Maestro, if you please

October 22, 1998

Jekowsky conducts MSOBy KATE COLEMAN / Staff Writer

Maryland Symphony Orchestra music director candidate Barry Jekowsky says he has no problem talking to an audience about a concert program.

"In fact, you sort of have to shut me up," says Jekowsky, the first of four candidates for the job.

Jekowsky will have a chance to talk during Prelude, a preconcert discussion beginning at 7 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 24, and at 2 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 25, at The Maryland Theatre, an hour before each performance.

--cont. from lifestyle--

Jekowsky wants to reduce the formality so often associated with the Western European tradition of the symphony orchestra.

"To be American is to be more relaxed, less formal about what we do," he says.

"American music is who I am."

Jekowsky served as associate conductor of National Symphony Orchestra, headquartered at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., for four seasons beginning in 1994. He is celebrating his first season as music director of Reno Philharmonic in Nevada and his 12th as founding music director of California Symphony in Walnut Creek, Calif., about an hour from San Francisco.


He had heard about MSO from afar and knows some of the musicians who substituted with National Symphony Orchestra. He calls the people he's met down-to-earth, and he's excited about the orchestra's program. He'd welcome the opportunity to make it grow.

Jekowsky isn't surprised about the existence of the MSO in a non-metropolitan area. It's similar to his California Symphony being based in a San Francisco suburb. In postconcert discussions - he also frequently comes out to talk with the audience after taking a few minutes to "wipe the sweat off" - he's been asked, "Why do we deserve this orchestra?"

His answer is "Why not? Why shouldn't there be a first-rate orchestra in a small community?"

If he is selected as MSO music director, Jekowsky has a specific goal in mind.

"My job is to incite music and people's desire and love of classical music and not chase them away," he says.

Jekowsky doesn't struggle with planning programs. There's a great body of music he loves to play, to listen to and to conduct. He doesn't believe in "terrorizing" the audience or the musicians.

He particularly likes to play great American music that most people don't know that well. Copland's "Letter From Home" on this weekend's program is an example. It's similar in style to the composer's "Appalachian Spring" and "got lost in the hoopla" of the release of that more familiar piece two weeks later.

California Symphony's recording "Lou Harrison: A Portrait," featuring singer Al Jarreau, further illustrates Jekowsky's point.


The CD was named recording of the month for August by Gramophone, a magazine of classical music based in Great Britain. Jekowsky says it's the first time that has happened to "all-American music," and he's enjoying the fact that music by a contemporary American composer, played by a little American symphony, is internationally acclaimed and selling in record stores all over the world.

Although Jekowsky plays several instruments - piano, violin, trumpet - and was San Francisco Sympony Orchestra's principal tympanist for 16 years, conducting was his primary goal.

"Playing was a hobby, something that came very easily to me," he says.

He began his piano studies at 5, entered The Juilliard School at the age of 9, eventually earning bachelor's and master's degrees there.

Being a musician has served the 45-year-old Brooklyn, N.Y.-born Jekowsky well.

"I believe it's helped me enormously."

He's been in the trenches, and knows what's important as a player.

"You can tell when someone is enjoying something," says Barbara Matthews, president of Friends Assisting the National Symphony or FANS, a volunteer group of Washington-area professionals who promote the NSO through fund-raising events and social activities.

Matthews is familiar with the work of Jekowsky as well as that of Elizabeth Schulze, the MSO music director candidate who will conduct the January 1999 concerts.

The rapport of both conductors with the orchestra musicians clearly shows, Matthews says.

Music is a tradition in Jekowsky's family. He says he picked up the trumpet at the age of 4 because he wanted to be like his father and older brother. His 11-year-old daughter, Stephanie, plays piano and flute, his 9-old-son, Matthew, plays drums and the youngest, 3-year-old Alexander, is "waving his arms a lot." A future conductor, perhaps?

Alexander also is still talking about his dad's outdoor family concerts with the California Symphony last summer. The Lone Ranger rode in on a horse for the "William Tell Overture," and Jekowsky had a sword fight with Darth Vader during music from "Star Wars."

Jekowsky believes the family concert should be an American tradition.

Maryland Symphony Orchestra

  • When: Saturday, Oct. 24, 8 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 25, 3 p.m.
  • Where: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., Hagerstown
  • Details: MSO will perform Giuseppe Verdi's Overture to "La forza del destino," Aaron Copland's "Letter From Home," Max Bruch's "Violin Concerto No. 1" and Johannes Brahms' "Symphony No. 4."

Prelude, an informative discussion about the music, will be at the theater and will begin one hour before each performance.

Tickets: $11, $19, $26 and $32. Tickets for children and full-time students are half price.

Information: Contact the MSO office at 13 S. Potomac St., or call 301-797-4000.

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