Every summer, musicians from around the world come to Columbia to take part in the Hot Summer Nights Festival. This celebration of music featuring the Missouri Symphony Orchestra packs 26 concerts into six weeks and offers something for everyone, from Mozart to Elvis and from opera to patriotic pops.
Leading the orchestra in this ambitious venture is Maestro Kirk Trevor, music director and conductor of the Missouri Symphony Orchestra. Born and educated in England, Trevor began conducting at the age of 8. He came to the United States on a Fulbright Exchange Grant, and his career here includes past service as music director of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra (1985-2003) and current service as music director of the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra (since 1988), along with his post at the Missouri Symphony (since 2000). Trevor has also appeared as a guest conductor with more than 40 orchestras around the world.
Trevor has been married for 12 years to Maria Duhova Trevor, an acclaimed harpist born and raised in Slovakia. They have three children, Sylvia, 8, Daniel, 6, and Aidan, 1. Trevor also has a grown daughter, Chloé Trevor, who has attracted worldwide acclaim as a solo concert violinist.
Although the Trevors maintain homes in Indianapolis and Bratislava, Slovakia, their home base is Columbia.
“There is a quality of life here that is somewhat European for us, in the sense that there is an intellectual community and cultural opportunities with the orchestra, ballet and lots of theater,” Kirk Trevor says. “The main thing was we wanted to be in a smaller community, rather than one of the larger cities we’d lived in. We can appreciate the parks and the fact that we have neighbors. We thought it was a great place to bring up children.”
Early one morning, before he had to take two of those children to school, Trevor sat down to talk with Inside Columbia’s Prime about his work at the Missouri Symphony Orchestra. The conversation ranged from how conducting is a performance in and of itself to where the musicians in the orchestra like to play soccer, and from his inability to sit still when in a concert audience to his plan to make the Missouri Symphony concert hall a friendly, whoop-welcoming place.
Q&A With Maestro Kirk Trevor
What is the job description for the music director of the Missouri Symphony Orchestra?
The obvious, cute response is, “Do everything.” Make programs, hire musicians, raise money, coordinate the publicity, marketing and promotion, do interviews, set up housing for the musicians, then — when they get here — conduct, prepare the technical side of the theater, make sure everybody is there for every rehearsal, conduct 26 concerts, and when it’s over, start again; do it all again.
Have you had to do all that in other places as music director?
No, but there isn’t a large staff here to be able to do all of the nonmusical things, and perhaps the unusual nature of this orchestra is the season is only June and July, whereas most orchestras have a season from September through the end of May. So we do 26 concerts in six weeks, and most orchestras do 20 concerts in 10 months.
What are the pros and cons of having a short, summer season?
Many orchestras end their seasons at the end of May, and so you have a lot of musicians across the United States who are looking for opportunities to make music in the summer … not only for financial reasons, but because they just want to be playing and have a good musical experience in the summer. We get musicians from 10 countries and 15 different states, so a lot of musicians are meeting here and making friends. …
It’s obviously an enormous amount of work to put on 26 concerts in 42 days with rehearsals and everything, but we give the musicians enough free time in the evenings that we go down to Cosmo park and play soccer, and we have international food evenings because we have so many different people from different countries.
How would you describe the ideal relationship between a director and orchestra?
The common thinking is that a good music director is a benevolent dictator. Musicians want a leader; they want to be told what to do. … It’s like a coach on a football team. Your role is to bring the best out of people.
What about how conducting is a performance in and of itself? What do you want to bring to that performance?
I’m a very physical conductor. I move around a lot. I jump. And that’s not something I necessarily do on purpose. I’ve always been a physical conductor, and when I was younger, that was always a criticism, that I was too much like Leonard Bernstein. Well, now I think that people appreciate that — It would be like saying a football coach can’t jump up and down and get mad. You’ve got to let your emotions show at times. You still have to be in control.
How physically demanding is conducting?
Conducting is one of the most athletic things people can do. It’s exhausting. Your arms run five miles in the course of a concert, and they’re above your head while you’re doing it. You have to be in shape. You have to be fit. You have to have the ability to sweat with the musicians, to join the musicians in their physicality — because the violins and cellos are working very hard to produce the kind of energy that you are looking for in communicating with an audience.
I certainly don’t attempt to create an audience show because I’ve got my back to the audience anyway, so my show, if there is a show, is to motivate and inspire the musicians and to remind them, “This is what we do here,” and then the spontaneity aspect of it. Again, it’s like coaching. Do you go for it [in football] on fourth and one? That’s a simple choice depending on where you are on the field. But do you go for it on fourth and 15? There’s the spontaneity. Some coaches might once in awhile go for it, just as a gamble and because you think you see something, and so those options have to be open to you in conducting. You always want there to be a surprise, even for the musicians.
What might those surprises be in an orchestra performance?
Oh, taking longer over a pause, going quite a bit slower or faster than you’ve been rehearsing, taking more risks. If we rehearsed a piece at a certain tempo and that gives you a certain energy, then spontaneously, a gamble might be to go a lot faster to see if you can create even more energy and a sense of dramatic kind of “Whoa!” from the musicians. That can be exciting at times. It can also be an enormous risk.
You teach conducting all over the world, in U.S., Germany, Switzerland, Brazil, China. Why do students come to you?
I’m a technique guru. I’m very much an objective conducting teacher rather than the abstract ones who talk about musical interpretation. I tend to talk about the tools that you need to be able to make this part clear. Most conductors talk about the musical side, but I just think that if a young conductor is going to be any good — if he has talent conducting — then he’s going to be a good musician in the first place. … The one thing [conducting students] are all looking for is how to have the technical skills, and that was something I developed and became known for around the world, and there are so few people teaching technique in conducting that now I have 700 students all around the world.
You’ve been conducting since age 8. How did you get such an early start?
I had the ability to conduct from an early age, and so people gave me some opportunities to see if I could really do it, and I could. … I try to do that with our students, as well, here in the in the [Missouri Symphony] Conservatory, to let them all conduct and give them opportunities and see if there’s anybody who has that innate talent. … If they display it, then it needs to be nurtured.
Who have been your significant mentors?
I’ve had two or three. The reality is like a lot of musicians, I haven’t relied on one person, especially in conducting. … And I think with the advent of technology, every conductor I’ve ever watched has been a mentor in some way. …
I’m one of these people who doesn’t like to go to concerts very much because I find it uncomfortable sitting and watching people make music for some reason.
Well, I have to be moving. So I stand at the back of the hall or outside of the back door, wandering around, listening. I just can’t sit in a chair and watch somebody else conduct a concert. It’s one of my weird traits.
[Laughs] Let’s talk about Hot Summer Nights now. This is the festival’s 10th season. What were your goals when you launched this revamped summer festival in 2005? In what ways has it been most successful?
The idea was to reach a broader audience with a wider variety of concerts. … That involved convincing the board to spend a little more money on pop artists, so we could bring in people like Art Garfunkel. … And it proved that if you spend a little money, you reach out a little more with artists who have some broader appeal. But it wasn’t just in pop. … Another goal was to promote and to present the emerging generation of performing artists in classical. For some people, my soloists are, perhaps, a little young, but my philosophy has always been to promote and present the emerging generation of artists. …
In 2011, I made a conscious effort to expand the size of the orchestra, so we could play even more romantic repertoire, not just the Beethoven and Mozart, but the Tchaikovsky and the Brahms, so we could really be a symphony orchestra and not just a chamber orchestra, which it had been. I thought that was important to make everything broader.
You also look for opportunities to partner with other local artistic organizations, from the Missouri Contemporary Ballet to the Columbia Art League. Why are those partnerships important?
If you are building new audiences, you may be building it through people who have never been to a symphony concert before. I understand how, shall we say, intimidating a concert hall can be to people who have never been there. It can feel a little bit like church. I’m trying hard to break down any of those barriers. … As long as people don’t set fire to the building or throw beer cups at us while we’re playing, I think the audience experience should be — it should be entertaining. They’ve paid money to be entertained.
You know, the entertainment dollar is a very broad dollar. It includes baseball games, movies, theater performances, rock concerts, strip clubs — I mean it’s pretty broad, and we are at one end of that: a concert hall, the one place where you can’t move. In the movie theater, you can get up and eat popcorn while you’re watching and snuggle up with your honey bunny, and there’s a little kissing in the back row. That’s supposedly not allowed in a concert hall. I mean, I want people to be respectful of others, but if you want to holler and cheer at the end of a piece, go ahead! It would be great. That’s the way they did it in the 18th century.
So, back to the question, the reason for collaborating with others is because it makes it not just about music. … If I’m doing a program on science and music and I bring in [the PBS character] Sid the Science Kid — which I’m not, but if I could get Sid the Science Kid — then I’ve opened myself up to a whole new interest level, parents who watch “Sid the Science Kid” or whose kids are interested in science — who haven’t been interested in music but now we’re trying to show the link between the two. Or for [the upcoming concert] “The Color of Music” [which will include a children’s painting contest] — lots of kids like to draw, so we’re allowing them to draw at the concert.
You are serious about making it fun.
I use the three Es: entice, educate and entertain. That’s our goal. People who come to a symphony orchestra think less about the entertainment side. They think [speaking in a low, bored voice], “Ah, my wife’s taking me to the symphony to be educated,” when they should be saying [in a loud, folksy voice], “My wife’s taking me to the symphony to be entertained! [long pause] And maybe I’ll be educated at the same time.” That’s the way I want people to view us.
It’s got to be a friendly place, and I don’t think it’s as friendly as it could be, so I’m going to make the concert hall a friendlier place.
Hot Summer Nights: July Shows
Wednesday, July 2, 7:30 p.m.
Masterworks: Grand Opera Matinee
Sunday, July 6, 3:00 p.m.
Monday, July 7, 7:00 p.m.
Broadway Christian Church
Family: The Color of Music
Wednesday, July 9, 6:30 p.m.
Pops: Elvis at the Symphony
Friday, July 11, 7:30 p.m.
Masterworks: Orchestral Fireworks
Saturday, July 12, 7:30 p.m.
All shows are at the Missouri Theatre, except for the Chamber Recital. See Prime Time Calendar for more details.