Si Otsedoha: We’re Still Here
The North Carolina Symphony (NCS) gave powerful, emotional performances of the new work Si Otsedoha (We’re Still Here) across the state of North Carolina during one week in October. Cherokee Central Schools students from the Cherokee Chamber Singers performed in traditional Cherokee garments. Audiences in Raleigh, Wilmington, Boone, and Cherokee gave the work standing ovations.
The piece had both spoken words and sung lyrics, in both the Cherokee language and English. Written by the students, the words related thousands of years of Cherokee history from their modern perspective, highlighting decades of repression but also the students’ hope for the future.
William Brittelle scored the five-movement work for orchestra, choir, synthesizer, and soprano soloist (Eliza Bagg). The movements are entitled “Si Otsedoha (Overture)”, “When Money Becomes Religion”, “Phoenix Rising”, “Walls of Glass”, and “Si Otsedoha”. NCS Music Director Grant Llewellyn conducted with the able assistance of Cherokee Central Schools choir director Michael Yannette.
Si Otsedoha was commissioned by the North Carolina Symphony as part of a multi-year collaboration with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, with the support of the Cherokee Preservation Foundation. Through that partnership, the NCS education programs have engaged every student in Cherokee Central Schools. On the same October tour, three NCS Education Concerts featured selections from Si Otsedoha, with the choir traveling across the state with the orchestra for those programs as well.
The Columbus Symphony (CSO) announced a new initiative in late September, Columbus Symphony Cares, in which the orchestra will partner with local service organizations and schools. Intended to support the missions of these organizations, the program will “bring the transformative power of music to their clients, constituencies, students, and staffs,” according to a press release.
Supported in part by a grant from the American Electric Power Foundation, the initiative will bring programming that is tailored to each organization, and will include ensemble performances as well as tickets for CSO Masterworks concerts. The initiative will also support student participation in the CSO’s Young People’s Concerts, including study guides and transportation.
In the inaugural season, the CSO has partnered with eleven organizations, including the Columbus City Schools, KIPP Columbus, and Catholic Social Services.
CSO Executive Director Denise Rehg said, “Columbus Symphony Cares is intended to strengthen the CSO’s connections to our entire community and ensure that our programming is serving and benefitting all, including the most vulnerable among us.”
“In Columbus, we are finding that since 2008, corporate donors have been much more interested in social causes than in funding the arts in isolation,” said Orchestra Committee Chair Betsy Sturdevant. “This initiative is the Columbus Symphony’s solution to that shift in donor focus. It’s just getting off the ground, and we’re expecting very positive results. At the very least, it will re-define the symphony’s relevance in the community.”
A number of orchestras reported new leadership recently. The Grand Rapids Symphony (GRS) and the San Antonio Symphony (SAS) both announced new chief executives, while the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO) publicized the appointment of a new music director, and the North Carolina Symphony’s (NCS) long-time music director disclosed a timeline for his departure.
A longtime business executive in West Michigan—currently the chief compliance officer and senior vice president with Meijer, Inc.—Mary Tuuk has been serving on the board of directors of the GRS since 2012. She co-chaired the search committee that chose the current music director, Marcelo Lehninger. For months she had also been chairing the search committee for a new president and CEO, until the rest of the committee decided that she was the best person for the job.
Tuuk has more than 20 years experience in executive and legal leadership roles at Meijer and Fifth Third Bancorp. She studied business and music at Calvin College, and received her JD and MBA from Indiana University, where she also studied organ and voice. She plays the organ, piano, and violin, and is a soprano in the GRS Chorus. She will step down from her roles with the GRS board and Meijer as part of the transition to assuming her new role in early 2019.
“Mary Tuuk is well-known and highly respected by the musicians of the Grand Rapids Symphony,” said ICSOM President Paul Austin, Grand Rapids Symphony horn player and one of the three musician representatives on the search committee. “Her business and financial background combined with her musical training uniquely qualify her to lead the organization. The musicians couldn’t be happier with this decision.”
On November 13, the SAS unveiled a new permanent executive director, Corey Cowart, who will begin his tenure on January 1, 2019. Cowart follows two interim directors, Karina Bharne and Michael Kaiser.
Cowart currently serves as the executive director of the Amarillo Symphony, a position he has held since 2015. In his tenure there, he oversaw a new strategic plan that raised annual contributed income by 60%, earned revenue by 40%, and annual paid attendance by 35%. “Mr. Cowart’s excellent skill set includes highly effective fundraising and marketing, sound fiscal management, and strong administrative leadership,” said SAS Board Chair Kathleen Weir Vale.
Cowart studied as a trombonist, earning bachelor of music and master of music degrees from the University of Houston and Yale University, respectively. His prior management experience includes positions with the Atlanta Symphony and the Minnesota Opera. “The musicians of the San Antonio Symphony are thrilled to have an experienced, permanent executive director joining our team. As a musician himself, Corey understands our craft and we look forward to working with him in the spring, when we will also be returning to the bargaining table,” said Orchestra Committee Chair David Reinecke.
The MSO has been engaged in a three-year long search to find a replacement for Music Director Laureate Edo de Waart, who stepped down in 2017. In November, they announced their decision to hire Ken-David Masur, currently the associate conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the principal guest conductor of the Munich Philharmonic. He will become Music Director Designate immediately and will begin the 2019–20 season as Music Director.
Masur graduated in 2002 from Columbia University, where he studied East Asian languages and French and German literature. Although he did not initially set out to follow in the footsteps of his father, renowned conductor Kurt Masur, while at Columbia he became the founding music director of the Bach Society Chorus and Orchestra there. After graduation, vocal studies with Thomas Quasthoff led him to choral conducting; he obtained his first full-time conducting position with the San Antonio Symphony in 2007.
Masur made his debut with the MSO in May of this year, and was invited back to open the 2018–19 season. “His energy, passion and collaborative nature are the very right fit for the MSO, and also for Milwaukee as its reputation as a culturally vibrant destination continues to grow,” said MSO President and Executive Director Mark Niehaus.
On November 29, the NCS announced that Music Director Grant Llewellyn would step down from his position after the 2019–20 season, which will be his sixteenth in that role. He will become music director laureate for four seasons beginning in 2020–21.
His tenure has been notable for his commitment to new music, in particular that of female composers—two thirds of the living composers whose works were programmed in the 2017–18 season were women. He also will have appointed nearly half of the orchestra’s current complement by the time he steps down.
“In his fifteen years as music director, Grant Llewelyn has overseen the greatest period of artistic growth in the organization’s history, transforming the sound of the orchestra,” said NCS Assistant Concertmaster Karen Strittmatter Galvin, chair of the Orchestra Committee. “In that time he has also hired some of the best players in the country. We know his legacy will continue far into the future.”