Symphony finds music director

Martin Majkut, a native of Slovakia and an assistant director of the Arizona Opera, has been named music director of the Rogue Valley Symphony. Majkut emerged at the top of a yearlong search that saw five guest conductors lead the orchestra in a series of concerts in southern Oregon.

Margaret Scarborough, president of the 43-year-old orchestra's board of directors, said Majkut (pronounced my-coot) will start work immediately and move to the area in August.

On Tuesday he was in the Rogue Valley putting the final touches on the program for next year's concerts, as well as planning rehearsals.

"The future is bright," he said. "There is so much potential."

Majkut said he sees the music director's job in part as leading audiences on a journey of discovery.

"I don't want to overwhelm them with unknown music," he said. "But you can expect more adventure in the following seasons."

Majkut in November led the orchestra in a program of music by Mozart, Villa-Lobos, Beethoven and, memorably, Lorenz, whose "Patraruco" featured guest Terry Longshore playing the maracas. The audience brought Majkut back for a thunderous ovation.

Scarborough said members of the orchestra described Majkut, the second of five finalists for the symphony's leadership, as "awesome." Audience survey cards awarded him a grade of A with multiple pluses.

"Music flows out of his body, through the musicians and into the auditorium," one patron wrote.

Majkut's first series of concerts with the RVSO is scheduled for Sept. 24-26 with a program that will begin with Novak's "In the Tatras," a tone poem about Slovakia's fabled mountains. Majkut calls the piece a "visit card" that will tell the community where he comes from.

"It's about a mountain range," he said, "similar to here."

Majkut said he will continue to conduct occasionally in Slovakia even with his new job. He will lead the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra in September in a performance of Copland's "Rodeo."

"It is important for me to keep that connection," he said.

Bratislava, the capitol of Slovakia and a city of 429,000 people, is just 50 miles from Vienna and has three professional orchestras. Majkut began piano lessons there at age 6 because, he said, there was a piano in the home. He said education was free and excellent, "one of few good things in the otherwise rotten system." When he began winning prizes in piano competitions, he recalled, first prize would always be a Russian alarm clock that would stop working almost immediately.

After the "Velvet Revolution" ended the rule of communism when Majkut was 14, there was a spirit of brotherhood like that of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, he said.

At 25 he became the youngest-ever assistant conductor of the Slovak Philharmonic, a post he continues to hold. He's a frequent guest conductor with the Slovak Sinfonietta, the State Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra.

He won a scholarship to study at the University of Arizona and completed his doctorate there in 2008. He said he loves European culture and American optimism. The mountains around the Rogue Valley even remind him of the Slovak mountains.

Majkut said he was surprised to find that not everyone in Southern Oregon knows about the symphony, which performs multiple concerts in Ashland, Medford and Grants Pass each year. He said he would try to raise the profile of what he called a "hidden gem."

"You go where people are," he said, to spread the word.

He said such an effort would include an expanded on-line presence and visits to schools and retirement communities.

The September program will include Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F, with guest pianist Alexander Tutunov, and Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at

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