The search for the next Norwalk Symphony Orchestra musical director/conductor is over.
After an extensive three-month search spanning the United States, Jonathan Yates has been chosen to set the standard and direction for NSO's musical programming and personnel.
Yates, an accomplished pianist, made his professional orchestral conducting debut at 23, leading the National Symphony Orchestra in a Millennium Stages Concert. The following year, he made his Carnegie Hall debut as a participant in the Isaac Stern Chamber Music Workshop. This year, he will return to Carnegie Hall for his conducting debut as the newly appointed conductor of the Principal Orchestra of the Norwalk Youth Symphony Orchestra.
"I feel very, very good about our choice," said Emil Albanese, a Norwalk resident and president of the NSO. "I believe that we have done a very good job, given the time we had,"
Yates, a New Yorker, is filling the position left vacant by Diane Wittry, who resigned in May to take on a position as artistic director for the new International Cultural Exchange Program for Classical Musicians in association with the Sarajevo Philharmonic in Bosnia and the Bosnian-
Academy of Arts and Sciences.
"It was my choice not to take a year to do it," Albanese said. "I was advised by some people to take the whole year and just have guest conductors throughout the year. I felt that would not allow the symphony to move forward for this year.
"I felt it would be in a state of suspension for the year without a musical leader. Yates is a great, energetic young man with nothing but upside potential in his career."
Yates serves as the founding music director of Camerata Notturna, one of New York City's young chamber orchestras. In that capacity, he has collaborated with some of the country's most respected musicians, including Kim Kashkashian, David Finckel, Colin Carr, Gilbert Kalish and William Purvis. He also has given local and regional premieres of preeminent composers, including Augusta Read Thomas, Huang Ruo, Zhou Long, Chester Biscardi and Chen Yi.
Last month, the NSO conducted a final round of interviews for the three finalists for the musical director/conductor position. The public was invited to attend the interviews, where each finalist put the symphony players, who hail from all over Fairfield County, through the movements of Strauss' "Overture to Die Fledemaus" and Beethoven's "Overture to Fidelio" at the Norwalk Concert Hall.
"I really liked the way Yates handled the orchestra," Albanese said. "Each finalist was conducting the same musicians with the same two pieces of music. And I suspected they each would have the orchestra sound different, and all three did.
"I felt that Jonathan got more out of the orchestra than the other two. A couple NSO members even said, `We needed some improvement on these pieces and we felt he could give it to us.'"
Yates has been heard as a chamber musician at the 92nd Street Y, Miller Theater, Bargemusic and Merkin Hall, as well as at the Caramoor Festival and on the Ravinia Festival Rising Stars series. He has performed as a concerto soloist with orchestras in North America, Europe and Asia, and has given solo recitals for the La Jolla Music Society, at the National Museum of American History (on fortepiano), and on the University of Chicago's concert series. He served as apprentice conductor of the Chicago Youth Symphony, and for two years as music director of the Harvard University Bach Society Orchestra.
Yates received his graduate diploma in conducting from the Juilliard School, where he studied with James DePreist and Otto-Werner Mueller, and was the holder of the Bruno Walter Memorial Scholarship. He received his master of music from State University of New York, where he worked with Gilbert Kalish, and his bachelor of arts from Harvard University, where he studied with Robert Levin. He currently serves on the faculty of Sarah Lawrence College, where he conducts the orchestra and teaches Italian, French and German vocal diction.
Local residents can see Yates with the NSO for the first time on Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. at the Norwalk Concert Hall. Albanese said the guest soloist for the concert will be violinist Stefan Jackiw, who has appeared as soloist with the Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco symphony orchestras, among others, and has collaborated with such renowned conductors as Marin Alsop, Andrew Davis, Hannu Lintu, Ludovic Morlot, Andris Nelsons, Yannick Nezet-Seguin, Mikhail Pletnev, Gerard Schwarz and Yuri Temirkanov.
Albanese is excited for the Oct. 15 show, as well as the entire upcoming season now that Yates is holding the reins of the NSO.
"I have been privileged to meet and speak to many talented professional men and women during this search," Albanese said. "It was a very difficult decision because of the level of talent the position with NSO attracted. I feel very lucky we were able to attract Mr. Yates. I felt that he, at this time, is best positioned to lead NSO in a vertical way that will connect with our loyal base of fans and open doors to many new ones."
For information about upcoming concerts, visit www.norwalksymphony.org.