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Brian Stone, North State Symphony Finalist: ‘Take the work seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously’

Today we meet Brian Stone, one of four finalist contenders vying for the North State Symphony’s Music Director opening left by Kyle Wiley Pickett. We spoke with conductor Christian Baldini first.

Q: You’ve worked as a conductor and teacher all over the United States, including California, Missouri, Indiana, Utah, Maryland, Florida, Alaska,Washington, Connecticut, and dozens of academic settings, everywhere from the University of Maryland, the Johns Hopkins University, to Stanford University, and the All-State Honor Orchestras of Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Southern California. Plus, you’ve worked in Romania, Germany, Hungary and Bulgaria.How do those experiences benefit you as a candidate conductor for the North State Symphony?

We learn certain new ideas and techniques from each experience that inform all the following experiences. The more varied the better – and that includes playing, composing, writing, teaching, and speaking. Whether you are deprived of rehearsing in a language you speak, teaching students to play and perform a Beethoven Symphony, talking to an elderhostel class about analyzing Stravinsky, conducting a rock group, rewriting a jazz chart that needs improvement, coaching chamber musicians on intimate musical collaboration, composing a piano piece, or developing long term growth projects for an orchestra’s projection to the community – it all goes into broadening and sharpening our thinking to have the most positive impact on the culture that we possibly can.

Q: That makes sense.

During your decade as director of the University of Delaware Orchestras, you were – pardon the pun – instrumental in doubling enrollment, tripling the number of performances, and quadrupling audience attendance. First, how did you do that? And second, if selected as the new North State Symphony music director, would that be among your goals here?

The North State Symphony is in outstanding shape – a real treasure in this wonderful corner of California. I would hope to build upon that excellence by enlarging and refining the NSS’s concerts and engagement  with what I’ve learned from the experiences I’ve had, and present things that we think the community would be interested in. It’s important that I try very hard to understand the community to do this, and I certainly will look forward to doing that!

Q: Can you tell us about your north state roots?

My mom lived in Chico during WWII and went to high school in the ’50s in Colusa. She was “Miss Colusa County” and represented the county at the Miss California pageant in Santa Cruz. Her family came to the North State before the Civil War. My grandfather was Roads Commissioner for Colusa County and his uncle had a dairy herd in Dixon. This uncle became Governor Pat Brown’s Secretary of Agriculture, and later a Regent for the UC System. My grandparents and aunts lived in Sacramento, too. My Dad is Austrian and came as a refugee from Vienna with his family, eventually settling in Stockton in 1940.

Q: Interesting!

Now, Brian, about you. If you weren’t conducting, what would have been your runner-up career choice?

I was one of those kids that wanted to do music, but couldn’t narrow it down to one activity: playing saxophone, viola, piano, chamber music, solo music, contemporary music, composing, teaching , theory, opera, jazz, commentary…so eventually conducting seemed to me to combine elements of all kinds of music-making, and therefore the most satisfying. If I didn’t do music, I would have like to have been a movie writer.

Q: As a conductor, you juggle relationships with musicians, the audience, the community and the symphony’s governing board and body. What’s the secret to changing hats and succeeding with all those groups?

Even though Dr. Seuss’s Bartholomew Cubbins had 500 hats, he was still Bartholomew Cubbins. It is important to always have an honest and sincere presentation of yourself and your thinking, and to always listen. Take the work seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Being genuine in purpose goes a long way.

Q: Do you have a philosophy that guides you as a conductor, both in terms of the music, as well as working with musicians?

Being a conductor is a funny way of being a musician. We are not producing the sound, and nor did we write the music. In and of itself, conducting is not really an “expressive”  activity – it facilitates expressive activity. That surely keeps us humble. Certainly conducting requires superb artistic sensibilities, extraordinary musicianship and a great deal of study, analysis and research, but it is essentially a position of service; to the composer, the orchestra musicians, the institution, the art, and the cultural life of community.

Q: That’s heady stuff. What do you do for fun and relaxation when you’re not working?

I like basketball, baseball, reading, old movies, nature and animals.

Q: Tell us about your selections for next week’s Redding and Chico concerts.

We start with a short Mozart Symphony; it is a terrific concert opener in the style and form of a fanfare-like overture. Then Sohiel will play one of the most beautiful piano concertos ever written –  the zenith of the romantic age in music: the A Minor concerto by Robert Schumann.

After intermission we have Dvorak’s Symphony #6. A great piece that has a very special subtext of an outsider’s identity vs. his assimilation; the story of many an American and especially many a Californian. The Czech Dvorak was trying to ingratiate himself to the Empire’s musical capital of Germanic Vienna so he included all sorts of Viennese references and tributes in this symphony: Brahms Symphony #2, Beethoven Symphonies 3 and 8 plus his Leonore Overture #3 and even a Beethoven String Quartet. Then he asserts his native Czech identity (particularly in the middle movements) by stamping his foot with lusty Bohemian folk rhythms and singing simple melancholy folkmelodies. It’s an unusually attractive piece filled with great heartfelt meaning and context.

Q: I wish you the best for both concerts. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us, Maestro Stone. Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Thank you so much for the chance to speak to your readers Doni. I am really looking forward to the show!

If you are going … 

Brian Stone will conduct “Imagine” for the North State Symphony’s second concert of the season.

Stone’s “Imagine” concert will feature works by Mozart (“Symphony No. 32”), Dvorak (“Symphony No. 6”) and Schuman (“Piano Concerto”). Pianist Soheil Nasseri will be the guest artist.

There will be two performances. The first takes place Saturday, November 15, at 7:30 p.m. in Redding’s Cascade Theatre. The second is Sunday, November 16 at 2 p.m. in Chico’s Laxson Auditorium.

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.

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