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Orchestra Trumpets Return of a Native Son
In just a few weeks -- on Sept. 1 -- Jeremy Rothman, a 31-year-old Philadelphia native, will join the Philadelphia Orchestra as vice president for artistic planning, beginning a new path for the first time in eight years, during which time he has served the Baltimore Symphony, the last four in the same capacity he will fill at the Philadelphia.
"These positions have become more critical in the time of globe-trotting conductors," he says of the similarities. "Orchestras have expanded their missions as they try to build their audiences, and there are more variables as to what the orchestra is doing: expanded budgets, managing schedules of soloists and guest conductors -- all of which require the management talents of the artistic vice president."
A graduate of the University of Rochester with a degree in music administration, Rothman also studied trumpet at the Eastman School of Music and completed the school's arts-leadership program, then directed by James Undercofler, currently president and CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Since 2004, as vice president of artistic administration, Rothman was involved in the selection of Marin Alsop as the BSO's new music director -- a highly charged process because of her gender, among other reasons.
What demands will he face here? In addition to working closely with new Philadelphia chief conductor and artistic adviser Charles Dutoit, Rothman in addition to Undercofler will be closely involved in selecting the new long-term music director for the Philadelphia Orchestra, a process that fills him with both excitement and anticipation, based on his experiences in Baltimore.
(The once heralded Christoph Eschenbach, who took over in 2003, was involved in controversy, sparked by some media reports that questioned his longtime viability as music head for the orchestra. His contract has not been renewed.)
Rothman is much admired for his quiet demeanor in a highly charged environment, and he realizes that world-class musicians require support personnel to be gentle and calm.
"I must remain calm, and I must not panic in these very high pressure situations, such as finding last-minute replacements for indisposed soloists," he explains. "Classical musicians really appreciate the essential quality of calmness back stage, in order to build a good relationship with the music to be played."
In Baltimore, Rothman developed and supervised a number of innovative programs that brought ever-growing audiences into the BSO's concert venues, including the "Explorer" and "Symphony With a Twist" concert series. He hosted a weekly radio program, interviewing soloists who would be performing with his orchestra. Rothman was also involved in this coming season's BSO presentation of the Leonard Bernstein "Mass," an intensely complex work requiring more than 200 singers, dancers, marching bands and rock musicians that will be mounted in Baltimore and New York City.
As a young man, Rothman played trumpet at Abington High School, at synagogue (he was one of my Bar Mitzvah students at Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park) and in college concerts.
He acknowledges that he misses the actual process of performance.
"I do miss music-making. The desire is always there, and I 'noodle' on the trumpet for my son, Evan," says the married father of two. "But I am not drawn to play on a daily basis after 17 hours of talking music."
In the immediate future, Rothman has to learn what works for local audiences as he puts his own stamp on the program for the 2009-10 season, and begins to gear up for the music-director search: "I need to know what kinds of programs will sustain this great orchestra and explore repertoire that will expand our audience."