When Spokane Youth Symphony’s artistic director Verne Windham announced his retirement from the orchestras in 2009, everyone knew he’d be extremely difficult to replace.
The question on everybody’s mind was: Who on earth would apply for a part-time position as artistic director of a youth symphony in Spokane?
Apparently, lots of people.
“We got more than 40 applications from all over the world, and from all over this country,” said David Hollingshead, executive director of SYS. “This is a milestone season for us in many ways: it’s our 61st season, we are leaving Verne Windham behind and hiring a new person.”
Windham has been with the youth symphony since 1996 and is widely credited with building up the organization by having the orchestras perform more and featuring a longer season.
“We were so surprised by the quality of the applications we received,” said Hollingshead.
The position pays around $25,000 and is designed to be a supplementary job for someone who perhaps is a member of the Spokane Symphony Orchestra or a music professor at a local college.
“The Spokane Symphony is a draw for us, there is no doubt about that,” said Jennifer O’Bannan, SYS operations manager. She explained that one applicant speaks four languages, has conducted orchestras in many countries, is a prize winner and has well-known mentors such as pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim.
“Many come with a high level of performance experience,” O’Bannan said. “There aren’t a lot of conducting jobs in the nation. One reason why we got so many incredible applicants may be that the youth orchestra is better than many smaller community orchestras.” She added that conductors will go somewhere that makes them look good.
The Spokane Youth Symphony consists of four orchestras: the Intermediate String Orchestra, the Junior Orchestra, the Junior Symphonic Orchestra and the Spokane Youth Orchestra.
The SYS hiring committee includes three students, a retired musician and an educator.
Hollingshead said the hiring committee has narrowed the applicants to 15, who’ve been asked to submit DVDs featuring their work.
“From there, we’ll narrow it down to seven, and they will be asked to do a Skype interview,” said Hollingshead, who hopes to have two or three finalists by late February.
The application process is confidential, but there are local candidates among the finalists.
Hollingshead said he expects to be able to announce the new artistic director at the Spokane Youth Symphony’s final concert of the year in May.
“It’s been an interesting process so far, and it’s been difficult,” said Hollingshead. “I’m not a musician, I’m the business guy, I want butts in the seats at the concerts – the students want a really good conductor.”