April 21, 2016

Interview with a Conducting Fellow

As an Eastman Conducting Fellow, Boon Hua Lien has had the unique opportunity to immerse himself in the professional world of orchestral conducting, a world where he sees his future.
Boon Hua Lien
credit: rr jones

A native of Singapore, Lien is a doctoral candidate in orchestral conducting at the Eastman School of Music. Throughout the RPO’s 2015-16 season, Lien has attended RPO rehearsals and shadowed RPO staff and guest conductors, making sure he is prepared to step in as a backup conductor for a performance if needed. Lien also served as intern to the RPO's education department this season.

Now, Lien has won the rare opportunity to be the featured conductor on the RPO’s upcoming Around the Town: Dances Around the World concerts, three free concerts taking place in the city of Rochester April 26-28. These concerts are sponsored by Xerox and the City of Rochester and will also feature a special performance by ROCMusic, a music program for city youth. We caught up with Lien to learn more about his experiences with the RPO this year and planning the Around the Town concerts!

You have been with the RPO all year as an ESM Conducting Fellow. Tell us more about that role.
I’m currently finishing up my doctorate in orchestral conducting at ESM. As the Eastman Conducting Fellow for the RPO, my work mainly comprises of being a cover conductor for the orchestra, which essentially means to be an understudy for the main conductor. I have to be ready to step in on a moment’s notice just in case something unfortunate occurs. On top of that, I also provide feedback regarding any balance or ensemble issues out in the concert hall. This provides me with the valuable opportunity to observe how a professional conductor works with the orchestra, and also to fine-tune the final product before presenting it to our audiences.

I’m sure you have learned so much this year from RPO conductors, and now you have the opportunity to conduct the Around the Towns. How did you get that opportunity?

That opportunity came when I was asked to assist Doc Severinsen in a Pops concert earlier this year in January. Doc wanted to take a break between his exhaustive sets and asked for a staff conductor from RPO to conduct Puccini’s Un bel di with his touring soprano, Vanessa Thomas. Thus I made my official debut with the orchestra, and the reception from the orchestra was very enthusiastic, prompting an invitation to conduct the Around the Town concerts. In a way, that was my audition with the orchestra!

Do you get to choose the programming for these concerts? Also, what’s your favorite piece on the program and why?

With regards to programming, I consulted with Dick Decker, vice president of artistic administration at the RPO to pick out the theme and repertoire that would be suitable for these concerts. His many years of experience in programming was an immeasurable wealth of knowledge, and we are very glad to come up with a program that will be exciting and captivating for our audiences.

It is very difficult for me to choose a favorite piece on the program because I love them all and they are significant to me in various ways. The Dance of the Yao People is special to me because the youth orchestra I used to play in brought it on tour to Vienna, and it was from that tour that I met the girl who is now my wife!

I’d always admired Khachaturian’s music and his Masquerade Suite is filled with memorable melodies and irresistible fun and brilliance. I’m very excited about having ROCMusic join us to present a number from Bizet’s Carmen Suite as well as former RPO percussionist Bill Cahn’s arrangement of Gahu Songs. Their youthful exuberance will be a real treat for us all.

What’s the best advice you received from an RPO staff or guest conductor this year?

I was very lucky to assist the venerable 85-year-old German conductor G√ľnther Herbig earlier in February. I learned so much from being in his rehearsals, and his concept of music and orchestral sound was utterly inspiring. He had a gentle and down-to-earth demeanor, but was very persistent and demanding in achieving the results he believed the composer wanted. That in itself is already a very impressive lesson! When I did finally ask him for advice for a young conductor like myself, he told me to never give up believing in oneself.

As an aspiring career conductor, what advice would you give to other students interested in this path?

As a young conductor I can only say I’m figuring this out as I go too. Some say one only becomes a real conductor when they get to 60, and I’m only at the halfway mark right now! That said, I’d recently read a quotation from the late Dean Lowry of Eastman School of Music that resonated with me, and I believe is excellent advice for my peers:

"Don’t be afraid; just have faith in who and what you are. Music can be a paranoid art form, so we tend to underestimate ourselves all the time...but the less that you can second-guess yourself, the more you can live up to your talent potential. Because the thing is, we actually know who and what we are, we just sometimes don’t want to come to terms with it. Forget about whether people like it or not, and just come to grips with what you want to say. Trust yourself."

If you go
FREE Around the Town Concert Series: Dances Around the World
Tuesday, April 26; David F. Gantt R-Center (700 North St.)
Wednesday, April 27; Franklin High School (950 Norton St.)
Thursday, April 28; Edgerton R-Center (41 Backus St.)
All concerts at 7:30 PM
$$: Free

Sponsored by Xerox and the City of Rochester

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