Maestro Yaniv Attar is still in the getting-to-know-you phase of the relationship.
Earlier this month Attar was named the Pennsylvania Centre Orchestra’s new music director after appearing as a guest conductor during the group’s 2014 -15 season in January.
Although Attar and the PCO had a natural rhythm, he said that it will take a few performances together before they really get a feel for one another — a process that truly excites him.
Attar recently discussed his role as music director, the challenges of working with new musicians and what he learned from his time with the Whatcom Symphony in Bellingham, Wash.
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Q: You conducted a concert with the PCO during its 2014-15 season. What stood out to you about that experience and how did it impact your decision to accept the position of music director?
A: The PCO is a terrific group, made up of some of the most distinguished musicians in the area. There is something very nerveracking about conducting an orchestra for the first time. As you give the downbeat, you have no idea really of what to expect. When I was here in January, I was very impressed with the orchestra’s focus, dedication and passionate playing. The music-making was completely natural with this group, and one can get to a very high level in quite a short time.
Q: What have you learned from your time with the Whatcom Symphony that you’ll bring with you on this new endeavor?
A: It is almost impossible to pinpoint an isolated learning that can be taken away from time spent with an orchestra. Working with an orchestra for a long period of time, especially for young conductors (yes, I still consider myself very young for this profession) is best defined as continued growth. I am learning a lot of wonderful repertoire, and I get to work with some of the most exciting soloists in the world (previous performances included violinist Gil Shaham, guitarist Sharon Isbin and cellist Johannes Moser). Making music on such a high level makes me strive even more to better music-making.
Q: What are the responsibilities of a music director?
A: The main responsibility is, of course, making sure the quality of the music-making is at the highest level. As a conductor, especially in a situation of the PCO, which is a chamber orchestra, I see myself more or less as a facilitator. My goal as a conductor of a chamber group is to give (as much as possible) freedom and independence to the group. The less they need me or look at me, the better the result will be. This will mean they are listening and responding to one another. I want to inspire them, not disturb them. If I can’t help them be better, I have no right to stand on the podium.
On top of the conducting aspect, I have the responsibility of programing a balanced season, choosing our guest artists and working with the executive director and the board to make sure that all is done within the budget limitations. There are production logistics as well for rehearsals and performances. ... The work never ends! I very much enjoy working with our Executive Director Susan Kroecker and the members of the board, and I look forward to a very fruitful collaboration all around.
Q: Do you think it is important for a conductor or a musician to keep playing new venues or working with new people? How do you anticipate this experience with the PCO helping you grow as an artist?
A: Zubin Mehta said once that conductors are the only musicians who practice on stage, and that is very true. I think every experience with an orchestra is important, and it is of high value to work with different groups. The PCO, for example, is a totally different group from the WSO in Bellingham. In Bellingham, I do mostly repertoire written for a large orchestra, and this is one of the reasons I was attracted to this position. The repertoire for chamber orchestra is completely different and very close to my heart. I am very interested in historically informed performance practice of music from the Baroque or Classical period, for example. I rarely get to do that repertoire in Bellingham, so this is a treat to work with a superb chamber orchestra.
Q: You’ll be succeeding Douglas Meyer, the founding PCO music director. What do you anticipate being some of the challenges of stepping into his shoes?
A: Maestro Meyer established the group almost 25 years ago, and he did terrific work with this orchestra. I think the biggest challenge for any conductor replacing a music director of such a long tenure is to try to get the orchestra to look at music and especially to understand a different concept of sound. From the first rehearsal with the PCO, I noticed how responsive the group was, and that was extremely encouraging for me as a conductor.
Q: Are you planning to adhere to the style he established? What are some new elements that you would like to incorporate?
A: Every conductor, just like any performer, does things differently. There is no one way to play a piece, and that is what is so great about the art of music-making. I can’t say that I really know the PCO yet from the short period of time I spent with them, but all I can say is that I have complete faith in the ability of the group to do pretty much anything. It’s a very exciting journey for a new conductor and an orchestra to find a path together.
Q: What is the process of getting to know a new group of musicians like? Does that inform your approach or musical selections moving forward?
A: A process like this can happen over an extended period of time. I remember two years ago when I started working with the WSO that it was almost a gamble to program works for an orchestra I didn’t know well (it’s impossible to really know an orchestra after one concert). It took me a few concerts to really know the orchestra well, and I feel that each season my programing and music making become much stronger. One has to be patient during such a journey, but to breathe and create music at this level is simply pure joy.
To close I want to say that every great city has a great orchestra, but the truly great cities have a wonderful chamber orchestra. This is especially relevant to State College, and I am thrilled to begin a new era with the PCO.