Longtime director leaving Pioneer Valley Symphony


For the Gazette

Published: 08-03-2017 9:40 PM

GREENFIELD — The Pioneer Valley Symphony has begun its search for a new music director and conductor to replace Paul Phillips, who has led the community symphony for 23 years. He has been named to a new position at Stanford University in California.

The 61-year-old Phillips, who has been a music lecturer and musical director of the Brown University Symphony Orchestra, helped to establish a youth symphony here and to raise the profile of the 78-year-old community orchestra during his tenure.

“It’s kind of mind-boggling,” said Phillips of his stay with PVS, which followed the 38-year tenure of Nathan Gottschalk. During his tenure, he’s made a name for himself that includes three American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) awards for Adventurous Programming, a New England Public Radio Arts and Humanities Award, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council proclaiming it one of the best symphony orchestras in the state. “It’s been a very great run, and I’ve loved it. But it’s very exciting to have a new set of challenges.”

Phillips, who’s never lived on the West Coast, said he will direct the Stanford Symphony Orchestra as well as the Stanford Philharmonia, a chamber orchestra, and eventually lead the university’s New Music Ensemble. He will also teach an advanced conducting course as well as a course in the “harmonic convergence” of music, science, history and literature.

His wife, soprano Kathryne Jennings, who appeared as a soloist with PVS and taught at Brown, will teach voice at the Palo Alto campus, a location that will put the couple much closer to their daughter, who lives in Los Angeles.

Incoming PVS board President Beckie Markarian said, “Paul Phillips’ innovative programming and high expectations have set PVS apart as a community orchestra and provided our musicians with unparalleled musical opportunities. He championed bringing classical symphonic music to the children of Franklin County through our education program and concert, making classical music accessible to new audiences. It has been a pleasure to have Paul lead us for 23 seasons.”

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One of Phillips’ goals when he arrived was to begin a series of concerts for young audiences, as well as the symphony’s youth orchestra.

“I’ve gotten a tremendous charge out of our educational concerts,” said Phillips. “The audiences respond so enthusiastically to what we play. And the youth orchestra adds a new dimension.”

He was less enthusiastic about the weekly drive back and forth from Rhode Island for rehearsals in Hadley, especially starting the 100-mile return trips after 10:30 p.m., sometimes arriving home at 12:30 or 1 a.m.

In 2013, Phillips said, “What brings people out to see us are often the more novel things we present, whether it’s premieres or older pieces that haven’t been played much, whether it’s an unusual combination of instruments — whatever it is, it’s a factor of ‘I’m going to hear something I haven’t heard before and am not likely to hear anywhere else,’ that brings people out.”

Among his myriad interests have been the musical works of “Clockwork Orange” novelist Anthony Burgess, about whom Phillips wrote a 2011 book.

Wendy Foxmyn, a violinist who has played with the symphony for about 30 years, said under Phillips’ direction, the orchestra “has grown tremendously, particularly in repertoire. I’m sure there are people who play in high-level, professional orchestras that are envious of the kind of programming that we’ve done, and that’s been exciting, and it’s really nice to play some of the traditional pieces, and that’s challenged us and brought us to bigger and better heights. He’s always been very inspiring.”

Foxmyn, who is Deerfield’s town administrator, called Phillips “an extraordinary musician. He’s an amazing pianist and a composer, and he knows the music so well: opera as well as orchestral and chamber music. He’s been an extraordinary resource for us and a creative programmer. It’s quite extraordinary that he stayed with us that long, through thick and thin.”

Phillips, who recalled several of the orchestra’s grand collaborations — with Hampshire Choral Society, Shelburne glassblower Josh Simpson and others — as among the highlights of his years here, is scheduled to appear once more as conductor, leading a celebratory Oct. 14 concert in the Greenfield High School auditorium that will feature Mozart’s 23rd piano concerto, Juaquin Turina’s “Danzas Fantasticas” and a world premiere by William Perry, “Pioneer Valley: The First Frontier.”

The search

After a review of applications by a PVS search committee and recommendations to the symphony’s board by the end of September, the three finalist candidates will be guest conductors for its scheduled concerts in February, March and May, with a musical director being named at the end of the upcoming season to pick up the baton in time for the 80th season of what is one of the nation’s oldest community orchestras.