Second Thoughts

Second Thoughts
By Henry C. Mayer

Search Underway for Successor to
Lawrence Leighton Smith

Lawrence Leighton Smith's many-sided talents, primarily his magnificent musical artistry, has led our Louisville Orchestra to new and enviable achievements. The American Society of Composers and Publishers (ASCAP) has recognized the Orchestra five times during his tenure. The Orchestra also is now 40th in prestige among this country's 850 symphony orchestras and its budget ranks in the top 10%. These facts can give our readers some idea of the challenge confronting the 14-member Search Committee as they seek his successor.

Smith is more than a conductor; his official title is Music Director. That means he is responsible for the total artistic program, which includes program selections, choosing guest artists and continuing achievement of improving player and Orchestra performances. And that's not all.

The Music Director has to be a superb diplomat, a top-notch professional in public relations, marketing and music education, and an articulate, effective communicator with all levels of Louisville business and professional persons and firms.

Search Committee Chair Carole Burkhead served on the Committee which chose Smith. She is also an Orchestra board member and current president of the American Symphony Orchestra League. She says, "More than anything else we want a superior musical artist who will be exemplary in his study of music."

What makes an exemplary student of music?

The late world-renowned conductor Erich Leinsdorf wrote a book, The Composer's Advocate. (Yale University Press, 1981.)

Here are some of his thoughts:

Reading in depth is a must for the conductor who wants to understand the composer whose works he wants to perform;

My habit is to look at a well-known piece after a lapse of time as if I had never seen it before;

Evaluation of the problems of music with a fresh and unbiased perspective is crucial;

It is also useful to study the ways in which a composer learned from earlier composers.

Composer Robert Schumann put it this way: "The conductor is the embodiment of the composition." The conductor must communicate what is inherent in the music. Conducting is a process; no two conductors conduct a piece in the same way and no conductor conducts a piece the same way each time he plays it. Composer Hector Berlioz observed that "music is probably the most exacting of the arts." (Carl Bamberger, Editor, The Conductor's Art, McGraw Hill, New York, 1965.) Adds Leinsdorf, "There are few processes as complex and mysterious as the act of music composition." (op. cit.)

Speaking for the Orchestra's players, Concertmeister Michael Davis observed, "The conductor must have clear musical ideas he can convey to us quickly. He must be able to maintain his authority and discipline in a diplomatic manner. Most times, he communicates to us through his use of the baton."

What has the Search Committee done?

Wayne Brown, the Orchestra's personable and knowledgeable Executive Director, replies, "We have already reviewed the training and experience of more than 100 applicants. Eventually, 12 to 15 will be invited to guest conduct the Orchestra." U of L School of Music Dean Herbert Koerselman added, "There is no perfect candidate; we will probably find several persons whose qualifications are acceptable. So we will have to balance the concerns of the major interested groups." Ms. Burkhead notes, "We learn a lot from observing how a person handles a rehearsal and concert." This knowledge is primarily a matter of exacting and attentive listening. The Search Committee is also benefitting from the experienced insights and counsels of its Music Adviser, Utah Symphony Director Joseph Silverstein, who has previously conducted the Orchestra here.

It is useful to have some idea of the tasks involved in program selection and the need for quality and lucid communication with concert goers, current and prospective.

In the first instance, consider that more than 500 symphonies have been composed in the last four centuries. Other works from which concert numbers can be chosen total in the thousands. And new works which demand careful study by the music director continue to come in the mail. Ms. Burkhead observes, "I think Larry is a genius in the way he can review a score and hear in his head how it will sound when played." Adds Dean Koerselman, "What's printed is simply notation. It's not music until you can perceive how it can sound when played." Regarding his skill in music education, Ms. Burkhead notes that "Larry is one of the best I have ever heard in this country."

The ways in which the Orchestra and its leader interacts with the larger community are also important. Dean Koerselman emphasizes that "the Orchestra occupies center stage for it affects the quality of other musical events, such as the opera, ballet, chamber music, etc." That is one aspect of community relations.

The other is that no orchestra can long survive without community understanding and financial support. Wayne Brown reminds us "the Louisville metropolitan area has been changing significantly just since Smith came here. There are fewer locally headquartered firms; for instance, The Courier-Journal, Citizens Fidelity Bank (PNC Bank) and First National Bank (National City Bank) are now owned by out-of-town persons. That can affect the quality and quantity of financial support. Moreover, our regular concert goers are getting older. So we are making ever stronger efforts to draw younger persons to our concerts. It is one thing to get them to come to the more popular offerings of George Schramm and "Skitch" Henderson; it is another to attract them to hear the concerts which Larry conducts. It is hard to find young people who are willing to sit down and hear one piece which lasts 15 minutes or more. Their ears are not easily attuned to the sounds of the classics, and psychology tells us that getting adjusted to new sounds takes time and are also sometimes considered threatening. That is also the problem when one plays contemporary classical music."

Search Committee persons are proving their dedication; though the Orchestra pays their airline transportation, the members pay their own overnight accommodations and meals.

When will we have a new full-time director? Both Brown and Ms. Burkhead point to the 1995-96 season: "Anyone whom we might want is under contract elsewhere till then."