HSO Assistant Conductor Steps Into The Spotlight For Weekend Performances

Jun 9, 2017

Last year, after a rigorous audition process, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra selected Adam Kerry Boyles as its first-ever assistant conductor. 

This weekend, the Boston-based conductor makes his HSO Masterworks debut at the Bushnell in Hartford with works by Brahms, Beethoven Vaughan-Williams, Haydn, and Ravel.

WNPR spoke recently with Adam Boyles. We talked about his first year with the HSO, the numerous duties associated with being an assistant conductor, and how this musician -- who started out wanting to be a Broadway singer -- ended up becoming a conductor.

Adam Kerry Boyles: Conducting was always there in the background, even from, let's say, junior high. I had some chances to conduct junior high band, and conduct a little bit at my high school. I gained even more experience in undergraduate school, where I got to participate as conductor for pit orchestras for a bunch of different musicals.

So that was able to build some experience for me, to build a repertoire, build a videotape resume, so that I could send it away for grad schools.

It just became apparent that the conducting was not only the most comfortable thing for me to do, but the way in which I could best be a part of all of the music.

I was never a bad singer, but I was never a great singer, and a mediocre pianist at best -- but musical leadership, and being that go-between between the ensemble and the audience, is where I feel most at home.

WNPR's Ray Hardman: Is there an artistic connection between your singing and your conducting?

There's more of a pragmatic one. Initially, if we're in rehearsal, and there's a phrase it's not quite going how I want it, I can just sing it, and the musicians of the HSO pick it up right away. So that certainly helps immediately, and being able to sense the singing ability of a phrase -- it certainly helps in that regard. 

So you're the assistant conductor at the Hartford Symphony. Tell me: what does an assistant conductor do?

It's like, what doesn't an assistant conductor do, really. My my first and most important duty is to serve the needs of [HSO Music Director] Carolyn Kuan.

Carolyn will be conducting in a rehearsal. She'll ask me to sit out in the house and listen for balances. Can we hear a concerto soloist, or can we not hear them? Is somebody too loud; too soft? Are the speakers -- if it involves electronic equipment -- is it too loud; too soft? That is what I do, more than anything else, per se.

But I also have a foot in our educational component, in building programs, or conducting programs that are package programs, that come to us from, say, Link Up in Carnegie Hall.

My colleague, HSO Educational Coordinator Miriam Engle, and I have built two programs this year that we've performed with great success to massive amounts of first- and second-graders, for example. And then I conduct other things as the organization needs, like the Pops concerts out at Talcott Mountain Music Festival, or like the last Masterworks program of the season, which is why I'm here this week.

I serve those little voids that they need at any given time, and to be another public face for the ensemble.

Do you and Carolyn Kuan ever disagree?

I can't think of a time that we have. But it's also because we don't get a lot of time together.

Of course there's going to be things interpretational that we will disagree on, and things that I would do on the podium differently than she might do with any given piece. I often say that if you put 40 conductors in a room, you're going to get 41 different opinions about it.

So in that regard, yeah, we may have disagreements here and there, but that's also not my place to say those sorts of things. No. It's been a very harmonious -- pun fully intended -- relationship thus far.

This weekend is your first Masterworks concert at the Bushnell. Are you nervous? 

Not at all. Not at all.

You are conducting some big works.

Yes. Though not in time. It's very interesting -- every piece on this program, none of them exceeds 20 minutes. So they're very quick sound bites in a way, in the sense that there's not a 80-minute Mahler symphony on the program.

So you've finished your first year with the HSO. What's ahead for next year?

More of the same, to some degree. I will have another Masterworks program in December, which will feature a bunch of Nutcracker excerpts -- more educational programs. I don't want to give those away too much yet, because there will be a reveal.

But Miriam and I are building some new programs, which we're very excited about, not just for the students, but also how it fits into the larger educational -- meeting the kids where they are at these moments in the year, educationally speaking.

I'll conduct at Talcott, of course. And then just a little bit of wait-and-see. You know, sometimes things come up that you don't quite know through the year. But again, helping Carolyn in any way I can, and helping the organization get out there more into the community.