Wichita Symphony guest conductor among booming number of women at the podium

·4 min read

Over the course of 20 years, Laura Jackson estimates, she has been guest conductor for hundreds of symphony orchestras.

In many of them, she’s been the first female guest conductor the orchestra has presented.

But Jackson, who guests with the Wichita Symphony in a concert next weekend, sees the tide turning toward more women at the podium.

“It’s something that has changed so much in the last six, seven years,” Jackson said from her home in Ann Arbor, Mich. “Most of my career I’ve been the first in a lot of the communities where I go to guest-conduct. Now I’m not. I was one of a small handful, and I knew all the others. Now there are women who are everywhere in the field doing quite well who I haven’t even met yet. It’s like the floodgates are opening. It’s incredibly exciting to see, and it really is a new world.”

According to Wichita Symphony files, Jackson will be the fourth female guest conductor, with others appearing in 1998, ’99 and 2015.

Jackson, who has been the music director and conductor for Nevada’s Reno Philharmonic for the past 12 years, said she doesn’t know why attitudes have shifted and more women now take the baton.

“It’s much more difficult to separate out factors that might contribute to unconscious bias,” she said. “I think that communities and boards and search committees really mean well a vast majority of the time. But when you come from a tradition that’s a certain way, it’s hard to know that you’re being biased, but that it’s really risky to depart from them.”

Jackson said she’s happy to be part of the new tradition.

“I’m grateful not to be a pioneer,” she said. “There are women who have come before me and done the hardest work.”

Jackson said the decision for the program usually varies between the guest conductor and the presenting organization, but her concert with the Wichita Symphony was largely her selections, with approval from the orchestra.

Dubbed “Make It Mozart,” it begins with “Fiesta!” by Jimmy López Bellido, a 43-year-old the Chicago Sun-Times called “one of the most interesting young composers anywhere today.”

“He is a composer that I am absolutely championing,” said Jackson, whose Reno Phil commissioned a piece by Bellido to debut later this year. “It is just such a wonderful, high-energy way to begin a concert. It’s based on many different influences but seeded in jazz and pop music. It brings that kind of energy and drive to the concert hall right at the top of the show, which is just really fun and attractive to young listeners as well as traditional concertgoers.”

Daniela Liebman, a 19-year-old classical pianist gaining worldwide acclaim, will be featured on Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 17.”

“I think she is absolutely dynamite,” said Jackson, who has worked with Liebman several times. “I know that everybody will fall in love with her and want her to come back.”

The concert concludes with Tchaikovsky’s orchestral suite No. 4, nicknamed “Mozartiana” for its references to four piano pieces made famous by Mozart.

“It’s not a very well-known piece of Tchaikovsky,” Jackson said. “This is just an unknown gem of his and a wonderful chance to bring that to audiences.”

The piece gives solos to multiple instruments across the symphony, she said.

“It’s a wonderful little display of the orchestra,” Jackson said.

Jackson said she enjoys the role of the guest conductor.

“It’s always an enormous pleasure to come in and meet new musicians and see how we all come together,” she said. “Even without a long history of knowing each other, we come together around the love of music and the love of performing, and we make something special happen for an audience and for a community.

“It’s wonderful to find that common element so immediately. You find it in the first rehearsal,” Jackson added. “Musicians love what they do so much, and they care about it so much, and care about doing it well. As long as we’re all on the same page about respecting the composer’s wishes, which we are, we work together and make a great result.”

Wichita Symphony Orchestra: “Make It Mozart”

When: 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5

Where: Century II concert hall

Tickets: $25-$65, from wichitasymphony.org, the symphony box office, or 267-7658

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting