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A Conversation with Music Advisor, Larry Rachleff

by Barb Corbató - Viola


The musicians of the Grand Rapids Symphony have been honored to have Maestro Larry Rachleff serving as our Music Advisor. The position of Music Advisor involves planning the programming for the current season and 2016-17, in addition to being on the podium several times each of those seasons. Maestro Rachleff is based in Houston, where he is the Walter Kris Hubert Professor of Music and Music Director of the Shepherd School Symphony and Chamber Orchestras. He also is Music Director of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra. The musicians of the GRS have formed a wonderful bond with Maestro Rachleff, and GRS Assistant Principal Violist Barb Corbató was fortunate to able to speak with him recently about his time here in Grand Rapids.


Barb: In addition to your positions at Rice, Rhode Island and here in Grand Rapids, where else have you been conducting this season?


Larry: I made sure that this season I would do nothing else conducting-wise except my responsibilities at Shepherd (Rice), Rhode Island and Grand Rapids. I had deliberately cleared the plate so I can be the best possible for the three organizations.


Barb: What are the challenges of the role of Music Advisor, and what do you think about when working on programming for an orchestra that is going through a music director search such as we are?


Larry: I think the challenges are the same as anytime you give someone advice. You want to listen to what you think they need, as well as what you feel they need, and try to balance that. I think regarding programming during this last 2 seasons while you’ve been searching, we’ve wanted to ensure that your candidates, of course, were comfortable with the repertoire they were choosing, at the same time guiding as much as we can a season that makes sense both within each program and overall, so there were enough chestnuts of the repertoire and enough new and perhaps unfamiliar works for the orchestra and the public. But I am very excited that soon you will soon have a Music Director, and you can all build the next chapter of the fantastic trajectory that is there in Grand Rapids.


Barb: What do you feel are the strengths and weaknesses of the orchestra?


Larry: It’s a strong orchestra, with important leadership throughout, and I know that once you have a regular appearing Music Director in hand that whatever challenges are ahead, can be improved upon.


Barb: Clearly there is a strong connection between the musicians of the GRS and yourself- what do you think generates that? And can you speak a little about how a conductor connects with an ensemble?


Larry: Well, I find the musicians in Grand Rapids to be first and foremost, wonderful people, gifted musicians and seemingly endlessly committed to making great music. Chemistry between people or musicians or conductor and orchestra is probably based on the same thing I would like to believe, which is, one hopes, empathy, and the effort to understand where someone else is.  And to use as the guide always the deepest truth available. So in our case the deepest truth available is the music- the score, the life and the purpose of the composer and the dramatic intent in front of us. And if you are doing it for the right reasons, which hopefully one always is, then true chemistry unfolds.


Barb: What have you learned about GRS and it’s audiences that perhaps you didn’t expect?


Larry: Well, you know having conducted the orchestra, I think, three times, I’m reminded of the wonderful soul of the Michigan temperament and the strong openness to hearing great music played fantastically well. In each of the three appearances, I’ve felt like the audience has been committed to what is going on on stage.


The GRS and Maestro Larry Rachleff will be performing Bernstein’s Second Symphony (The Age of Anxiety), and Orff’s Carmina Burana at our season’s final Classical Series concerts on May 13 and 14, 8pm at DeVos Performance Hall. Tickets are available at (616) 454-9451 or the symphony website-

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