A recent interview with Conner Covington, candidate for Artistic Director and Conductor of the Amarillo Symphony was, in a word, “refreshing!” His wide-ranging comments elaborated his own life’s story and musical odyssey, as well as his philosophies of musical programming and the role of the conductor. Finally, he set everything within the context of his desire to come to Amarillo and his vision for the symphony.
Even though this interview focused on him, he rarely used the personal pronoun. Never did the sometimes demonic artistic ego appear. Rather, he brought himself to the subject, usually after reframing the question from the perspective of the conductor. That quality, in itself, proved most refreshing.
He did not come from a musical family, and didn’t begin playing violin until the fifth grade. Conner revealed that he didn’t become serious about studying music until age 16. At that point, rather presciently and in order to make up for lost time, he relocated from Eastern Tennessee to Houston where family made it possible to attend the Houston High School for the Visual and Performing Arts.
His love for conducting was nurtured at the University of Houston by his orchestra conductor, whom Conner followed to the University of Texas at Arlington on the promise of more opportunities with the baton. Never discount the influence of one special teacher.
Conner also revealed his admiration for the iconic Frenchman Pierre Monteux, whole philosophy regarding conducting would subsequently inform the directors of many leading American symphonies.
Monteux maintained that the conductor was the servant of the music whose primary responsibility lay in keeping the orchestra together to carry out the composer’s instructions. “To that end, conductors must articulate their own vision of the composer’s intentions, then have the ability to convince the orchestra you have validity,” is how Covington explained his own concept.
Wen asked what he thought was the most important personal quality for a conductor, he gave an immediate and surprising answer. “Emotional intelligence!” He gave the example of Yannick Nezet Sequin, conductor of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and with whom Conner has worked in Philadelphia, as one who can just walk into a room and take the pulse of the musicians. In other words, this is the ability to intuitively know what is needed to actualize the potential of each musician and thus the entire orchestra.
His own musical preferences focus on the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as the classical period, especially Mozart and Haydn. But, his tastes have evolved to include Debussy and Ravel, as well as American Jazz and Blues.
The watchword governing his program selections is “Variety!” The choices for each Amarillo concert certainly underscore that principle. Composers from the first concert included Quinn Mason, Mozart and Brahms. Those in the second were Anna Clyne, Rachmaninoff, Rossini and Richard Strauss.
The choices also reveal another of Covington’s principles: the desire to expose audiences to new music. The performances of Quinn Mason, a young Texan, and Anna Clyne, a British composer, attest to that commitment.
When asked what, besides the job, prompted him to relocate to Amarillo, Conner quickly responded with two reasons. He said that the word of symphonic music is really a small community, and that the Amarillo Symphony has the reputation not only for innovation, but also for commissioning new works. That last quality is very rare in orchestras from communities the size of Amarillo.
The second reason is the tradition of music education in Texas, that he feels, is the strongest in the nation. It appears that someone realizes we’re know for more than producing football players here in the Lone Star State! That’s refreshing!
Questioned about his plans for community outreach and involvement, he emphasized increased collaboration, which he called a ‘Win-Win!’ with the various artistic and educational institutions, to expose the public to the joys of classical music. Part of his mission is to change the stigma around classical music, and by erasing elitist labels, make all feel welcome at symphony.
Finally, when asked what message he had for the people of Amarillo, he answered, not in terms of touting himself, but the symphony. “This community is very lucky to have an orchestra of this quality, which is rare in this country. Whomever is chosen as orchestra director has the responsibility to spread the word of this quality.”
Conner, if you are chosen to press the “Refresh” tab for the Amarillo Symphony, you’ll make it easier than ever to say:
Keep Amarillo Artsy!
Keep Austin Weird!
Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!