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Thursday, June 1, 2017 12:06 am

New maestro

Ken Lam is the Illinois Symphony Orchestra’s director

Ken Lam


After a season-long search, Ken Lam has been announced as the new music director for the Illinois Symphony Orchestra, replacing Alastair Willis, who left the position vacant when he ended his contract early back in 2015. Lam was chosen unanimously by a combination of ISO’s board of directors, search committee and musicians and received high marks from audiences and community members alike. He will start the position on July 1.

Somewhat surprisingly, the two concerts he conducted this past season were not Lam’s first encounter with Springfield – four years ago, he was a last-minute replacement for an applicant who dropped out of the search that eventually resulted in Willis’ being hired.

“I am very honored to become the next music director of the ISO,” Lam said. “On top of conducting there was a lot of time I got to spend with musicians. The way the search was conducted I got a really good sense of what the people are like and they were very, very pleasant to work with.”

“Ken Lam brings enthusiasm, musical knowledge, conducting skill and a friendly and engaging manner to the podium,” remarked flutist Amanda Pond, a search committee member and ISO musician. “He was a clear favorite with the orchestra. The musicians thoroughly enjoyed our concerts with Ken this past season and are eager to begin our collaboration.”

Lam certainly has his work cut out for him, especially as the search process has already taken a bite out of what would normally have been time spent planning the upcoming season, which also happens to fall on the ISO’s 25th anniversary. “Most orchestras by this stage would have announced their season already,” he said, mentioning that he has been poring over lists of all the pieces played by the ISO over its previous 10 seasons. “You need to know what the community likes because ultimately the music is for the community,” he said, noting that it is also important not to repeat any piece too often.

Programming a balanced season also involves keeping the interest of the musicians by challenging them artistically. Right now, Lam is working on locating what he called “obvious gaps” in the previous seasons, mentioning Schumann and Sibelius as examples of “incredible, essential composers who the previous music directors never got around to but nevertheless deserve to be heard.” He also expressed interest in eventually presenting American, French and English composers as well as choral music, “because that was my background.”

Lam will continue with his current position as music director with the Charleston [South Carolina] Symphony Orchestra and will be commuting between the two cities. “It is not uncommon for a director to have two, three, even four directorships in different cities at once,” he explained.

“I am sure Maestro Lam will maintain the high standards the ISO is known for, and will possibly mix in a few surprises along the way,” said ISO board of directors member and search committee co-chair Milt Sees. Executive director Trevor Orthmann stated, “The musicians and staff of the ISO are excited to begin working with Mr. Lam to energize and unite our central Illinois communities.”

As for overall plans for his first year with the ISO, Lam’s plan is a simple one. “I will open my ears and listen and see what this community is about. I am excited and eager to get started.”

Maestro Lam will make his first appearance with the Illinois Symphony Orchestra at the start of the 2017-2018 season on Friday, Oct. 27, in Bloomington and Saturday, Oct. 28, in Springfield. For more information about the Illinois Symphony Orchestra, visit ilsymphony.org.

Contact Scott Faingold at sfaingold@illinoistimes.com.


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Wednesday Oct. 17th