Story updated at 12:40 p.m. June 16:
Andrew Sewell brought his baton to the San Luis Obispo Symphony back in 2016 and now the New Zealand-born conductor is here to stay.
The San Luis Obispo Symphony on June 13 announced the appointment of Sewell as its ninth conductor and music director, culminating an extensive year-and-a-half long search that drew 133 applicants from around the world.
“In the end, it is Andrew’s impressive musicianship, his extensive body of work with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and conducting other notable orchestras and his warm rapport with the board of directors, staff, other organization and community members that made the selection committee and board decision unanimous,” said incoming board President David Hamilton.
Sewell is currently preparing to program and present the 2017-2018 season and he will select and conduct the ensemble’s programs for years to come.
“I am deeply honored to have been selected by the San Luis Obispo Symphony,” said Sewell. “My wife, Mary, and I were touched by the hospitality and graciousness we experienced when we visited. We feel very much at home and I am very excited by this opportunity. I look forward to working with the musicians, staff and the board of directors to explore how and where the symphony may grow artistically in and with the community.”
He said he’s excited to “sink his teeth” into music that will grow and challenge the orchestra, whose recent performances included great symphonic standards like Rossini’s “Overture to the Barber of Seville” and Beethoven’s well-known “5th Symphony in C Minor.”
“Conducting an orchestra is like riding a horse,” said Sewell. “You have to get to know the individual players and sections. It takes time to do. (The San Luis Obispo Symphony members) are very keen and devoted. They have a community spirit that I sensed immediately. That’s key in music.”
The community spirit is precisely what Sewell looks forward to in his new position. He wants to deploy it as his tenure’s guiding focus and extend the symphony’s reach throughout the county.
“I want to collaborate with groups in town to make this a community event. We exist to serve the community … it’s really got to be for the sake of others.”
Sewell is known for putting together popular outdoor concert series with the ensembles he’s led. Back in his 29-year home of Madison, Wisconsin, he conducted 18 seasons of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s summer series. Year after year, his programs have been described as “innovative and adventurous,” and the audience numbers show it.
Weekly average audiences for the chamber orchestra have grown more than 400 percent under his direction. Sewell, who in addition to being a conductor is an accomplished violinist, pianist and cornet player, is looking to bring this type of event to San Luis Obispo.
“I love doing outdoor and pops concerts, which create a buzz for those who may not come into the concert hall. They have more of a rock concert feel.”
The community-oriented focus goes even further than bringing the symphony outdoors, however. Sewell also hopes to expand mentorship opportunities for tri-county youth musicians, and create ensembles that pair young players and orchestra veterans for concerts.
“That type of mentorship is inspiring and takes a good couple of years to do, but it’s important to have that type of relationship” he said. The conductor added that learning to come together with professionals and play with them in an actual concert is an invaluable experience for music students.
He is looking forward to performing classical standards, romantic period fare and work from American composers at future concerts. He may even include baroque pieces, since those hail from his favorite stylistic period in classical music.
“Andrew Sewell’s appointment as music director is a singularly significant moment in the symphony’s evolution,” said current board President Deanna Richards. “It is cause for great optimism and excitement for a very, very bright future.”
After conducting many ensembles around the world, including the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong and New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Sewell said he is thrilled to start making music in San Luis Obispo.
“I feel just at home here,” said Sewell.
• Contact Matt Ackerman at [email protected]