Symphony Conductor Reflects on Music in the Middle

Michael Stern

Michael Stern has been music director of the Kansas City Symphony since 2005. Michael Regnier/Courtesy Kansas City Symphony hide caption

itoggle caption Michael Regnier/Courtesy Kansas City Symphony

Michael Stern settled in as music director of the Kansas City Symphony in 2005, after decades guest-conducting orchestras that included the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra and the London Symphony.

He is in charge of building an orchestra worthy of the city's new symphony hall and performing arts center, set to open in 2009.

In an interview with NPR's Alex Chadwick, Stern says he believes that Kansas City's place in the middle of the country puts it in a unique position to do something significant. He sees it as an opportunity to fight for music and culture to be a part of our daily lives.

Stern does not believe in doing something new just because it's different — or not doing something new because you want to play it safe. He believes that the way to connect with an audience is to believe so passionately in what you are doing that your engagement and enthusiasm become infectious. If you have new music that grabs the imagination of the players, the audience will receive it just as well as a piece they think they know because they have heard it a hundred times.

Stern says he finds something fundamentally comforting in the American Midwest. When asked to compare Kansas City and New York, Stern says people in New York are quick to embrace the new, but it doesn't always last long. To do something really substantial in a place that is not New York — and have New York notice it — Stern believes is something special. That's what Kansas City is trying to do, he says.

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