, MA), after my freshman year at Harvard, and then more and more. I conducted pick-up groups, mostly at Lowell House for special concerts we organized. Conducting the Lowell House Opera in my senior year was what really hooked me -- guiding and leading so many individual spirits in the re-creation of a work, which becomes far more than the sum of the individuals and far more than my self, was immensely rewarding. I was inspired and influenced by the conducting of Leonard Bernstein, Seiji Ozawa, and Aaron Copland, when I played principal cello as a student at Tanglewood.

5. You mentioned that you first wanted to be a brain surgeon. What changed?
Around the time of the opera (despite having taking some pre-med courses and majored in psychology), I came to recognize that making music was my calling, and that this was my path to fulfillment. In considering future careers I believed it would be for me both the biggest challenge and the most rewarding path to follow. Experience has shown that I was right in both respects!

7. Do you consider music to be healing?
Music heals in deep and manifold ways. In shaping time it offers not merely distraction from the accelerated speed and intensity of our lives, but real refreshment and restoration. Hearts often suffer from stifled, overly-controlled emotions - so much goes on inside us which cannot be expressed. A song can be the flight of a beautiful bird released from a cage - released not only from the singer, but from the listener as well. To sing well (I include instrumental playing as a variety of singing) we must breathe, and breathe the right way. It raises the chi, and accesses our fundamental vitality and strength. Well-made music also sets right the listener (who makes the music as well, when truly taking it in).

8. Any comments about how you chose the repertoire for this program? Any piece that is particularly special to you?
In choosing repertoire for this concert I considered the outdoor informality of the setting. This is music that is moving and and thrilling, and has some humor as well. Fledermaus and Dvorak 8 I came to love during my conducting training in Vienna. I also played them as cellist in the Vienna Volksoper Orchestra, an experience which deepened by appreciation and sense of the Viennese tradition in these works. There are other connections with our encores, but I won't give those away quite yet...

9. Is there anything special to you about LSO in particular?
The LSO is a unique treasure - its musicians bring musical talent, intellect, imagination, and generosity of spirit to every rehearsal and every concert. They use all of these resources to transform their own pleasure in making music together into rich gifts back to the community - in the music itself and in significant and substantial fund-raising for essential philanthropic causes. Being part of the LSO in this concert is an honor and a pleasure.

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