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Maestro Carneiro

January 16, 2009

Many people have been worried about how Berkeley Symphony would fare following the announcement a couple of years ago of Kent Nagano's departure from the post of music director after 30 years of dedicated service.

Happily, everyone can now cast their concerns aside, as the orchestra finally reached a decision about who will take the Berkeley Symphony to new heights in the years ahead.

The brilliant young Portuguese conductor Joana Carneiro has just been hired as the orchestra's new MD and I can't think of a better person to pick up and run with Maestro Nagano's baton. I've been working on a story about music director hiring processes in American orchestras for the past few months and had the pleasure of watching Carneiro in action and chatting with her during rehearsal breaks and over coffee.

Here's why I think she'll be a great fit for Berkeley Symphony:

1. She's young, full of energy, smart, articulate and has a good sense of humor.

2. She has a relaxed manner and is very approachable but at the same time knows how to get down to business and accomplishes a great deal in a two-hour rehearsal.

3. She appears to have an strong network of friends and mentors within the top echelons of the classical music world which will doubtless stand her in good stead in terms of future artistic collaborations and funding development. In addition to building a career conducting all over Europe, Carneiro has served as assistant conductor under Esa-Pekka Salonen at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She also has a warm relationship with Jon Adams, whom she has collaborated with in the past. The composer came up on stage after the orchestra performed his Shaker Loops during Carneiro's guest conductor "audition" concert in Berkeley in December and gave her a big hug.

4. She's capable of getting the best out of Berkeley Symphony's diverse players, some of whom are community members rather than professionals. Her attention to detail is tremendous. In a rehearsal I attended of the Adams work, she devoted her attention to such things as perfecting the intonation of
harmonics, the togetherness of pizzicato notes in the cellos and the placement of a crescendo in the double basses.

5. She doesn't shy away from tackling big, hairy chestnuts. In her "audition" concert, she gave Beethoven's Fifth Symphony more "welly" than I've ever heard in a performance of the work. She made Shaker Loops sound like the cosmic machine that it's meant to be and found a way to make Magnus Lindberg's Chorale ring like an old church organ being played with the bell stops out, recalling the force that inspired the piece, J. S. Bach.

6. She has a commanding presence on the podium without coming across as being affected.

Carneiro shared some thoughts with me about the orchestra and the Berkeley community over coffee the morning after delivering her epic performance on the podium. "Berkeley Symphony is a very special orchestra. Both Kent and the musicians have set a high standard of music making," Carneiro said. "What separates the Berkeley community from other places is its intellectuality and creativity. Many academics and artists live here. This job is exactly what I'm looking for. It will enable me to investigate in a profound way both of these worlds. Berkeley audiences are open minded and intelligent so the possibilities for engaging with them are unlimited. The more I know this community the more I feel I belong here."

I can't wait to find out what Maestro Carneiro does with the orchestra.

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