Friday, July 23, 2010

A conversation with Alsadair Neale

Summer Symphony music director reflects on music and life

Photo by Willy Cook

Alasdair Neale began his tenure as music director of the Sun Valley Summer Symphony in 1995. He also holds the positions of music director of the Marin Symphony (Calif.) and principal guest conductor of the New World Symphony and San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Neale has propelled the Sun Valley Summer Symphony to national status, and it is now the largest privately funded free-admission symphony in the country.

The 26th season of the Sun Valley Summer Symphony will take place from Sunday, Aug. 1, through Tuesday, Aug. 17, in Sun Valley. For complete Sun Valley Summer Symphony program information and concert dates, visit or call 622-5607.

Where is home?

I live in San Francisco, Calif.

How long have you been the music director of the Sun Valley Summer Symphony?

This will be my 15th season.

Did you always aspire to conduct a symphony?

No. When I was a kid, I was fascinated with music and started conducting at the age of 14, which was very young. I never associated conducting with a profession. Everyone has to select a different path, and it takes a good bit of luck to conduct.

How do you select music for the Sun Valley Summer Symphony?

It is an ongoing process. I start one to two years ahead of the season and try to create a balanced program with different styles and with something for everybody.

How important is classical music in today's culture?

I can't imagine life without it. It is unbelievably important for me, given today's world. I am a very strong advocate for its existence. Live music is so important and it is an experience that cannot be duplicated.

What are some of your favorite performances?

I have to say the thrill of conducting the orchestra and the Mormon Tabernacle choir with 350 people [in 2009]. I have never heard anything like it. It all came together for one unforgettable night.

How do you feel about this summer's lineup?

The Alpine Symphony is huge and the Hornucopia will be a rare experience. You never hear this. It's an enormous summer with Garth Brooks and Itzhak Perlman, who I saw many years ago in San Francisco.

What's your most embarrassing performance moment?

A few years ago, I came to conduct a concert, and I realized I left my conductor clothes in East Fork.

What do you read?

I have been reading Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink."

What piece of classical music would you like to perform that you have never done?

One day I would like to conduct Verdi's "Requiem."

What is your favorite thing to do in Sun Valley?

I like being outdoors hiking and walking in Sun Valley more than anywhere else.

Sabina Dana Plasse:

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