New Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra conductor urges Lincoln-Way musicians to follow their passion
By Susan DeMar Lafferty firstname.lastname@example.org December 2, 2012 5:26PM
David Danzmayr (top left), music director for the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra, conducts Lincoln-Way North and East orchestra students at Lincoln-Way North High School Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, at 19900 Harlem Ave. in Frankfort. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 4, 2013 6:02AM
Lincoln-Way High School students got an earful of professional orchestra life when David Danzmayr stepped up to their music class podium, baton in hand, and conducted their lesson for the day.
Stressing the need to be disciplined and stay with his tempo, the new 32-year-old music director of the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra led the students through “Winter,” from Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” “Christmas Festival” by Leroy Anderson and “Fantasy on Oh, Chanukah,” by Lauren Bernofsky.
As students practiced the music for their winter solstice concert on Dec. 11, the youthful conductor urged them to “completely focus on playing exactly together.”
His instructions likely were similar to what they hear from their own orchestra director, but “coming from another person, it’s something new,” he said.
Danzmayr — who was in town for the IPO’s first concert of the season recently — spent one class period directing the combined orchestra class of Lincoln-Way Central and West high schools, and another working with Lincoln-Way East and North students.
“It is important for me to see what is going on here,” Danzmayr said. “It’s important for the IPO to be part of the community and to try to attract young people to classical music. It’s nice to say we want to attract kids. This is my way of doing something about it.”
To further entice students, the orchestra offers free admission to all Lincoln-Way students to its concerts, which are held at the Lincoln-Way North auditorium.
Having the orchestra’s conductor work with high school students has been a dream of Supt. Lawrence Wyllie since the school district started hosting the IPO concerts at Lincoln-Way North, district spokeswoman Stacy Holland said.
“We talked to (Danzmayr) about it when he was hired and he took it and ran with it. He is so excited about it,” she said.
Students were equally excited to meet a professional conductor, said Michelle Freeland, orchestra director for Lincoln-Way East and North.
This experience was a first for Lincoln-Way students, said Bert Johnson, music department chair for East and North.
“Having a young guy like him is a totally different vibe,” he said. “If he comes back in the spring, it will be a much deeper experience.”
The native of Salzburg, Austria — think “Sound of Music” — was impressed that Lincoln-Way students have an orchestra class every day. “That’s unbelievable,” Danzmayr said.
After 50 minutes with Danzmayr, students were quite impressed with him, too.
“I loved it. It was fantastic,” said Brooke Braun, a junior at East. “You learn something new from a different conductor. There’s always something you can take away from it.”
Her fellow violinist, Katherine Reynolds, a junior at North, said she would love for Danzmayr to come back.
“It was very beneficial,” she said. “He was amazing. And I loved his accent.”
Danzmayr not only hopes to return but also to do a “side-by-side” practice and performance with the students and the IPO in the future, to give them a chance to get a feel for a real orchestra.
Danzmayr ended the lesson a bit early to have some time to talk with students and answer their questions.
What’s his favorite music? Favorite composer? Favorite piece to conduct?
He admitted that the Beatles “were insanely good,” and he loves to conduct work by composer Gustav Mahler, a fellow Austrian. Danzmayr studied music at the University Mozarteum in Salzburg, where teaching methods are different, he said.
“We heard ‘no’ a lot. Here, teachers focus on positive encouragement,” he said. “But one thing is the same. To get admitted into a good college, you need to work hard and you need to practice.”
He urged them to only become a professional musician “if you really love music and love being a musician. They are not necessarily the same,” said Danzmayr began playing the piano at age 6 and started conducting when he was 15.
“It is important to keep your eyes open to different experiences,” he said. “If you really want a job you need to be able to offer something unique. It’s not enough to be good.”
Danzmayr said he hopes some students will be interested in playing professionally in an orchestra.
“Seeing me will give them some insight about the life of a musician,” he said. But he also encouraged them to “do something you have a passion for. Passion will carry you a long way.”