Announcing Our New Conductor, Jerry Steichen!

Conductor Jerry SteichenBy This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Courtesy of the Longview News-Journal

The Longview Symphony’s new conductor, Jerry Steichen, wants to tell people about his favorite concert in the symphony’s lineup for its 51st season.

Only he can’t choose.

“They’re all my favorite,” he said.

Some details still are being worked out and some surprises are planned, but the season that kicks off in September will include special guest performers, opportunities to get to know the symphony’s musicians, concerts away from the Belcher Center, hometown flavors and — cue the drum roll — a Disney concert.

The symphony board named Steichen conductor this year after a search that began in summer 2018 when former conductor Gene Moon resigned.

Steichen isn’t new to Longview. He previously served 10 years as the music and artistic director for the former Opera East Texas.

The season he outlined — and his philosophy for how the symphony should operate — follow the board’s desire to move the ensemble in a direction that makes it more approachable. His vision is for a symphony whose concerts children are welcome to attend — or come to a dress rehearsal, instead. It’s one in which the symphony can be found at events downtown or at the new arboretum after it opens. It’s one that embraces different genres of music, where the symphony might perform a concert focused on video games or movies or of a specific composer.

“It’s not your grandparents’ symphony. It’s your symphony no matter who you are and what age you are and what kind of music you like,” he said.

Board President Justin McFaul said the Longview Symphony has for the past few years been looking for a balance between keeping alive the classical music of which some people are fans, while attracting new audiences — families with children, for instance, who need to know it’s OK to get up and go to the bathroom during the concert, if needed.

“Nobody on stage is going to be concerned,” he said, adding that the symphony is “not just a date night event.”

The change Steichen is bringing to the Longview Symphony isn’t isolated.

“What’s happening in international symphonic circles — you can no longer do what’s considered a traditional program,” with an overture, concerto and symphony, he said. “No one’s going to come to it. ... My point of departure is, we’re going to take the symphony to the people.”

Steichen is a native of Tonkawa, Oklahoma, a town he described as “smaller than Carthage.” The son of a high school band director and a mother who supported his love of music, his family listened to all kinds of music, he said. He still believes in the lessons of attending school in a small town.

“When you grew up in Tonkawa, you played piano, you sang in the choir, you played in the band, you took social square dance,” said Steichen, who also revealed he tap danced at the Utah Symphony in 2018.

At halftime in Tonkawa, some football players marched in the halftime show in their football uniforms.

“We also are in every sport. If you’re not on the field, you’re playing in the band or keeping stats for the basketball team, or fixing broken shoestrings for the football team. ... Nobody ever said music was exclusive of everything else. You didn’t choose when you were in eighth grade the one thing you were going to do. You did it all.”

That lesson translates to life.

“No one can exist without both, and it feeds your soul to do everything. Your body needs the workout. Your soul needs the music. Your brain needs the academics. We are not something that exists in the Belcher Center.”

Steichen still recalls the lesson he learned from his piano teacher who came to his house each week for six years — a woman who “dressed to the nines” and who would sit down in a chair and say to him, “So, entertain me.”

“That’s how my lessons started for six years. I thought music was like this opportunity to share whatever place you were in emotionally,” he said. “I still think that about music. I still think music is an opportunity to tell stories with any size ensemble to any size of audience.”

Read the full article at the Longview News-Journal.