While the savvy arts execs up north at the Seattle Symphony were grabbing headlines—and turning heads—with their nontraditional decision to name four violinists as rotating orchestra concertmasters, young Jun Iwasaki slipped quietly into Portland last weekend as the Oregon Symphony's new pole position player.
Iwasaki—only 25 years old—may've just moved to town, but he's already taking the stage in his first outing as concertmaster. On Thursday he'll provide a free preview of his work, and the Symphony's, for the season ahead at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. And in an exclusive first interview with WW , Iwasaki spoke with a quiet calm—almost gingerly—about his leadership abilities, his musical interests and about how he could hardly sleep the night before his first Symphony rehearsal last Sunday.
On paper, Iwasaki couldn't be more different than the former Symphony concertmaster, glamour-gal Amy Schwartz Moretti, and he comes to the post with a unique set of experiences, interests and skills: He studied with Cleveland Orchestra concertmaster William Preucil at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and has held only one long-term orchestra job previously, as concertmaster of the Canton (Ohio) Symphony Orchestra. This is Iwasaki's first full-time job out of conservatory, and it's a big step up financially, too: His new six-figure paycheck means he can finally graduate from the IKEA school of furniture-shopping.
How does this young maverick feel about walking into a taxing leadership role with a major orchestra in real financial trouble? "I think that almost every orchestra is in a deficit…we're losing audiences," he says. As for bringing audiences in? "It involves getting the word out that the Oregon Symphony isn't just a bunch of old people playing music."
"It's hard to put modern music on every concert," he says in regards to programming new music. But are only two pieces of works by still-living composers in the Symphony's 16-week classical season enough? "It depends on what the audience likes." And as for the Symphony's elitist reputation? Well... "I don't want to be labeled as being higher up on any pedestal or anything. I want to be right there with everybody," he says. Offering proof, he says he plans to attend the upcoming Symphony Ball to mingle with donors, his pianist girlfriend in tow.
It will be interesting to see what Iwasaki does for the Symphony's sound, and how the Symphony capitalizes, if it can, on Iwasaki's youth and low-key charm. For now, he just looks forward to that first outdoor concert—violins, cannons and fireworks at full tilt.