The Kansas City Symphony has hired a 28-year-old violinist and Juilliard School graduate to be the orchestra’s new concertmaster.
Noah Geller, a native of the Chicago area, has played with the Philadelphia Orchestra for four years, the past two as acting assistant concertmaster. He was selected from among 10 or more candidates who came to Kansas City for “trial weeks.” Candidates performed with the orchestra, and also in a rigorous audition including violin solos from symphonic works and playing in a string quartet with Symphony members.
“He’s an inspired fiddle player and he’s a terrific musician,” said the Symphony’s music director, Michael Stern. “And he really shows on the violin this mastery and natural authority, which is really impressive and fantastic for us.”
The position has been open since August 2010, when former concertmistress Kanako Ito, who had been with the orchestra 10 years, left to join her husband in Scotland.
The concertmaster plays a crucial role. In a sense, he’s the orchestra leader second only to the conductor and is responsible for communicating the conductor’s wishes to the rest of the ensemble. He performs violin solos in symphonic works, and he’s also responsible for preparing the score by marking bowings for violin players.
“For me, the position of concertmaster is not only to lead the first violin section and to exemplify what the conductor is trying to do musically, but it’s also a very public position,” Geller said by phone over the weekend. “You’re the face of the orchestra, so in that respect I think there will be a lot of duties within the community, to be a sort of ambassador.”
Like others who have traveled to the city once known as Paris of the Plains, Geller didn’t know much about Kansas City’s cultural life before he came here for his trial week. And, like others, he was pleasantly surprised.
“I was absolutely blown away by Helzberg Hall and the Kauffman Center,” Geller said. “I was really blown off my feet. It’s one of the great halls, I think. And I’ve played in many of them.”
Stern was unreserved in his enthusiasm for the new hire.
“It was I who had pitched to him that he should come and throw his hat in the ring,” Stern said. “I sought him out. I had worked with him in Aspen and I knew he was in the Philadelphia Orchestra and he’s worked with a lot of friends and colleagues of mine and I had a hunch it would be a good relationship for everyone in the orchestra and for me as the music director. I’m really glad he panned out. He’s a guy of substance, of real charisma and leadership. He’s in love with music and clearly he’s totally bonded with the violin. It’s going to be very inspiring to make music with him.”
Geller’s hiring follows by barely a week the announcement that the Symphony had filled another significant position. Aram Demirjian, a 25-year-old cellist, singer and recent conducting graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, will become the orchestra’s assistant conductor starting with the next season, 2012-13.