The first thing Winston-Salem audiences learned about Timothy Redmond, was that the music comes first.
Redmond, a conductor and composer from the United Kingdom, has been named the Winston-Salem Symphony’s new music director. At his audition concert in April, he launched right into the first piece, Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella Suite,” before talking to the audience.
“I don’t like to speak before I conduct,” he said in an interview later.
Redmond’s first concert as the orchestra’s music director will be Oct. 27 and 29, featuring Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.” He will conduct four more 2019–2020 Classics concerts and two of the four Pops concerts — “A Carolina Christmas: The Gathering” and “John Williams: Star Wars and Beyond.”
When Redmond did speak at the April concert, it was to introduce the Sibelius Symphony (No. 1) with a pitch-perfect combination of humor and smarts. He used context and anecdotes that ranged from WWII to The Beatles.
“We all want to be told a story,” Redmond said. “And I have never yet met an audience that didn’t respond better if they know something about the piece.”
Redmond, 47, is married and has two children in college — or “at university,” as they say in Great Britain. “They look forward to visiting when they can,” he said.
He will maintain residences in both London and Winston-Salem, and will be working here on a O-1 Visa, which is issued to “individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement,” according to the U.S. Government website.
His contract with the symphony is for four years.
“The 2019-20 season will be a year of transition as Tim works around other pre-existing commitments,” said Merritt Vale, who has been president and chief executive of the symphony for 19 years. “Tim looks forward to being settled as he begins his first full season with us in 2020-2021.
“Because this is not a full-time professional orchestra, we expect and encourage the new music director to pursue other conducting opportunities when not engaged in Winston-Salem. ... and to take the story of the Winston-Salem Symphony around the world.”
Redmond was the last of five finalists who interviewed and auditioned for the music director job in 2018 and 2019. Those five were vetted down from 121 applicants who lived on every continent except Antarctica. The symphony’s search committee considered input about the finalists from audience members and symphony musicians using surveys and direct inquiry.
David Levy is a professor of music at Wake Forest University and a former symphony musician who writes the program notes for the symphony’s concerts. He was on the search committee.
“Overall, Tim was the strongest candidate,” Levy said. “As a conductor, he got the musicians excited to play, and he got the audience excited. In some ways, he’s the most experienced of the conductors.
“He generated far and away the most enthusiasm. We have great hopes for how the orchestra is going to function under his direction.”
The Winston-Salem Symphony will be Redmond’s second music-director job. He is music director at the Cambridge Philharmonic. He has widely distinguished himself as a freelancer, conducting and presenting concert music and operas throughout Europe. He often conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and teaches conducting at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
Corine Brouwer has been concertmaster at the Winston-Salem Symphony for about 20 years. The concertmaster leads the first-violin section in an orchestra and, after the conductor, is the second-most important leader in an orchestra.
“We, the musicians, immediately felt a connection with Tim when he took the podium,” Brouwer said. “During rehearsals and during the concerts, his extraordinary level of musicianship and his leadership were inspiring. He was engaging and collaborative and fun both on and off the podium. I know he will be a great addition to our community.
“Another thing that I loved about Tim was his remarkable wit. Maybe it’s his British sense of humor, but he put us all at ease through his demeanor. I really appreciated that he asked the musicians for improvements during rehearsals in such a way that had us all laughing. Yet we also felt inspired, thinking, yes, of course we should play it that way in order to perform at our very best. His approach was refreshing and delightful.”
Redmond said that he is excited by the Winston-Salem’s Symphony’s existing educational programs and by the symphony’s potential.
“I’m exited about the possibilities. I’m excited for the potential for putting on different types of performances for the audiences that they haven’t experienced before — whether that’s bringing them from elsewhere or creating something completely bespoke for Winston-Salem,” Redmond said. “I’m excited about growing the connections with education — from the elementary schools to the universities.
“I have worked for large organizations with massive resources, but there are limitations. ... The larger an organization is, the harder it is to be spontaneous.
“A smaller organization like Winston-Salem Symphony can sometimes move faster. We know this in all kinds of business.”
Redmond said that he found the team at the symphony and the city of Winston-Salem to be inspiring.
“It seems like everybody wants to do more and better,” he said. “And you don’t get that vibe everywhere.”