Conducting an orchestra requires creativity. In the university setting, the conductor must also be a teacher, with a broad and deep knowledge of the music of different historical periods, and also have the ability to bring the musicians and the music together into a performance of excellence.
Mitchell Arnold, director of orchestral studies in the West Virginia University School of Music, was honored for his outstanding work in all these areas, as he was presented with the 2014 Research and Creative Activity Award from the College of Creative Arts for his achievements with the WVU Symphony Orchestra.
“Professor Arnold is currently in final rehearsals for the WVU Symphony Orchestra’s season opening concert on Oct. 2,” said School of Music Director Keith Jackson. “His work with the orchestra leads to authentic and insightful performances. It is apparent in both his work with the WVU Symphony Orchestra and when he is conducting professional orchestras, such as the West Virginia Symphony, that you are hearing something that is organic and vibrant. He is a conductor with a keen mind and the highest possible standards.”
The WVU Symphony Orchestra has long been known for its excellence, but when Dr. Arnold came to WVU in the fall of 2007 as the interim director of orchestral activities, the ensemble was small and not able to tackle many of the major works he felt important to the students’ education.
Arnold did such an outstanding job as interim director that he was named the permanent director in the fall of 2008.
He has built the orchestra into an ensemble that is not only larger, but also capable of achieving artistic and technical success with far more challenging works than was the case seven years ago.
“It took a few years to build the orchestra to this level,” he said. “It took collaboration with my faculty colleagues to improve the talent and number of our students, and it took whatever it is that I have to offer as a conductor to achieve a level of excellence that is now recognized beyond the university.”
His goal from the beginning was to showcase the talents of the outstanding young student musicians, composers and conductors at WVU.
He also wanted to feature WVU’s outstanding music faculty as soloists on many concerts.
And perhaps most of all, he wanted to provide concerts of virtuosity and artistic depth that would be a treat for the audience.
“My approach was to showcase what we did well, to build on what we did well in order to enhance the reputation of the orchestra and the School of Music, with the expectation that this would make us more attractive to greater numbers of talented students,” he said.
One of Arnold’s continuing goals is to increase recognition of this fine ensemble in the community as well.
“We want to be recognized as Morgantown’s own orchestra.”
All of his hopes and dreams for the orchestra came together on the evening of April 22, 2010 when lines of people packed the house at the Creative Art Center’s Lyell B. Clay Theatre to hear the orchestra perform Beethoven’s famous Symphony No. 9 in D Minor. It was an evening that many people in Morgantown will never forget.
The orchestra’s status continued to grow as Arnold took the ensemble on a tour of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia during the fall of 2012. The tour was a reflection of the School of Music as one of the region’s most important music programs, and of the orchestra as one of the finest ensembles of its kind in the region.
Then, in 2013, the orchestra was awarded The American Prize Special Citation for Musical and Technical Excellence in a national competition, proving that it was one of the finer university orchestras in the country.
That same year, the WVU Symphony Orchestra was one of only two collegiate orchestras in the United States invited to perform at the 2014 national conference of the College Orchestra Directors Association in Fort Worth, Texas. The invitation process included a blind review of submissions by a panel of judges.
“To be one of only two orchestras invited to perform at this important annual conference was quite an honor for our students, the School of Music, and the College of Creative Arts,” Arnold said.
Arnold was born in New York City and at age 6 began studying piano and music theory in the preparatory department of The Juilliard School. He completed a master’s degree in composition and a Doctor of Music degree in orchestral conducting at Northwestern University, where he was a student of Victor Yampolsky, and studied opera conducting with Frederick Ockwell. Other conducting teachers included Dr. Jon Robertson and Paul Vermel.
He previously served on the faculties of Northern Illinois University as director of orchestras, and Northwestern University as assistant director of orchestras, as well as at Baldwin-Wallace College Conservatory of Music and Oberlin College Conservatory of Music.
He has an extensive background in new music and was a composing and performing member of the noted Chicago-based ensemble, Kapture, and one of the founding directors of New Music Chicago, a non-profit, new music advocacy organization.
He has been invited to conduct the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra at the Clay Center for the Arts in Charleston, West Virginia, in 2013 and 2014.
In addition to his work with the WVU Symphony Orchestra, he also teaches undergraduate conducting classes, works with graduate student conductors, and teaches undergraduate music students in private conducting lessons.
He is constantly working with students in the orchestra and students in his classes to help them develop their mastery and also their ability to express their art on a large musical canvas.
“It is not enough for me that my conducting students ‘feel’ that they should do something with the music at a particular moment,” he said. “I want them to understand what Beethoven, for example, composed that makes it appropriate to feel that way. ‘It is in the music,’ I tell them. ‘Be able to explain it. Then conduct it correctly!’
“Our students’ technical achievement is surpassed only by the depth of their passion,” he said of the orchestra. “Morgantown is fortunate to have such a cultural gem in its midst.”
CONTACT: Charlene Lattea, College of Creative Arts
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