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ON THE SCENE: Lake Placid Sinfonietta board’s dilemma

August 16, 2019
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

The Lake Placid Sinfonietta Board of Directors has a dilemma. Which of three high-quality candidates do they select to become their next conductor and music director?

All three have decades of experience, are excellent musicians and have demonstrated an ability to connect with the orchestra musicians and the audience. One, though, has something else - the potential of developing an emotional attachment to the community, the institution and the vision of the orchestra. Their challenge and opportunity is to identify that person.

More than 100 musicians submitted their applications for the position after Ron Spigelman announced his retirement and the Sinfonietta promoted a job description seeking his replacement. Spigelman will not be an easy act to follow as he brought passion, vigor and a joy to the job that will be hard to replicate. No one is seeking a person to follow exactly in his footsteps but more to build on the progress and music made. To the Sinfonietta board's credit and good judgment, they have fully engaged the musicians and the Lake Placid community in the search and selection process. They have eagerly sought and been listening to those most directly impacted by whichever candidate is hired.

Article Photos

Peter Rubardt conducts the Lake Placid Sinfonietta at St. Agnes Church for a Park Series concert.
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

First up was Kynan Johns who has led many prestigious orchestras the world over garnering international acclaim. An Aussie by birth, Johns currently serves as director of orchestras at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. He has coming up opera galas in Madrid and Barcelona, Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony with the New West Symphony, as well as his annual Strauss Feliz Ano Nuevo concerts at the Teatro Real, Madrid.

Following his stellar performances with the Sinfonietta, many were initially asking, "Why look any further?" Then they saw and heard the next two candidates, Stuart Malina and Peter Rubardt, and realized they, too, had a lot to offer.

Malina brought to the table 19 seasons as music director and conductor of the Harrisburg Symphony, demonstrating his ability to sink roots and become deeply engaged in a community. Rubardt came not with a wealth of experience but having served as a guest conductor of the Sinfonietta some time ago.

All three praised the professionalism of the musicians and their ability to take on a diverse repertoire within a tight schedule delivering a quality product in a variety of settings.

"I've been on a very steep learning curve since I've been here," said Rubardt just into his second week. "We've had five concerts, five different programs, in five different locations in eight days. The level of professionalism is extraordinary. The amount of repertoire we've covered and the quickness of the musicians to master it is outstanding; they are all over it. They have so much experience."

"They are so quick," said Johns. "And they have to begin each season anew reconnecting with their colleagues and this year additionally adjust to three different conductors."

"I am a little overwhelmed and surprised that a group this size produces the sound they do," said Malina. "The music (for his final concert) was orchestrated for a much larger orchestra. We had to do a lot of re-orchestration, which is always risky, but boy do they play great. My reaction was 'wow.' Plus, the musicians are nice people. For me, making music is a joyful expression. Even when I'm making sad music, there's an exhilaration to it. If I don't have that energy, I don't want to do it. Coming here and having that kind of vitality put forth by the players is exciting."

The conductors have all been equally blown away by the support and passion of the community. Be it the parents taking the children to the kids' program, the crowd at the Park Series, or those who attend the concerts at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts and in other venues, all were energized by the audience.

"The community has made a deep impression on me," said Johns. "Their energy, enthusiasm and commitment to the ensemble has made a mark on me. I've done lots of auditions before, a lot of fundraising, and helped communities with their orchestras elsewhere. The sense of community here is especially strong. I get the feeling everyone likes each other. There is gratitude for everyone's work and commitment to the Sinfonietta. People feel included."

All three expressed a desire to be based in a small community, get out in nature hiking the peaks and an eagerness to help broaden the reach of the orchestra. The musicians were very positive about all three.

"They are all fine professionals," said violinist Anna Gendler. "We will get to compare their styles and see what works best for our situation. We are looking for someone who is extremely well organized, who understands the value of this organization, will bring out the best in the group and has a good personality of their own."

"This is an exciting time, and it's been a fun process, said percussionist Tony Oliver. "We have the chance to work with three excellent musicians. I've enjoyed working with all three. We spent a lot of hours getting to this point, so it's fun to be in the home stretch. It's been exciting. I'm glad that the process worked."

The audience found a lot to like about all three.

"How do you choose?" said Doug March. "They are all good. Malina was neat and clean. He was wonderful and brought out the best in the orchestra. He really does. Johns was fun to be around, and the audience seemed to enjoy him. He's very tight. He's excellent. Rubardt is outstanding as well. I like his style."

From the stage, Johns paraphrased the conductor-composer Leonard Bernstein, who said, in essence, to make a great work of art you have to have a great idea and almost enough time.

The Sinfonietta board members may also feel they don't have enough time to make a great choice, but that very brevity may be an asset. They will draw upon the comments from the musicians and audience, their own experience attending the concerts and rehearsals, and their time with all three candidates. Then they will make the decision that will define the orchestra over perhaps the next decade.

Stay tuned. How they determine the outcome of their dilemma will soon be forthcoming.



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