Grand Rapids Symphony searches for conductor

David+Lockington+near+the+beginning+of+his+tenure+with+the+Grand+Rapids+Symphony.+Photos+courtesy+John+Varineau.

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David Lockington near the beginning of his tenure with the Grand Rapids Symphony. Photos courtesy John Varineau.

In addition to hearing great music performed by a world-renowned orchestra, this season’s Grand Rapids Symphony (GRS) concertgoers will also be treated to a truly dramatic program book cover. Sporting the question “Who will it be?” in translucent block letters, the cover features eight of the season’s guest conductors doing their best to look more intense than each other.

The reason for this veritable musical Hunger Games? The GRS is searching for a new music director after David Lockington, who had held the position since 1999, left the orchestra at the end of the 2014-2015 season. During this year’s search season, each Richard and Helen DeVos Classical Series concert is being conducted by a different candidate.

The group of candidates includes conductors from the United States, Latvia, Norway, Taiwan and elsewhere. Although the primary search season is this year, a few of the candidates conducted concerts in the previous two seasons.

According to John Varineau, director of the Calvin orchestra and associate conductor of the GRS, Lockington put a “distinctive stamp” on the orchestra’s sound, specifically that of the string section. Lockington himself is a cellist, and his familiarity with string instruments allowed him to shape the string section’s sound more precisely.

“He could look at the string players and say, ‘Do it this way,’” Varineau said.

Lockington also worked to draw into the GRS’s audience, and he brought with him “a coterie of contemporary composers that he championed,” Varineau said.

The GRS formed a search committee in late 2012 that spent significant time laying out the qualities, qualifications and attributes they wanted Lockington’s successor to possess. More recently, the committee’s work has included selecting and now evaluating this season’s guest conductors.

“The successful music director must demonstrate an acceptable threshold of artistic excellence,” said Mary Tuuk, the co-chair of the music director search committee. “The symphony musicians’ voice is critical in that determination.”

The search committee itself is made up of symphony board members, community leaders and orchestra members, and Tuuk emphasized the importance of that variety of voices:

“Working with many constituencies is complex but highly rewarding.”

Both Varineau and Tuuk mentioned that the future music director will have a big podium to fill.

“We’ve been for a long time viewed as an orchestra that’s really at the top of its class,” Varineau said. The GRS made multiple commercial recordings under Lockington and his predecessor Catherine Comet and made its Carnegie Hall debut with Lockington in 2005.

Varineau said the GRS is also set apart by “the level of local support we have through our really generous donors” as well as its outreach and educational programs.

The next concert of the season, featuring conductor James Feddeck and violinist Augustin Hadelich, is this Friday and Saturday (Oct. 23-24). Student passports are available for free in the lobby of DeVos Hall and provide access to $5 tickets for selected GRS concerts, including all of the Classical Series.

If you go, be sure to pick up a program, judge the conductor hair and intense stares for yourself, enjoy the music, watch the musicians’ faces for signs of delight or disgust and maybe even shout “May the odds be ever in your favor” during the standing ovation. Just be sure not to clap between movements.