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The Richmond Symphony closes its conductor search with a tryout from Mark Russell Smith.

Music in his Blood


Mark Russell Smith, the seventh and final candidate in the Richmond Symphony's music director search, will be in town to conduct the symphony from April 21 to May 2. Currently the music director of the Springfield Symphony in Massachusetts, Smith previously served as associate conductor of the Phoenix Symphony and conductor of the Phoenix Symphony Guild Youth Orchestra. He has performed with orchestras around the country, including the Hartford, Colorado, St. Louis and Syracuse Symphonies, and the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra.

Smith is a graduate of the Juilliard School, where he studied cello performance, and the Curtis Institute, where he studied conducting. He won the National Repertory Orchestra Conductors Competition while still a student at Curtis. He guest conducts at the Interlochen Arts Camp every summer and is on the board of advisers of the American Symphony Orchestra League's Youth Orchestra Division. Smith is also a visiting professor and conductor of the Symphony Orchestra of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

First instrument played: Piano

First song learned: "I don't remember the specific song or anything. ... Both my parents are musicians and my first piano teacher was my mom, which of course is a really big mistake. You can take instruction from other adults, but somehow from your mom it's different. We averted a family crisis early on by switching teachers."

Favorite movie: "'Schindler's List' was a great movie. I really loved that movie."

Favorite movie score: "'Gone with the Wind' is pretty great. I also like the music from 'Psycho.' I also like John Williams. It's hard to say. But definitely, 'Gone with The Wind' is one of them."

Favorite instrument: Cello, which is also his main instrument, because of its beautiful, expressive sound and impressive range. "You can play low, deep rich notes and also really high. ... You can play all sorts of different roles in the orchestra or in chamber music."

What Smith likes about Richmond, and why he wants to live here: "It's a beautiful city. ... From a musical standpoint and from a community support standpoint, my impressions were incredibly positive. It was a very brief trip, but it seems like [Richmond] is a culturally rich city, and it's obviously historically rich. Which, for a guy who grew up in Phoenix, Ariz., where a 10-year-old building is old, it's a whole new thing. I like that aspect."

Magazines he reads regularly: "This is going to be really nerdy sounding but I read Symphony Magazine and Sports Illustrated. That kind of sums me up, right there. I also read the New York Times every day."

What he thinks the future holds for classical music: "Wow. That's a huge question and really complicated. It's a really interesting time and a critical time for orchestras. The world is changing and the orchestra is something that has difficulty changing sometimes. If we're going to remain something positive for our community, we have to adapt ... think about different ways to reach a different audience, and a younger audience. It's a visual society, and we're an aural art form, so there's an inherent conflict there. So we have to find ways to connect with people in this new world ... without cheapening our product."

How he became a conductor: "The short answer is ... music is the family trade. My dad was a choral conductor, my mom was an elementary school music teacher and a church organist. As far as actual conducting, I enjoyed the varied aspect of it, the human aspect ... communicating from one human to another, and then communicating to an audience. Also, to look at the big picture of a musical score, then try to bring it to life for an audience, is really exciting. I like the psychological, intellectual and the artistic aspects of conducting, and the way those fit

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