An Interview with Larry Livingston – Conductor of the Symphony Orchestra
An orchestral rehearsal with Larry Livingston is a remarkable experience for young musicians at the Idyllwild Arts Summer Program. Students quickly see and experience his passion, fire and deep love of music through his committed and engaging approach. For nearly 25 summers, Larry has brought together musicians, created an orchestra and accomplished it in two weeks.
This year’s Symphony Orchestra is set to perform Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, the Russian Easter Overture by Rimsky-Korsakov and Wagner’s Rienzi Overture. The performance is tomorrow- Saturday, August 4th at 4:00 pm in the Idyllwild Arts Foundation Theatre in Bowman Hall.
Q. What brought you to Idyllwild Arts in the first place?
A. My car did… actually in 1989, I was Dean of USC and met with Steve Fraider and Bill Lowman. They talked about the high school for the arts they had founded and wanted to reacquire the glory days of the past for the Summer Program. Bill & Steve wanted to upgrade and have a youth orchestra as a central element of the program. They had seen me doing the California Honor Orchestra and knew that I had done youth orchestras as part of my career. They asked if I would be willing to do this. I stressed that it be a high quality program based upon students working at a high level. From that discussion we agreed to give it a shot.
As a result, I’ve been here for nearly a quarter of a century. The program changed from high school to collegiate and back to high school. The collegiate level orchestra was really terrific but the leadership felt that it was important to focus on high school students and that’s what the program has been for the last three years.
Q. What’s your personal philosophy about music?
A. Music is a sacred gift to humankind. Just rehearsing is a blessing of immense value to all. Without music an individual cannot be human.
I’m convinced that people are hardwired for music at birth. Not everyone loves the same kind but they all do love music.
Additionally, the world is deluged by speed. Doing great music takes time, long arcs of time, which completes the human experience. We have a lot of technical devices now. Orchestral music allows students to be engaged in a musical adventure. They’re all drawn in to the experience that is unavailable elsewhere. In an orchestra it’s all acoustical instruments but it competes for that moment with the most modern, electronic driven technology.
Q. What’s your philosophy towards creating a memorable experience for the students?
A. I think the challenge is you have a bunch of strangers. You have to make a family. I believe that you have to know the music but it’s about how the music as a vehicle helps them to connect to the music. I want to learn their names and model for them adults who are able to not hide but be vulnerable, free, and engaging. Hopefully they will see that and find something speaks to them the way music speaks to me.
Many of our students will go on to other careers but I’m hoping that the IAA experience will inspire them to carry on a life in music as well. Whether they become architects, go into medicine or become bricklayers, I want them to feel passion for music. It has to be something that they can’t wait to do. Work is play and play is work. I want them to have a lifetime of adventures. Have them see a nearly 70 year-old person who is still alive and passionate for music. I want them to be the best person they can be.
I want them as individuals to relish and seek out differences. Find new ways to grow by seeking out difference. Those are the moments that catapult an individual further.
Q. How do you pull together an orchestral work in two weeks?
A. We have wonderful coaches. They do the grassroots work. It’s very purposeful. Drilling down in a short period time. Summer is a learning curve. I try to create an orchestra from the podium with students who have their eyes and ears open and want to engage.
Q. What makes you come back every year to conduct at Idyllwild Arts?
A. It’s renewing being around young people plus I love music and teaching. I continue to get responses from students that I’m making a difference. If you can be a contributor to that it’s very rewarding. Also I’m invited back each year. I really admire what Idyllwild Arts stands for. I love the people at Idyllwild Arts. Over my time here my boss, Steve Fraider, has been incredibly devoted to our mission. He wants me to do what I do and he works tirelessly to make that happen.
Plus Idyllwild is beautiful and is a very special place.