Maestro David Cho has made a positive impression on music lovers who have seen him work alongside guest artist Yo-Yo Ma and lead the orchestra in later concerts, as well as the musicians he collectively regards as ” my tool”.
Cho, the seventh conductor and music director in the history of the Lubbock Symphony Orchestra, was the third winner of the prestigious Eduardo Mata International Conducting Competition and replaced Tomasz Golka, the first winner of this contest, in Lubbock.
By deciding to move to Lubbock with Gloria, his wife of a year and a half, Cho is Lubbock’s first true resident conductor since Albert-George Schram in 2000.
“I can’t tell you how nice it is to walk into the LSO’s office and know that our maestro is there every day,” said LSO flautist Kimberly Hudson.
Cho, 38, spent his previous five years with the Utah Symphony Orchestra in Salt Lake City as associate conductor.
One of Lubbock’s long-term goals is to introduce more newcomers to orchestral performance.
It says a lot that a city of 200,000 people has supported its own symphony orchestra for over 65 years. Yet Cho settled into his office aware of a startling statistic, having learned that approximately 50% of Lubbock residents have yet to hear the orchestra.
These numbers won’t change overnight, or even in one season. But Cho thinks, “If we serve the people who come, whether it’s 300 or 3,000, we create a sense of communion. … If we have fun while delivering music that our listeners find exciting and moving – even with mistake once in a while, which is the beauty of live music – then these people will tell their friends.
“And word of mouth (advertising) will take care of itself.”
Cho was born in Seoul, Korea. His mother made sure that he and his younger brother, James, started studying the piano and wouldn’t let them give up.
Seven-year-old Cho begged his mother to let him quit piano lessons because he wanted to train to be a boxer.
“A super-super-light featherweight,” the 160-pound Cho joked.
Cho’s mother, a lyric soprano, told him she knew he would one day alter his musical dreams and work towards becoming a bandleader rather than a concert pianist.
He is, she says, enjoying a career that her late father once desired.
“After the Korean War, the government encouraged all Koreans to become businessmen (rather than artists),” Cho said. “So my parents got into the restaurant business.”
They succeeded. When Cho turned 11 in 1985, they moved to the Los Angeles area, settling in South Pasadena. Their decision to work with sushi and Japanese cuisine took off, and his parents would eventually own a much-loved restaurant chain called Sapporo.
By the end of his freshman year in high school, Cho aspired to forge a career as a professional pianist.
But after earning a master’s degree in piano performance at Johns Hopkins University’s Peabody Institute, the “reality part of my brain” kicked in, he said.
He recognized an “enormous and ever-increasing number of classical pianists” and also found that he enjoyed his compulsory conducting course.
That in fact, he had “a talent for rhythm”.
Larry Rachleff quickly became Cho’s mentor after inviting him in 2000 to study at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston.
It was there that Cho earned a second master’s degree in instrumental conducting – and was later invited by the Vienna Philharmonic to serve as assistant conductor.
Rachleff never forgot him. He came back into Cho’s life in 2004 with an invitation to become resident conductor of the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra.
Cho credits Rachleff with helping him learn the duties of every conductor that are rarely mentioned in a classroom setting.
“This position involves so much,” Cho said. “Not only the programming, but the importance of being able to interact with 70 to 100 musicians, who are my own instrument. Also, working side by side with management and with a board of directors
“So all that hands-on experience is very important, and I think I’m still learning.”
He has gained experience in multiple programs with other orchestras, but sees no reason for the Lubbock Ensemble to adjust its current balance of five pairs of masterpiece concerts, three chamber concerts, a holiday attraction and a springtime collaboration with Ballet Lubbock.
That won’t stop him from finding suitable times for new or unique programming. The focus next weekend on Finnish music and composer Jean Sibelius is an example of this, he pointed out.
Accepting the position of musical director in Lubbock came easily, he said, mainly because he had time to familiarize himself with the musicians.
“I was able to work with the orchestra well in advance. I discussed with the management. I met the board of directors, which is fabulous by the way.
“Yeah, it’s a place where I wanted to be the artistic head and be responsible for planning and working with the staff.”
The job also came at a time when, he said, he had learned to be less self-critical. He still remembers a moment when he woke up from a “symphonic dream”, shouting: “No, it’s F sharp!”
Cho said he is able to keep his ego in check in part by remembering that “there is no such thing as a great young conductor. The best conductors are in their 70s and 80s. takes those years to learn not just how to make great music, but how to communicate.”
But one of the biggest challenges any conductor faces, Cho said, is being able to express respect for musicians while sometimes asking them to play some of the music in a different way. .
He must learn to work with dozens of varying personalities and know which musicians need or want the added guidance of a nod or a podium expression, and which do not.
His mentor’s best advice, Cho said: “Be fair. Be kind. Be firm, but be courteous.”
LSO Violinist John Gilbert said: “Everything David does during rehearsals is clear, professional and to the point. All he cares about is making the music as beautiful and compelling as possible, and having the orchestra as engaged as possible. It puts us at ease and in confidence, allowing us to give the best of ourselves.”
Cho surprised his then-girlfriend, Gloria, with a very public marriage proposal from the podium just before a concert in Salt Lake City.
Her introduction of Gloria and her subsequent proposal had been filmed, so everyone could watch on an overhead screen, and the spotlights were already directed to the seat she would be in.
She’d flown to Utah to watch Cho conduct the music for her favorite movie, The Wizard of Oz, never realizing he’d bare her heart and courage before a note hit. be played.
Cho and his fiancée Gloria married in 2010 – “an outdoor wedding at my family’s house in San Diego on the only day of the year that it rained there”.
Moving to Lubbock, he said, was “a natural move because, to be precisely the musical director that I want to be, I have to be here”.
It’s true that the orchestra’s management and board love the vision of a community meeting Cho in person at the market, at a sporting event or on the golf course. He is approachable, enjoys talking with clients and does not hesitate to invite strangers to the next LSO concert.
What seems more important to Cho, however, is her accessibility to music and the 75 men and women expected to breathe her, bring her to life. Accepting the challenge of planning concerts and conducting his own orchestra, he said, “I want to do everything right.
“I’m here because I want to be part of the whole process.”
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