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Director bringing ‘new energy’ to Schenectady Symphony Orchestra

Director bringing ‘new energy’ to Schenectady Symphony Orchestra

Glen Cortese carries wealth of experience into role
Director bringing ‘new energy’ to Schenectady Symphony Orchestra
The Schenectady Symphony Orchestra performs at Proctors in this file photo.
Photographer: gazette file photo

As fans of the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra know, there’s a new music director in town.

“So far, so good,” said Glen Cortese. “The musicians really rose to the occasion [his first official concert was Oct. 13] and we had a good audience. I also played piano on the concert and the orchestra played great. It was a really successful concert.”

The SSO’s next concert is Sunday at Proctors.

Cortese, who is based in New York City, comes well prepared for his new role. Besides continuing as artistic director for the Western New York Chamber Orchestra near Buffalo, he’s conducted a wide range of orchestras both nationally and internationally, including the New Jersey, North Carolina and National Romanian Radio Orchestra; several opera orchestras such as New York City, Wolftrap, Cleveland Lyric and Florida Grand Opera; and ballet orchestras including the Joffrey Ballet, Erick Hawkins Dance Company at Lincoln Center and the Elisa Monte Dance Company. 

Cortese has premiered new works or collaborated with composers such as John Corigliano, George Crumb, Elliott Carter and Lukas Foss, as well as composed his own works — one of which will be performed at SSO’s March 22 concert. As a conductor of student orchestras at the Manhattan School of Music, he also received eight ASCAP New and Adventuresome Programming Awards.

These credentials impressed SSO’s board as well as the orchestra’s musicians. The search began during the 2018 season when music director Chuck Schneider became so ill that guest conductors were hired to fill out the season. His final concert was in October of last year. 

Initially the board began with 14 candidates, a slate that, after a couple of rounds of reviews and interviews, was narrowed to three. Each of those finalists had the opportunity to conduct a concert and a rehearsal series. Cortese conducted the March concert. After all three concerts were completed, the search committee met. In the meantime, the musicians had been asked to rank each of the candidates, assigning them a numerical ranking in five different categories as well as on three levels of whether they would recommend, highly recommend or not recommend the candidate.

For the most part, 90 percent of the players live within 45 miles pf Proctors, a percentage that meets SSO’s mission to provide the opportunity for local musicians to perform the classical repertoire.

“Glen was the only candidate who did not receive a single ‘do not recommend’ rating. Eighty percent of the orchestra rated him ‘highly recommend,’ ” said Bob Bour, president of the orchestra, in an email. 

The search committee also noted Cortese’s educational background; his enjoyment and experience in community involvement; and his strong programming skills.

“It was clear to us that he was the complete package,” Bour said. “He had everything we were looking for to build upon the strong foundation of the orchestra.”

In June, Cortese was offered the job.

“I was interested in the city. They’re going through a redevelopment,” he said. “And the orchestra needs some attention to make it better with new energy and ideas.”

The January concert will challenge Cortese because he’ll be working with the full orchestra and not just the strings, as he did in October. There’s also a terrific cello soloist, Natasha Farny, an international soloist with whom Cortese has previously worked, who will perform Tchaikovsky’s “Variations on a Rococo Theme.”

In keeping with the variation concept, the other works are Bernstein’s “Fancy Free: Three Dance Variations” and Brahms’ Symphony No. 4, which is a passacagalia or form of variation.
It’s all good.

“I’m enjoying this very much,” Cortese said. “The musicians have been flexible and very accommodating, and work very hard.”

A pre-concert talk will be held at 2 p.m. Groups interested in talking with the maestro in “meet-and-greet” events should contact the symphony.

Schenectady Symphony Orchestra

WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Proctors
HOW MUCH: $22, $15; free for students 18 and under
MORE INFO: 518 346-6204; proctors.org

The SSO Season:
March 22: Copland, Cortese,
Dvorak; 3 p.m.
May 17: Rachmaninoff with pianist Philip Edward Fisher, Beethoven
with Octavo Singers; 3 p.m.

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