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Bach Soc Offers Opportunity to Student Conductors

Management, musicianship challenge orchestra’s student leaders

For serious student conductors at Harvard, opportunities to lead an orchestra are rare—and that’s what makes the Bach Society Orchestra (Bach Soc) so special.

Founded in 1898 as the Musical Club of Harvard University and reformed as a chamber orchestra in 1954, Bach Soc is led each season by an undergraduate who selects the repertoire, runs rehearsals and conducts all the performances. For a young conductor, it’s perhaps as close as it gets to music directing a full-sized chamber orchestra.

There are number of prominent names that appear on the list of former Bach Society Orchestra conductors. They include Pulitzer Prize-winning composers John H. Harbison ’60 and John C. Adams ’69 and internationally established conductors such as Isaiah A. Jackson ’66 (Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra) and Hugh M. Wolff ’75 (Frankfurt Radio Orchestra).

The orchestra continues to provide a training ground for talented young conductors and some of the biggest names on the classical music scene. After an audition process in which three finalists were selected from a group of 10 applicants, Bach Soc recently chose Alexander S. Misono ’04 as its conductor for the new season.

Misono has already established a strong presence as a conductor at Harvard, most prominently as assistant conductor of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra last year. Misono says that it taught him “about directing peers and colleagues, many of whom were older.”

“The same dynamic exists in the professional world,” he says.

It also made him aware of other challenges that face conductors—“subtlety in dealing with musicians” and “verbally instructing people to agree with your musical vision.”

In bringing his particular vision to Bach Soc, Misono says he plans to devote himself entirely to the orchestra on all levels.

“I’m planning to basically devote all my time to Bach Soc,” he says. “It’s already an incredibly close community, but I want to take it a step forward.”

He says he hopes to give benefit concerts, throw more parties and program “exciting and mentally invigorating repertoire which will draw lively audiences.” Misono has already begun rehearsing for his debut with the orchestra in Stravinsky’s Suite No. 1 at tonight’s concert.

In addition to the Stravinsky under Misono’s baton, outgoing conductor Sean H. Ryan ’03 will lead the rest of the program tonight, which will also include Azura Rising by Ben E. Green ’06, winner of the orchestra’s annual composition competition, Ligeti’s Ramifications, Barber’s Adagio for Strings and de Falla’s El Amor Brujo—which Ryan says he has wanted to conduct since last year.

Both Misono and Ryan say they are considering careers in conducting. Earlier this year, Ryan met former Bach Soc conductor Alan T. Gilbert ’89, who was in town to conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

“He talked about what it was like for him,” says Ryan. “It makes it seem like these crazy career aspirations that conductors have are actually possible. It’s nice to know that there are guys out there who capitalize on their Harvard experience.”

—Staff writer Anthony S. Cheung can be reached at acheung@fas.harvard.edu.