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Conducting a Musical Partnership

Story by
Nancy Joseph

Grammy-winning conductor Ludovic Morlot works with the best, as music director of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra (SSO) and guest conductor for other top orchestras from Boston to Tokyo to Berlin. He also enjoys working with budding musicians at the University of Washington.

Through a formal arrangement between the University and the Seattle Symphony, Morlot spends significant time in the UW School of Music as chair of orchestral conducting. His dual role has led to unprecedented collaborations between the University and the Seattle Symphony.

Ludovic Morlot conducting a side by side concert featuring the Seattle Symphony and UW Symphony Orchestra.

Ludovic Morlot conducting a side by side concert featuring the Seattle Symphony and the UW Symphony. Also conducting was UW Symphony director David Rahbee, not shown. Media credit: Jerome Tso

“Ludovic has a very substantial role in the conducting program, and an impact on the orchestral program in general,” says Richard Karpen, director of the School of Music and Aura Morrison Endowed Professor. “I don’t know of any another symphony-campus connection at this level.”

Karpen remembers clicking with Morlot the first time they met, when both were new to their current leadership roles. “The reason that all of this works is that Ludovic and I connected as musicians,” he says. “We’re both lifelong, passionate practitioners and researchers of music. Ludovic’s passion and hunger for excellence is palpable. It’s very apparent and it’s contagious."

For his part, Morlot recalls being “instantly attracted” by Karpen’s vision for the School of Music and the potential to be part of that. “Richard’s wish to collaborate and involve SSO musicians in the life and growth of the School resonated very much with the vision I wanted to establish as an artistic leader in the community,” says Morlot. “I felt it was my role and duty to help however I could.”

Ludovic’s passion and hunger for excellence is palpable. It’s...contagious.

Much of Morlot’s focus in the School of Music involves training graduate students in conducting, in collaboration with David Rahbee, director of the UW Symphony and senior artist in residence. As luck would have it, the two conductors go way back, having studied conducting and playing violin together years ago at the Pierre Monteux School and Music Festival. At the UW, Rahbee is director of orchestral activities and conducts the UW Symphony, with Morlot as a guest conductor for selected pieces. They also train conducting students together through a second orchestra for non-music majors, Campus Philharmonia. “Because Ludovic works with our conducting students, the students in Campus Philharmonia also have an opportunity to learn from him,” says Karpen. “It’s fantastic.”

Ludovic Morlot (left) with David Rahbee.

Ludovic Morlot (left) and David Rahbee collaborate in the training of graduate students of conducting. Media credit: Steve Korn

Fantastic for Morlot as well, who views teaching as an opportunity to continue to grow. “I think it is fair to say that there was, and always will be, a bit of a selfish appeal for me to put myself in a position to teach,” he says. “The students’ energy, passion, and curiosity inspire and engage me, allowing me to grow as I share my knowledge with them — though I would argue that to some degree my role as conductor of the Seattle Symphony also involves teaching. I have opportunities to learn from Seattle Symphony musicians and from my UW students alike.”

During his time at the UW, Morlot has engaged with School of Music faculty as well, leading to numerous collaborative projects. The Seattle Symphony and the UW Symphony have performed side by side on the Meany Hall stage, with Morlot and Rahbee conducting. Music faculty have performed with the Seattle Symphony, some for the first time. The Seattle Symphony has presented a concert dedicated to the work of UW faculty composers, and has commissioned their work for other concerts. School of Music composition faculty have worked closely with the Seattle Symphony’s Young Composer’s Workshop. And there’s still more to come.

Ludovic Morlot works with graduate student Anna Edwards as she conducts the UW's Campus Philharmonia.

Ludovic Morlot works with graduate student Anna Edwards as she conducts the UW's Campus Philharmonia. Media credit: Steve Korn

“Next season you will see a few more initiatives,” says Morlot, “including more commissions and a whole concert illustrating this wonderful relationship that the UW has developed with SSO over the last few years.”

Morlot recently announced a 2019 departure from the Seattle Symphony, which will end his role at the School of Music as well. The School and the Seattle Symphony now have other strong connections — SSO principal musicians hold faculty positions in oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, French horn, tuba, and harp — but the hope is that the partnership will continue at a leadership level. For Morlot and Karpen, the collaboration has been tremendously satisfying.

“This partnership has given me the opportunity to look at familiar music with fresh eyes and ears,” Morlot says. “It is a beautiful reminder of why we wanted to make music every day of our lives in the first place.”