The Charlottesville and University Symphony Orchestra, our area’s signature symphony, opens its 2006-2007 season with Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 in October, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in November and a Holiday concert in December. And they’ve got something else special this year: a new conductor, who just happens to have one more X chromosome than most professional baton wranglers.
Kate Tamarkin has studied with Leonard Bernstein, Seiji Ozawa and Gustav Meier. She came into her own as a conductor in the early 1980s with the likes of famous female conductor JoAnn Falletta, and has since conducted symphonies around the country. We sat down with Tamarkin to chat about music, the upcoming season, and what it’s like to be a woman in such a male-dominated field. —Meg McEvoy
C-VILLE: Did you have a role in the programming for this season?
Kate Tamarkin: I picked the program. What I like about the season are the literary connections. There’s a poet or writer associated with each concert, and that was done deliberately. As a newcomer to this area, one cannot help but notice the very vibrant literary culture, so I wanted to tie that in.
Would you describe the program as pretty cohesive?
Yes, a good program is like a good dinner, and making programs is like being a chef. You want each dinner to work by itself. If a person came to your restaurant five times they’d have five different offerings.
How big a role does education play in performance?
There are two components of education: there’s the education of the audience, and the education of the students who are learning it. As far as adult education, [I’ll be presenting] New Notes at Jefferson Madison Regional Library. From noon to 1pm the Friday before the concert weekend, I’m going to be down there introducing the music for an hour. I hope to bring people in, because music, for me, is about reaching out. It’s about bridges, it’s about communication. Even though I’ve been at this work 25 years, I still have a strong desire to help people love music. They say people mellow as they age—I think I’m a little more on fire now than before.
How is it being a female conductor in what’s known as a male-dominated field?
At first, I was a real oddity. My first conductorship was in 1981, and at that time…there was quite a lot of attention paid to that, and the interviewers would often begin with something like, “and what do you wear?”
The first time I ever did a professional concert, a man came up and said, “You’re pretty good for a girl.” And I said, “Thank you.”
Although there is a glass ceiling that some have broken through, I think it’s less critical now—although many people disagree with that. But the experience for me has been very positive.
What do you have in mind for future programs?
I enjoy the English 20th century composers like Vaughan Williams and Elgar. I enjoy Manuel deFaille, the national composer of Spain… Many, many composers. I’ve also been doing a lot of opera in the last few years.
What is it about working with CUSO that you most look forward to?
We have a group of highly motivated students who are there for the love of it, who have a lot of abilities… I love the fact that you have an audience which is a subscription audience, like any a professional orchestra would have. What I really love is that I have faculty principals playing. It’s the best pedagogical experience, because the students are next to their teachers. It’s the Prius of the orchestras.