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“Drastically revising our idea of who a music director is” — The South Dakota Symp

The Creekside Singers performing with the South Dakota Symphony

“There’s just a tremendous amount of caution, a tremendous amount of groupthink, in the orchestra world. So to see an orchestra really out on its own, forging its own identity, and bringing its audience along with it is just extremely impressive – even more impressive than I anticipated.”

That’s Alex Ross, of The New Yorker, discussing the South Dakota Symphony in my upcoming NPR “More than Music” program: “Shostakovich in South Dakota,” which airs via WAMU’s “1A” newsmagazine this coming Monday at 11 am ET. Referencing Delta David Gier, who has been the South Dakota Symphony’s music director since 2003, and who moved to Sioux Falls and raised his family there, Ross continues:

“For a music director to carry off an ambitious project, you have to be there. You have to be on the scene, persuading people, interacting with them, listening to their ideas. Not just communicating your own. Building a sense of cooperation. You cannot do that as effectively if you’re flying in for two or three weeks, and another couple of weeks in the winter, and another two weeks in the spring. I find it a bit outrageous that music directors are so highly paid to begin with for one job – and then you find them holding a second or even a third position with exorbitant salaries in those places as well. This, of all things, is something the orchestra world should really be thinking about: drastically revising our idea of who a music director is, what their job entails.”

Ross told me he had long considered visiting South Dakota to see for himself what Delta David Gier was up to – programing quantities of new music, regularly tackling big repertoire. The focus of my NPR show is Gier’s contextualized performance of Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony last February, with linkage to South Dakota’s two major universities. I also explore the symphony’s signature Lakota Music Project, which connects SDSO to Indian reservations throughout the state, and about which SDSO principal second violinist Magda Modzelewska says: “In Indian culture we’ve found such peace and good will. It’s truly remarkable how similar our musical goals are. We get to share something sublime.”

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