Conductor wants to build ties to community

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— The Steamboat Springs Chamber Orchestra is filled with business people and teachers, retirees and ranchers who happen to be violinists and flautists and trumpet players.

None of them is paid. The musicians play because they want to.

It's the grass-roots nature of the orchestra that prompted a Lafayette man to come calling on the group a few weeks ago.

Richard Niezen traveled to Steamboat Springs to audition Sept. 15 with the orchestra after being selected as of one of four finalists to fill the vacancy left by its previous conductor.

"When I work with community ensembles, they are amateur in the very best sense of the word," he said. "(An amateur is) someone who loves what they do.

"They wouldn't be there if they didn't want to be there."

The orchestra's 30 or so musicians decided they wanted Niezen to be there with them and chose him to assume the conductor's wand.

Niezen, who directs the Aurora Symphony Orchestra and Denver's North Metro Philharmonic Orchestra, said he looks forward to working with a mix of people who pursue music as a hobby and a profession.

A few members give music lessons. Several play outside the orchestra for a different crowd. Some recently dusted off their instrument after years of not playing. But all of them faithfully show up to rehearsals because they can't find a good enough reason to stay away.

"I love to work with groups that like to be challenged," Niezen said. Community orchestras often differ from professional orchestras in ability and time commitments, he said, but both types of music ensembles chase after the same goal "Great results," he said.

Niezen said he hopes to broaden the orchestra's scope of influence.

"(Steamboat) is a very artistically attuned community," he said. He would like to build upon that foundation and increase community ties to the orchestra, he added.

Jayne Austin, liaison for the Steamboat Springs Arts Council and orchestra, said a field of four qualified candidates made the final decision difficult, but a preference for Niezen was apparent.

The audition process allowed each candidate to conduct the orchestra for 45 minutes to an hour.

Orchestra members filled out anonymous evaluations after every audition, and a search committee based its decision on the orchestra's assessment.

"The whole process was extremely empowering," said Judy Dettwiler, a double bassist with the orchestra.

Niezen will fit well with the orchestra, she said.

"He has a lot of ideas of how to raise the orchestra to a new level. He has a really good sense of what our orchestra needs," Dettwiler said.

The community can see the orchestra and its new conductor together for the first time in concert Nov. 23 and 24.

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