Seattle Symphony Trains New Generation of Music Directors

By Andrew Stiefel

Three former Seattle Symphony assistant conductors were appointed to music director roles with orchestras across the country last week.

Eric Garcia was named the Music Director of the Boise Philharmonic; Stilian Kirov was appointed Music Director of the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra; and Alastair Willis will be the new Music Director of the South Bend Symphony Orchestra.

All three served as assistant conductors with the Seattle Symphony as part of a program that has helped shape future music directors since 2001.

“We are proud that our training program takes young conductors to a very competitive level,” says Elena Dubinets, Seattle Symphony Vice President of Artistic Planning. “While working with the Seattle Symphony, they study a wealth of repertoire in all possible styles and genres and they also learn some off-podium skills.”

Willis was previously the Music Director of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra. He has appeared as a guest conductor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic and the Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma. He will return next season to lead Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the Seattle Symphony.

Kirov currently serves as Music Director with two orchestras: the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra in California and New Jersey’s Symphony in C. Locally he is a frequent guest conductor with Pacific Northwest Ballet.

This will be Garcia’s first Music Director position. He currently serves as Director of Orchestral Studies and Associate Professor of Conducting at Oklahoma State University. 

When young conductors complete their tenure with the Symphony, they leave with the experience they need to begin their careers.

“My time with the Seattle Symphony didn’t just help my career, it shaped it,” says Alastair Willis. “The opportunity to conduct 100 concerts across all varieties of programs shaped me into a versatile conductor, comfortable in any genre.”

An assistant conductor has many duties, including personal preparation of all scores and attendance at all rehearsals and performances as the “understudy” to the conductor — just in case they cannot make the performance.

“Probably the most memorable event from my time as an associate conductor was when I had to step in at the last moment to conduct Carmina burana for the late maestro Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos,” says Stilian Kirov. “It was an unforgettable experience.”

In addition to being prepared to fill in on a moment’s notice, the associate conductor’s duties include leading concerts (especially neighborhood, family and education concerts), editing concert recordings for radio broadcast and grant support, and working with the artistic staff on programming ideas.

Eric Garcia says one of his favorite memories from his time as an associate conductor was conducting Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 at a free community concert for at the Highline Performing Arts Center in Burien, Washington.

“I clearly remember having the realization that what we were doing as an orchestra was in fact encapsulating what a great orchestra must do for its city,” says Garcia. “The Seattle Symphony sets an incredibly high bar in terms of what it means to be a truly relevant and innovate artistic force within a community.”

The Seattle Symphony’s current associate conductor is Pablo Rus Broseta. During his time with the orchestra, Broseta has conducted concerts with soloists like Yo-Yo Ma, and conducted music spanning hundreds of years, from early music on the Symphony’s Baroque & Wine series to premieres on [untitled], the Seattle Symphony’s late-night concert series for contemporary music.

Next season Broseta will lead several major subscription performances, including Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 and Carl Orff’s Carmina burana.

In addition to Garcia, Kirov and Willis, other past conductors from the program have gone on to successful careers, including Christian Knapp, staff conductor of the Mariinsky Orchestra; and Carolyn Kuan, Music Director of the Hartford Symphony.

Additionally, past conducting fellows Alexander Prior and Ruth Reinhardt have successfully found positions. Prior is the Music Director of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and Reinhardt is the Assistant Conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. This winter Reinhardt will return to conduct Handel’s Messiah with the Seattle Symphony, December 15-17.

Posted on May 25, 2017

READ MORE BEYOND THE STAGE