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John Lamb, Published April 16 2013

Nashville conductor looks to lend her voice to FMSO

FARGO – Nashville, Tenn., is known for its affiliation with country music, as it is home to the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ol’ Opry.

So it’s not exactly an obvious spot for the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra to find its fifth and final candidate for the open musical director position.

But Kelly Corcoran, associate conductor of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, says there’s a reason Nashville is nicknamed “Music City” and not just “Country City.”

“With all the different kind of music-making that goes on in Nashville, I love it because people see music as music,” Corcoran says.

“They are as excited about a new piece being played by the Nashville Symphony as they are about bluegrass being played down the street.”

Corcoran is the guest conductor for this weekend’s final FMSO Masterworks concerts. She’s also the final conductor trying out for the opening.

Linda Boyd, executive director of the FMSO, says the conductor search committee is scheduled to make a recommendation to the symphony’s board of trustees in mid-May.

Corcoran said she appreciates the exposure to different music her six years with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra have led to. She conducted the first reading of progressive banjo player Béla Fleck’s “Concerto for Banjo” and shared the stage with country traditionalists Riders in the Sky, pop and country star Darius Rucker and a group of Nashville songwriters.

“It kind of breaks down barriers and gets back to the core of what we do, which is presenting great music and moving our listeners and there’s lots of different ways to do that,” Corcoran says.

Nashville has been good to her, but she’s ready to move on, to be a musical director and more involved in a community. She’s heard good things about the FMSO and that the community supports the arts.

“I haven’t heard the orchestra yet, but I’m very excited to make music with them,” she says. “It seems like a wonderful combination of great history, great support and sustainability combined with creative endeavors and great musicians in a great community. That’s a formula for exciting things happening.”

She may have not heard the orchestra yet, but she’s heard concertmaster Ben Sung. The two worked together when they studied at Indiana State University a decade ago.

Sung recalls Corcoran’s enthusiasm not only for performing but also promoting music, particularly new works.

“She would bring that kind of enthusiasm for music in all of its forms and that kind of entrepreneurial spirit to maybe see directions the symphony and the community could go that wouldn’t occur to somebody without that perspective,” Sung says, when asked what Corcoran could bring to the FMSO job.

Corcoran studied vocal performance and performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She recalls being intrigued watching conductors work and how they interacted with the performers, the audience and even the composer.

“Conductors just made me feel like the music was fresh and the ink was just wet on the page,” she says. “It was a very moving time in my life.”

She hasn’t worked much with choral groups in the last 10 years, though she currently is interim director of the Nashville Symphony Chorus. She says her vocal background makes her a better communicator – musically.

“The great advantage to being a singer is that you can sing the way you want something to be phrased. It’s a great skill and a tool that’s helpful.”

If she got the FMSO job, she said she’d like to mix in new works with “the building blocks” (Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven, etc.), potentially bringing in a working composer every season.

“It’s really critical and crucial that you are making art that is new and fresh and alive and current,” she says. “It breathes new life into older works. It helps you see everything in a new light and with new perspective. … If it’s good music and good artists, it deserves to be played.”

That “good music” includes programs like pops, family and kids concerts, all important outreach offerings, Corcoran says. In Nashville she’s also helped with the yearly Day of Music, featuring free concerts around town, and worked with the annual Martin Luther King Jr. concert.

“Making positive change in the community through the arts is a great opportunity,” she says.

If Corcoran gets the FMSO job, she would be the first woman to hold the position. She says women are still underrepresented in conducting positions, though it’s gotten better over the past 15 years.

“It’s a double-sided thing. On one side I try not to think about it and do my work and not let it be relevant,” she says. “But on the flipside, I am a woman, and I am in a leadership position. And if that can make a positive impact, then certainly I want to embrace that.”

She’s often asked about being a woman in a male-dominated profession and says she has had to work harder, but she focuses more on the job at hand and not the differences between herself and other conductors.

“I am here to make great music and bring to life what the composer intended. I am here to inspire my musicians and inspire, entertain and move my audience,” she says. “If folks want to think about the fact that I’m a woman, ok, let them. That’s not what I’m thinking about. I’m thinking about the work I’m doing and the quality of what I’m doing.”

If you go

What: FM Symphony Masterworks Concert featuring guest conductor Kelly Corcoran and solo pianist Charlie Albright playing Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev

When: 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Festival Concert Hall, NDSU

Info: Tickets range from $15 for students and $35 for adults. (701) 478-3676

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533