Arthur Post, the first candidate for Arkansas Symphony Orchestra conductor, leads the ASO in its opening program this weekend at Robinson Center Music Hall. Last week, before Post arrived in Little Rock (as is typical in the industry, he only gets four days rehearsing the orchestra), he spoke to me by phone from his home in Durango, Colo., where for the last seven seasons, he’s been the musical director of the San Juan Symphony. Beyond that, his CV reads like an atlas of musical achievement—summa cum laude with distinction in music from Yale, master of music from Juilliard and further studies at the Salzburg Mozarteum and stints of guest conducting all over the world. We talked about formality in symphonic music, the way in which his job mirrors what Steve Irwin used to do and the musical ability of his 2 year old.
What’s the biggest misconception about symphonic music?
The biggest misconception is that the music is formal, or stuffy. We wear tails on stage, and historically, the experience of going to a concert has been formal, but the music isn’t. Straightening out this misconception is probably the biggest job of a musician today. To help people appreciate what we’re actually doing and the music itself.
Do you think a conductor and an orchestra will always wear tails and dress?
I hope not. I hope it will change. It’s worthwhile for any organization to look at what it would mean.
At the same time, there’s an advantage to it being a formal experience, talking about the experience in a concert hall, not the sound of the music. People like to get dressed up. It also shows a certain respect for the music. There are a lot of people, a lot of our core audience, who really appreciate the formality of the experience. But people who come to the symphony a lot don’t feel constrained. People who have an ongoing relationship with the experience, they come because they experience it vitally.
But for someone new entering into the experience, that formality can be an impediment. The misconception is that when you come the music itself is formal, or it’s not going to touch you because you’re worrying about when you’re supposed to clap. It could be that not wearing tails could help that. Even if you like dressing up and that whole thing, come with your heart open.
You’re passionate about working with young people. Can you talk a little about that?
Education in a lot of ways is the most important thing we do. In symphonic music, the sounds are incredibly rich. There’s no electronic music that’s even come close to it, and that’s why when John Williams writes a score to a Harry Potter film he uses a symphony orchestra.
A big part of my job is being a guide to young people and showing them what’s there. The days are gone when every house had a piano and when the great tradition of music was real present. I sort of see myself as — you know those wildlife shows on television, like with Steve Irwin, who is unfortunately not around; he’s a scientist, but someone who’s reaching out to let people know how wonderful that world is, and that’s my job.
But the real part of the job is pointing out how this touches us today, and it does. The music is just as relevant today as it was when it was written.
You have a 2 year old?
Almost 2 and a half. She thinks she’s the conductor. She’s a hell of a lot of fun.
Does she seem musical?
She loves to bang at the piano. She now plays the piano with all five fingers. She loves to bang at the piano and reach up and turn the page of the music. She does that really authoritatively.
Do you follow contemporary pop music or jazz?
I can’t say that I follow, but I listen to a lot of music. I love jazz; I played a lot of jazz when I was younger on bass. I think probably I’m the biggest fan of classic rock. I sort of came of age with James Taylor and Billy Joel and Elton John, went through Sting and Talking Heads and Peter Gabriel and Shawn Colvin, but I’m not up on who’s doing the latest stuff.
Sounds like you have two full-time jobs with the 2 year old, but do you have hobbies beyond music?
I love being outdoors. I hike. I fish a lot. I fly fish. I like to stay active. I go to the gym and shoot hoops. I like to read. A lot of cultural criticism — I’m interested in who we are as Americans and what’s different in the rest of the world. I love language and poetry, too.