【南湾人物】Orchestra director Tsung Yeh takes a final bow after 28 years

2017-4-2 09:21| 发布者: Dream| 查看: 282| 评论: 0

摘要: “I feel, unlike some conductors who are determined to jump from job to job, I was able to use these 28 years to get to know this community very, very well,” the 65-year-old native of Shanghai, China ...
Orchestra director Tsung Yeh takes a final bow after 28 years

Tsung Yeh hasn’t really changed his tune in his 28 years as the South Bend Symphony Orchestra’s music director.

In an April 10, 1988, Tribune story, the maestro made several promises to the community at the press conference held to introduce him as the SBSO’s fifth music director since its founding in 1934.

Yeh, who was then the resident conductor of the Florida Symphony in Tampa-St. Petersburg, pledged to “improve our capabilities every concert, every rehearsal, every year,” to expand the range of the orchestra’s repertoire, to offer the orchestra’s services more to the community, to participate in education and to “bring music to you. We’re not going to wait for you in the (concert) hall.”

With his final concert as music director scheduled for Saturday, Yeh can put a checkmark next to all of those items, and a few others.

In his almost three decades in South Bend, Yeh recruited better and better musicians into the orchestra, expanded its audience, helped to grow its endowment, made 20th century American music an integral part of its programming, and introduced the SBSO and classical music to new generations of people, largely because of his active engagement in the community.

“I feel, unlike some conductors who are determined to jump from job to job, I was able to use these 28 years to get to know this community very, very well,” the 65-year-old native of Shanghai, China, says, “and the community took me in as one of their own.”

‘He’s unique’

Although his animated conducting style — based in ballet and tai-chi movement — and his often daring program choices make him an entertaining performer, his active engagement with the public also has made Yeh synonymous with the SBSO.

“In the bad old days, a maestro could hide behind the curtain and do his score work and come out only to do his magic onstage,” he says. “Nowadays, you still need the magic, but you have to go to Martin’s Super Market and talk to the people.”

Moreover, Yeh and his wife, Saulan, sent their three children — Mona, Melina and Joseph — to South Bend’s public schools, where he became acquainted with other parents at meetings, soccer games and dances.

But Yeh has done more than buy his groceries at Martin’s and attend school events: He meant it in 1988 when he said the SBSO would leave the concert hall.


Since 1990, barely a summer has gone by that Yeh and the SBSO haven’t performed at St. Patrick’s County Park, Coveleski Stadium or, since 2009, Potawatomi Park’s Wilson Pavilion as part of the Community Foundation of St. Joseph County’s Performing Arts Series, with the last three of those concerts featuring members of the community performing in a “play-along” with the SBSO.

In 2015, the orchestra performed with pop musician Ben Folds in Century Center’s parking lot as part of South Bend’s 150th anniversary celebration.

Jane Hunter, the SBSO’s executive director from 2006 to 2015, says it’s difficult to know if these events led to an increase in ticket sales at the Morris Performing Arts Center, but the outdoor summer concerts have value apart from that.

“Each of the performances in those locations had their own, distinct audiences, which I think is the norm in the industry,” she says. “During my tenure, I had many people approach me and comment wistfully on how much they’d enjoyed the concerts at Coveleski and at St. Pat’s.”

But Yeh’s greatest community outreach may have been with his annual Young People’s Concerts, a task usually relegated to assistant or guest conductors.

At an average of 4,500 students for 27 years, the Young People’s Concerts brought more than 121,000 children to the Morris for special afternoon concerts.

“I didn’t count that before,” Yeh says. “It scares me. In a way, we have planted seeds into these young hearts. Some of them chased a musical dream and some of them joined the audience.”

Pianist and Indiana University South Bend music professor Alexander Toradze has been friends with Yeh since the pianist moved to South Bend in 1991. The two have worked together numerous times, and Toradze has witnessed the difference Yeh has made with the SBSO for the public.

“His whole joyful attitude was very much needed and appreciated by the South Bend audience,” Toradze says. “The role of the symphony orchestra is to present and educate the local community about the greatest classical music pieces, and that’s what he was doing in a very humble manner. That’s why he’s unique.”


Raising the bar

Yeh says he’s proud of how the SBSO’s audience has grown and his involvement with the community, but he also acknowledges that “you can’t build an audience if the orchestra is no good.”

By all accounts from those who remember the SBSO before and early in Yeh’s tenure and those who have worked with him recently, Yeh did improve the quality of the orchestra’s musicianship in his 28 years here.

That, clearly, was the search committee’s intent when it offered the position to him.

Yeh was the unanimous choice of the search committee after five conductors came to South Bend to conduct audition concerts in the 1987-88 season.

Although she wasn’t a voting member of the search committee, longtime SBSO supporter June H. Edwards assisted in the process and even picked up Yeh from South Bend’s airport and had him stay at her home.

“I was impressed with him when we first saw him conduct,” she says. “He was really active and really alert with each section of the orchestra and seemed to know what he was doing. … Most of the people (who voted) felt he was young and vivacious and would give a new outlook and meaning for the music played.”

Of the 75 musicians who are current members of the SBSO, Yeh has hired 58 of them through his annual audition period in the summer.

He appears to know how to pick the right people for each opening.

“It seems like we’ve been auditioning great people into the orchestra,” concertmaster Zofia Glashauser says. “We have quite incredible woodwind and brass sections. They are people who have played with the best orchestras in the world. … The string sections have developed as well. These are world-class musicians who are playing with a regional orchestra.”

Joyce Stifel, the SBSO’s vice president and director of development from 1996 to 2008, says Yeh challenged the musicians and made the orchestra better than it was when she became a volunteer in the early 1980s.

“He has developed our musicians,” she says. “You see this in the tenure of the principals. Some of them have been there 10, 15 years. They won’t stay that long without a conductor they love. … We had years where we were going through concertmasters one after another.”

By contrast, Glashauser has been the SBSO’s concertmaster since 2003.

“One of the things I’ve learned to really appreciate is how he trusts his musicians,” she says. “How many orchestras do we know of where the conductor will single out members to play solos? The last few years, he has pulled out the principals, myself included, to play solos on concertos. It shows he respects the musicians.”

That extends to the SBSO’s guests, too.

“In my personal experience playing with so-called regional orchestras, which do not have the huge budgets, which do not have other amenities that bigger orchestras would have,” Toradze says, “It really is the best orchestra one can work with and play with.”

Toradze and Yeh are friends, but the pianist respects the conductor, particularly for his meticulous preparation and rehearsal technique.

“He would come to the IUSB studio, my studio, and listen to everybody,” Toradze says. “Nobody does that anymore. This is something from a past time, when conductors wanted to know and go deep into the soloist’s take on the music and try to communicate and collaborate as fully as possible.”

Yeh frequently used choirs from high schools and colleges throughout the region, booked Toradze and students from his studio at IU South Bend, and premiered works by such composers as the University of Notre Dame’s Ethan Haimo and IU South Bend’s Jorge Muñiz.

“He worked very diligently with the music to understand the music and give it the energy it needed,” Muñiz says about when Yeh and the SBSO premiered his “Requiem for the Innocent” in 2010 and his Concerto No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra in 2014. “Compared to other conductors, what I would remark on most with Tsung Yeh is his enthusiasm for the music. He really poured himself into both works.”

Travel, teaching ahead

Since 1988, Yeh has held at least two jobs every year — with the SBSO, with several other orchestras and as a teacher. He also is an in-demand guest conductor, including with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France.

Since 2002, he has been the music director of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, and in 2013, he received Singapore’s equivalent of a Kennedy Center Award, the Singapore Cultural Medallion.

Yeh’s retirement plans will keep him busy after Saturday’s farewell concert. He will continue as the Singapore Chinese Orchestra’s music director, has accepted guest professorships in the Beijing and Shanghai conservatories in his native China, and is contemplating writing a book about conducting.

He also will conduct the SBSO’s holiday concerts Dec. 17 and 18 and its second chamber concert of the 2016-17 season, on Jan. 8.

Yeh and Saulan also will engage in some traditional retirement activities.

“I want to travel with my wife to Europe and to Asia,” Yeh says, “and to see things we haven’t seen, to eat good food, to read books.”

source: http://www.southbendtribune.com/entertainment/inthebend/music/orchestra-director-tsung-yeh-takes-a-final-bow-after-years/article_2354a35e-7ff1-5b0a-8601-6587a2d11905.html