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Music that leaps through time: Orchestra Northern Arizona welcomes new conductor

Music that leaps through time: Orchestra Northern Arizona welcomes new conductor

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Time may be just a concept, but once every four years, we are granted an extra day in February to keep our calendar year in sync with the seasons.

To celebrate this leap year, Orchestra Northern Arizona presents “Leaping Through Time,” featuring music from composers through the ages. Led by new artistic director and principal conductor Desmond Siu, the concert will be held Saturday, Feb. 29. Siu previously worked with ONA as assistant conductor, with David Cripps at the helm providing Siu a solid foundation on which to hone his skills.

“When I joined, I had just started conducting pretty much at that point, and David helped guide me through how he does things, how the orchestra has done things and how it all relates to Flagstaff,” Siu said. “I got kind of used to the atmosphere and what the community orchestra brings to Flagstaff.”

Among what ONA brings to the community is accessible classical music in a fun, informal setting. Classical music is alive and well in Flagstaff, and Siu is grateful for the dedication of each musician within the orchestra.

“Every single person wants to be there,” he said. “[They] really just want to play music to the best of their ability.”

Siu compares the feeling of being part of the orchestra to a family gathering, with musicians coming from backgrounds in science and real estate, and even college and high school students.

“It’s really nice that everyone can come together with one goal of sharing music with each other and the community,” he said.

While Siu currently performs as a violinist in the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra and Prescott’s Arizona Philharmonic, his path to the conducting world began in earnest when an injury to his left arm forced him to take a break. He was a violin student at Skidmore College, a liberal arts school in upstate New York, at the time.

“I had just started taking conducting classes and it kind of just evolved,” he said.

He began considering the career opportunities presented in this new realm of music, and completed his Master of Music degree at Northern Arizona University in 2018 before earning a violin performance certificate last summer.

“[With conducting,] you get to bring any number of players together and kind of work to create this holistic work—it’s not about any individual person unless it says so on the score,” he said. “It’s my job to kind of help keep everyone together, corral ideas, make sure we’re playing at the same tempo, the same intention, and that’s really rewarding.”

The “Leaping Through Time” concert will explore pieces from 18th- and 19th-century composers Franz Schubert and George Frideric Handel as well as a contemporary composer from Prescott named Henry Flurry. And, as a celebration of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th birthday, the orchestra has prepared a mash up of movements from his fifth and seventh symphonies.

“Beethoven composed a lot for instrumentalists, piano, violin, symphonies,” Siu said, “while Schubert is better known for his vocal songs. Even though they were composing at the same time approximately, they’re very different works.”

Assistant Conductor Joseph Karam will also take the ONA stage at this fun, informal concert.

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