Rogue Valley Symphony Orchestra

Guest conductor Darko Butorac will lead the Rogue Valley Symphony Orchestra in three days of concerts around the valley beginning Friday, Jan. 22, in Ashland.

Butorac, music director and conductor of the Missoula Symphony Orchestra in Montana, is the third of five guest conductors vying for the RVSO's music director/conductor job in what the RVSO is calling the Year of the Search.

The program features C.P.E. Bach's seldom heard Symphony No. Three in F Major, Brahms' Concerto for Violin and Orchestra and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. Four. Canadian violinist Catherine Manoukian will join Butorac and the orchestra for the violin concerto. The program will be introduced in Ashland and repeated in both Medford and Grants Pass.

Butorac says it would be premature to talk about any pet projects he might envision for the orchestra — other candidates will fill guest directing slots set for February and April — but he has a clear philosophy he says any tenure of his would reflect.

"The real value in classic music is in its performance," he says. "You should come not just because it's good for you, but because there's a feeling that's good to be around.

"It starts with marketing and community partners. Don't build walls. Be open and caring. But making the symphony a bigger presence has to come back to performance."

Butorac, 32, graduated from the University of Toronto and earned a master's degree in music from Indiana University. He worked as director of orchestras at Northern Arizona University, expanding the orchestra program, helping start a visiting guest artist residency and experimenting with multimedia concerts.

At the Aspen Music Festival in 2004 he was named the assistant conductor of the Aspen Opera Theater Center. He worked with the Fidenza Opera Festival in Italy and won the grand prize at the 2004 Vakhtang Jordania International Conducting Competition in Chattanooga, Tenn., along with the competition's Audience Favorite Prize. That led to directing engagements around the world.

In 2005, he was among eight young conductors from various nations showcased in the American Symphony Orchestra League National Conductor Preview in Nashville. He was principal conductor of the Northwest Mahler Festival (dedicated to one of his favorite composers) in Seattle in 2009, and he has been a guest conductor with orchestras in Norway, Argentina and China.

He lists among his favorite composers Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Puccini, Shostakovitch, Bartok, Mozart.

He says the program put together by RVSO is challenging and difficult and mixes the familiar with the somewhat exotic.

"It has one of the most exciting symphonies you can listen to (the Tchaikovsky) and one of the best vehicles for the violinist that we have."

That would be the Brahms concerto. Manoukian, who will be the soloist, won the grand prize at the Canadian Music Competition in 1994 at age 12. After making her stage debut at age 4, she studied with famed violin teacher Dorothy DeLay in New York City. She has played with the Calgary Philharmonic, the Toronto Symphony and the Boston Pops, as well as symphonies in Tokyo, Osaka, Istanbul and Armenia.

She has performed in Paris and New York and produced CDs ranging from Shastakovich to Strauss. She also is a philosophy student in the doctoral program at the University of Toronto, from which she is on leave.

Butorac theorizes that the Bach symphony is on the program along with the better-known works as a sort of test.

"I think they wanted to have a piece on each program that would stretch the orchestra in terms of style," he says. "To force us to cope with older music. To see how we play it, what kind of approach."

The symphony was composed in 1776 and represents an early classical style. It is not generally considered part of the standard classical repertoire. It's sometimes seen as a precursor to Mozart, although Butorac says any lineage there is not a direct one. Still, Haydn once remarked that C.P.E. Bach was "the father" and other German composers of his day were "the kids."

Butorac says there are some connections between the musical selections, even if they're a bit tenuous. C.P.E. Bach worked and composed in Hamburg, which is the birthplace of Brahms. And Brahms was attracted to older music. Some elements of his concerto, such as having many voices playing at the same time, echo the music of the Bach family.

In any case, Butorac says, the focus, as always, is on the music. He seems to set the bar high.

"Performances should have something special," he says. "Something for which marketing can't compensate. The performance itself should be gripping.

"They're paying money to hear a performance. They want to be engaged."

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