Only Getting Started

Symphony’s road-trip-themed concert is about hope and possibilities

Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra’s new conductor John Young Shik Concklin leads an American road trip.
Portrait by Paul Stebner

When Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra began its 2022-2023 season, it signaled the start of a new chapter: John Young Shik Concklin debuted as the Orchestra’s new conductor. And while he expresses admiration for the Orchestra’s previous repertoire, his vision will build on that strong foundation and take the music in a subtly different — though complementary — direction.

Concklin says he recognizes that people have many choices when it comes to entertainment; they can even stay home with Netflix. “So we want to provide something that you can’t get anywhere else in Hendersonville,” he says. He challenges the potential concertgoer to consider a few things when making a choice: “Do you feel comfortable? Are you entertained? Do you feel enlightened or inspired or moved in some way?” And he believes that an evening spent with an HSO performance will elicit a resounding yes. “And that,” he says, “is really, truly what we’re going for.”

He continues, “My predecessor was here for well over two decades. When a community forms a relationship over that long of a time, you truly get to learn what they like and don’t like.” He notes that the HSO performed many American works from the 1930s and ’40s. “Those are gorgeous works, but they’re not necessarily what would be in my repertoire,” he explains. 

Concklin’s approach will be to focus in part upon what he characterizes as the “center of the repertoire,” pairing that with lesser-known works, or works by lesser-known composers. But he emphasizes a key component of his musical philosophy: “It’s really important to have music that’s accessible to people,” he says. “The litmus test for me is that if I send an audio clip to someone who might only come to a concert once in a while, they come back and say, ‘That’s great!’” 

He then uses a food metaphor to make sure his point is understood. “Think about cooking seven dinners for somebody,” he suggests. “If you had seven dinners to prepare each year for somebody, you would stick with things that you know are going to work really well for lots of different people. And that’s the philosophy I take.”

An example of Concklin’s approach is the HSO’s most recent concert. Built around a theme of friendship, the March performance featured Edward Elgar’s 1889 work Enigma Variations as well as Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in e minor, completed in 1844. Both works were written for or about friends of the composers, “so the whole thing went together,” Concklin says.

He has another exciting collection of pieces in store for the HSO’s May 6 concert. That performance is built around a “Great American Road Trip” theme and includes works from important American composers. The program will include Aaron Copland’s lively “Hoe Down,” a medley of classics from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, George Gershwin’s American in Paris, and Andante Moderato by Florence Price, the first Black woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer.

The concert will also feature a brand-new work from the winner of this year’s Young Artists Competition. HSO has hosted the event for years, though the pandemic caused it to be placed on hold for a time. “Pre-college students from across the region compete for an opportunity to perform with the HSO,” the conductor explains. “We’re the only orchestra in the region to host such a competition.” The work by a young, emerging, local composer means that “in a sense, we’ll include Western North Carolina in our [thematic] road trip,” Conklin says.

Building each concert around a theme is part of John Young Shik Conklin’s mission to make HSO concerts enjoyable for the widest range of concertgoers possible. “Even if listeners are unfamiliar with the titles of the pieces, I’m willing to bet they’ll recognize many of them once the music starts playing,” he enthuses. “There’s something uniquely American about each of the pieces; perhaps it’s that they all are intrinsically hopeful for the future and have a sense of discovery about them.” Concklin believes that the selections speak to our shared aspiration as Americans to create something better than exists now. 

Taken together, the works represent a great way to cap off the HSO’s 2022-2023 concert season. “We wanted to end the season not so much saying goodbye, but saying there’s much much more to come,” Concklin says. “We’re only getting started.”

Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra hosts Great American Road Trip — Masterworks on Saturday, May 6, 7:30-9:30pm at the Blue Ridge Community College Concert Hall (180 West Campus Drive, Flat Rock). 828-697-5884. $12-$45. 

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