Eyes On Richmond - Steven Smith
In the latest installment of St Paul’s Episcopal Church Eyes on Richmond Speaker Series, Steven Smith, the new Conductor of the Richmond Symphony discussed the challenges and opportunities he sees for the arts community. Craig Carper reports
Discussing his vision for the Richmond Symphony, Smith says he would like to offer a broader range of repertoire.
Smith: We’ll explore older music, newer music, in between, many different eras, commonalities between composers, a particular literary topic that might have influenced a wide variety of composers and then some multi-season ideas. I’m thinking about perhaps some multi-season cycles. I think I mentioned an exploration of the theme of Faust, which I find fascinating and a lot of composers have, as well as artists and writers.
A couple of examples, I mentioned Berlioz today too. We have not really explored a lot of Berlioz and I think he’s definitely worthy of pursuing a greater performance of his works; Shostakovich I think is somebody else, maybe not a complete cycle, but certainly more of his symphonies, which in my mind are the 20th century descendant of Mahler and before him Beethoven, and I think there’s a very clear artistic line there and I guess that’s another aspect of what I hope the seasons will look like is drawing those lines of connection across history. I think that music represents a continuum of experiences and influences on parts of the composers, and to help audiences get into that world and see that connection just enhances their enjoyment of any of the particular pieces that are being connected.
Smith discussed the outreach and partnership that the Richmond Symphony currently pursues with local schools, including four youth orchestras; the discovery program, which is a series of concerts for school children that entertains tens of thousands of young listeners every year, and the musical ambassador program, which sends small ensembles from the symphony to local schools.
Smith: It doesn’t have to stop there. I have an incredible vision that someday we might be able to put an instrument in the hands of every young person in this entire area. What an extraordinary thing that could possibly be, to provide this level of entry, this possibility of opening a mind in a new direction as far as the playing of a musical instrument or, failing that, even just the involvement in a chorus. The act of making music together is so fundamental to what defines ourselves as human beings and defines ourselves as a society.
Smith says he believes that the Symphony and music education has tremendous benefits for young people, but that too often arts and music programs are seen as frivolous add-ons and suffer in public schools, while sports programs thrive.
Smith: In recent years we saw Hanover County completely eliminate their string program, and this current year we face, directly at the symphony, a substantial reduction in the amount of money we receive from Chesterfield County that specifically goes to underwrite the performance of those ensemble concerts in schools.
There’s a lot of connections between math and music and there’s a lot of connections between dealing with abstract objects and shapes and colors, to processing words and language and putting those things together, and I think all of us who treasure the creative arts have a responsibility to make our voices heard when the opportunities arise, and even when they don't, to stand up for what it is we firmly believe in, what we grew up with, what we know has enriched our lives.
Smith says for many people, the internet is replacing traditional means of experiencing music.
Smith: People can hear a performance of virtually anything they want at virtually any time by simply being online. Can they experience the same kind of connection of human touch that you get in a live performance? I would argue no, that there is something that is absolutely unique about the experience of a concert. If we can find a way to use the new technology to build bridges to invite new people into that experience in the hall, we are able to find a way to connect to more and more people and yet be able to share with them the joy and the enthusiasm and the absolute exhilaration of a live performance.
Steven Smith is a native of Toledo, Ohio, and previously served for ten years as the director of the Santa Fe Symphony and Chorus.
Craig Carper, WCVE News