Ian Passmore is one of four finalists, out of 53 applicants, for music director of the Oak Ridge Civic Music Association. Each finalist will conduct a concert with the Oak Ridge Symphony Orchestra & Chorus during the 2022–2023 season. Passmore will conduct the concert at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20, at the First United Methodist Church of OakRidge.
Passmore grew up in Thomasville, North Carolina and although his mother is from the Philippines, he was raised by his paternal grandparents, Americans. They had no musical background, but when a college band came to conduct at Passmore’s elementary school, he said he was transfixed by the conductor and at that moment decided that was what he wanted to do. Later, upon entering junior high, he was asked by the school band director (with whom he is still friends) to choose an instrument, and he said “conductor.” Passmore ended up choosing trumpet because his grandparents happened to have an old trumpet belonging to his uncle in the house, but he made a deal with the band director that the better he got on the trumpet, the more the director would let him conduct. He studied scores and watched videos and when he was in eighth grade he finally got his first chance to conduct the band.
Passmore continued with trumpet studies at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro and then attended the University of Delaware, where he became the first student to obtain a master’s degree in conducting. Passmore later was one of only three students his year-along with Wilbur Lin, another finalist in our conductor search to qualify for the doctoral program in conducting at Indiana University. Indiana University, Passmore said, was like “Disneyland for orchestra conducting students” because he was able to get a tremendous amount of experience conducting all kinds of music – opera, contemporary, and symphonic and he even had many opportunities to lead an orchestra composed of paid students in a special student conductor orchestra.
Passmore was chosen to become the assistant director of the Omaha Symphony where he continued in that position from 2017-19 and then became the first associate director ever in 2020. And then of course, COVID-19 pandemic hit and Passmore decided to go out on his own. Now he is based out of High Point, North Carolina, where he lives with his wife and three rescue dogs and freelances conducting orchestras around the country.
Passmore feels the southeast is his home and wants to remain in the area. He was drawn to the ORSO because of its strong commitment to diverse and contemporary repertoire. He feels that every concert is a family and community concert and each performance is an educational opportunity for both the audience and even the orchestra members. He wants everyone to leave knowing more about the music than when they arrived.
This particular concert is entitled “Family Meeting! A Musical Time Machine” and Passmore describes it as having two objectives. The first is to feature each “family” of the orchestra on its own in a process of calling an orchestral family meeting. And the second is to showcase music from each century as if the audience is traveling in a time machine. So an unaccompanied female chorus will perform the first work, a piece by composer Lloyd Pfautsch, “Musicks Empire” which although was composed in the 1960s was written to sound like a Gregorian plainchant from the Middle Ages.
The second piece will feature the ORSO brass section playing Giavanni Gabrieli’s Sonata pian’e forte from the late Italian Renaissance/early Baroque period. Players will perform in the back and front of the church for an antiphonal, stereophonic effect. The third piece is for wind ensemble written by Max Reger and although it was written in the early twentieth century, it is considered a throwback to the 1700s. Edward Elgar’s “Serenade for strings” will highlight the ORSO string section and is a purely romantic, gorgeous piece of music. Ellen Zwilich was the first woman to ever win the Pulitzer prize for music composition, and her piece for piano and orchestra on the program featuring renowned pianist, Clare Longendyke is called “Peanuts Gallery Suite for Piano and Orchestra” Each movement showcases a different musical character from the Peanuts cartoon including Schroeder playing Beethoven.
The entire orchestra will come together to perform the quintessential classical symphony, Haydn’s Symphony No. 88, a piece Passmore describes as the definition of accessible classical music, enjoyable for both members of the orchestra and the audience. Haydn is considered the father of the modern symphony and most of the classical conventions we consider part of the orchestral tradition were invented by him.
Passmore believes strongly that music is a engaging and collaborative experience for the conductor, the musicians, and the audience and he hopes it is also a transformative one. He hopes to bring all kinds of music to both Oak Ridge and the surrounding counties to help introduce live classical music to places where audiences haven’t had a chance to experience it before. He also especially wants young people to know that music is a crucial, living, breathing part of our culture and not a museum piece and is a way to bring these composers back to life. He would like to “light a fire” under the younger generation to get them excited about classical music.
Passmore also believes strongly in community outreach and collaboration with other arts and business organizations in the area. As for being a part of the community, Passmore likes to quote a favorite conducting professor who offered this advice, “ The average concert-goer needs to run into you at the local grocery store, recognize you and feel comfortable about telling you about his or her own musical experiences”.
In addition to the concert on Sunday afternoon, Passmore will also be visiting the orchestra students at two Oak Ridge schools and would like to invite everyone to a free community presentation about the upcoming concert at noon Wednesday, Nov. 16, at the Oak Ridge Public Library. For more information about the concert and ticket availability, check orcma.org or call (865) 483-5569. Tickets will also be available at the door. All audience members under the age of 18 get in free.