CSO Conductor Candidate #1 Is Here
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special To ALLOTSEGO.COM
ONEONTA – From the time he was seven, Silas Nathaniel Huff knew he was going to be in music.
“I was a guitarist, so I thought I was going to be a rock star,” he said. “Then I got into college and discovered classical music. I thought I’d be the next John Williams.”
But fate – or rather, his classmates – intervened.
“We had to take a conducting class to get my master’s degree, and my classmates said, ‘Silas, you’re not that good of a composer, but you’re a great conductor!’”
Huff is the first of three finalists for the Catskill Symphony Orchestra’s music director position and will conduct Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite, 1919” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7, at SUNY Oneonta’s Hunt Union Ballroom.
“It’s like a first date,” he said. “It’s exciting and intimidating. I get to meet them and hope they like me, and hope that I like working with them. The decision about which conductor, like dating, will be all about chemistry.”
His first task was to work with the symphony to design the program. “It took a little negotiating,” he said. “But once we decided on ‘Firebird,’ we were able to work backwards from there.”
He chose his program based around the number of solos – 10 in all – to showcase the orchestra’s individual talent. “It’s like testing out the orchestra,” he said. “But it’s also about giving them that spotlight. It makes them feel good too.”
Huff is also dedicated to expanding what people think of as an orchestra performance. “If someone asks you, ‘Do you want to go to an intimidating venue where you have to dress up and stay silent?’ You’re going to say, ‘No, I’d rather go get a beer,’” he said. “So why don’t we bring the orchestra to a brewery?”
He also wants to highlight the work of contemporary composers, including Kenneth Fuchs, Alan Shultz, Scott McKenzie and Rachel Whelan. “Who’s today’s Beethoven?” he said. “I want to find that person.”“For me, putting together a program is about the orchestra asking itself, what are some great pieces we know our audience loves, and what music is our audience going to love,” he said. “That’s how I program. You’re going to like it, so let’s listen, shall we?”
Huff is married to “Hello Gorgeous!” author Taylor Morris. The couple live in Lawrence, Kansas, a recent move for Huff when he became Washburn University’s director of orchestras. He also organizes workshops for young conductors to practice with a live orchestra.
“Unless you are a millionaire and can hire an orchestra to play for you, you don’t get a chance to practice much,” he said. “With these workshops, I hire an orchestra and bring in an older maestro to critique the young conductors. You’d be amazed how much better you get, just by doing it for a week.”
Throughout the week, he will meet with community leaders and symphony patrons, as well as rehearse with the orchestra ahead of Saturday’s performance.