Blogging Along the Brandywine: The conductor race is on

When asked to review the conductor search concerts of the Kennett Symphony I thought writing about three enormously and equally talented candidates would be impossible — that is until the second concert, “Spirit of the Season” at the Kennett High School, on Saturday, Dec. 7.

Reviewing the first concert was easy. But after hearing the second of the three concerts, it became evident that the selection committee was not presenting three identical candidates, but candidates with vastly different approaches to programming a concert.

I asked my editor, how to review this all-important second concert.

“Tell it like it is", he said.  “Just give solid reasons. In other words, be honest with our readers.”

Well that didn’t help much, as it immediately created a struggle between “honesty” vs. “tact”. You see I saw “Bambi” when I was 4 or 5 and since then have always heard Thumper’s voice proclaim, “If you can’t say something nice…don’t say nothing at all.”


OK, here goes: Saturday’s audition concert with candidate Rei Hotoda was nice, very nice.

It was indeed a “feel good concert,” but not once did it challenge the listener or compel one to be an active listener. Indeed we have heard the identical selections and arrangements hundreds of times before. And the orchestra, all highly skilled, paid professionals had no doubt been playing the identical scores since high school.

Presenting familiar music is a necessity when programming a concert, but when the entire concert bill is filled with musical clichés, it becomes lackluster.

Ralph Vaughn Williams “Fantasia on Greensleeves,” selections form Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite,” Coplands “Variation on a Shaker Melody – Simple Gifts;” Victor Herberts “March of the Toys;” Leroy Anderson’s “A Christmas Festival” and “Sleigh Ride.” All standard repertoire for high school orchestras. And unfortunately the orchestra often played as if it was bored — asleep at the wheel.

Not surprisingly, the number that received the most energetic and sustained applause was near the end of the program, “Believe,” from “The Polar Express,” by Alan Silvestri. Yes, it’s pop music, and you’ve heard Josh Groban sing it many times, but it was the least clichéd of the entire evening — a breath of fresh air. Sadly, the orchestra virtually drowned-out the sweet voices of the Kennett Symphony’s Children’s Chorus, but overall the selection was a winner.

But the real victim at Saturday night’s concert seemed to be candidate Rei Hotoda. This was her all-important audition concert and she chose to play it safe, conservative, without challenging the audience, the orchestra and most importantly herself.

I have no trouble finding superlative things to say about Hotoda – really. She’s petite and beautiful with a bubbly personality — someone you would want to have as your BFF. And her hard-earned credentials are impeccable having studied at both the Eastman School of Music and the Peabody Conservatory of Music. But not once did she show us who she really was.

During the question and answer session after the concert, one patron asked why she chose “traditional” music and did not choose a more challenging program.

Hotoda answered, “I did not want to expose the audience to that. I wanted to be conservative.”

She added that as she was new to the musicians she did not want to challenge them beyond a few tempo changes.

This competition has now become a very interesting contest — surprisingly, not one of musicianship, but one of approaches and philosophies.  Stay tuned.

About Sally Denk Hoey

Sally Denk Hoey, is a Gemini - one part music and one part history. She holds a masters degree cum laude from the School of Music at West Chester University. She taught 14 years in both public and private school. Her CD "Bard of the Brandywine" was critically received during her almost 30 years as a folk singer. She currently cantors masses at St Agnes Church in West Chester where she also performs with the select Motet Choir. A recognized historian, Sally serves as a judge-captain for the south-east Pennsylvania regionals of the National History Day Competition. She has served as president of the Brandywine Battlefield Park Associates as well as the Sanderson Museum in Chadds Ford where she now curates the violin collection. Sally re-enacted with the 43rd Regiment of Foot and the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment for 19 years where she interpreted the role of a campfollower at encampments in Valley Forge, Williamsburg, Va., Monmouth, N.J. and Lexington and Concord, Mass. Sally is married to her college classmate, Thomas Hoey, otherwise known as "Mr. Sousa.”



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