Conductor of the festival, world ambassador of classical music
It’s a miracle Scott Yoo could find the time to conduct at the Colorado College Summer Music Festival. The Tokyo-born violinist, who grew up in Connecticut, is the conductor and artistic director of the Mexico City Philharmonic, the musical director of the Mozaic Festival in California, and the host and executive producer of “Now Hear This, ”which is part of the“ Great Performances Series ”on PBS, among many other engagements.
But he didn’t want it to be any other way. The 50-year-old has wielded the stick at SMF for 20 years and is hoping for more. Festival Music Director Susan Grace and her husband Michael, a music teacher at CC, are like family members to Yoo and his wife, Alice Dade, flautist at SMF faculty.
“Every year we come back, it’s like a family reunion. There are so many teachers at the festival that I have become close friends with, and we keep in touch all year round, ”Yoo says from his home in Columbia, Missouri. “Not attending the festival would be really devastating on a personal level. I love coming back every June. It has really been a privilege.
While at SMF, Yoo’s day begins around 7 a.m., when he and Michael Kroth, the festival’s longtime bassoon, meet to talk about what happened the day before and what’s happening. awaits him that day. This is often followed by a chamber music rehearsal, but Yoo is still involved in the orchestra rehearsals at the Edith Kinney Gaylord Cornerstone Arts Center.
Every two or three days he conducts an evening concert at Packard Hall, which he describes as rock concerts.
“I remember the first time I came to the festival, I couldn’t believe the atmosphere in the room. I thought it was kind of a staging. But really, there is such enthusiasm for the music that people start clapping and screaming, and I’ve never seen anything like it, ”he says.
He missed that exuberant atmosphere last summer, when the festival had to go virtual. The pandemic has had a huge impact on his work, Yoo says. This year, everyone involved in SMF was tested “to the max” to make sure they were in good health.
While in Colorado Springs, Yoo also recorded episodes of “Now Hear This”. The series was sparked when producer-writer-director Harry Lynch approached Yoo after a Brahms concert in 2016.
Brahms’ compositions for violin, cello and piano were written at different times in the life of the German composer. So Yoo researched Brahms to give the audience the context of the work. Lynch was impressed with Yoo’s presentation and suggested she collaborate on a TV show.
“It was obviously a meeting that changed my life,” Yoo says.
They shot the pilot episode in 2017, got the green light in 2018, and the first season aired in 2019. The second season aired in 2020; he believes the third season will air in 2022.
“We want to put classical music on everyone’s playlist on their iPhone or Android. We know people will listen to a lot of different genres of music, but we want classical to be one of them. And I think we’re doing a good job in this area, ”Yoo says.
He enjoys traveling the world to explore the life and work of composers. They featured Vivaldi, Scarlatti, Bach and Handel in the first season; and Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert in the second.
Then, they will present Amy Beach (1867-1944) and Florence Price (1887-1953), two little-known American composers, and Aaron Copland (1900-1990), “the dean of American composers”. The next season will also focus on the immigrant experience through the stories of Reena Esmail, an Indo-American composer; Andy Akiho, a Japanese-American composer; and Sergio Assad, a Brazilian-American composer.
Yoo immerses himself in the local culture by performing with other brilliant musicians at historic sites, tasting local food and drink, even wearing period clothing.
“In a lot of episodes, my role is actually to be the ordinary man, to be the conduit through which the audience experiences music,” he says.
He sees “Now Hear This” as a way to reach a younger audience and to preserve chamber music.
“There are many art forms in human history that have evaporated over the generations. And we don’t know about them, ”he said. “But classical music is such an amazing art form and such a universal art form, we cannot let it die.”
Once travel slackens in Europe, Yoo and Lynch hope to return for more episodes. Yoo, an “experience collector”, is grateful to experience things that others cannot experience and to meet musicians and composers who generally operate in different circles.
The “Now Hear This” crew have come to Colorado Springs to record performances at the Garden of the Gods, Will Rogers Shrine, and CC venues including Shove Memorial Chapel, Cornerstone Arts Center, and Packard Hall. SMF teachers and students performed for the Copland episode.
“The fellows and especially the professors were so good about it. And they did it really beautifully. So I was really proud of everyone, ”Yoo said.
Being a conductor, he says, means allowing musicians to be the best versions of themselves. After a life in music, he knows how musicians think and feel, and what they need and want.
Yoo received his first violin at the age of 3 and studied with Roman Totenberg, Albert Markov, Paul Kantor and Dorothy DeLay. He received a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and studied conducting with Michael Gilbert and Michael Tilson-Thomas.
He remembers the thrill of being a high school student, conducting the school orchestra for a few minutes. He remembers conducting the St. Luke Chamber Orchestra in New York City and how he felt.
“It was amazing to me the feeling of moving your body and having that effect on the sound. And for me, this is something that is truly magical.
Yoo always feels that magic, whether he’s conducting an orchestra or singing a violin as its creator intended and the composer dreamed of.
“I can’t imagine a life without music at this point. “