The passing of the baton is both a ceremonial tradition and a deeply meaningful musical ritual. The baton is perhaps the most revered and powerful instrument in any classical symphony. It can create music or command total silence, yet it weighs only two tenths of an ounce and can be just 14 inches long.
For such a powerful instrument, the baton itself is mute and needs the hand of a seasoned conductor to make music. In the Brandywine region, the baton that helps to guide the Delaware County Symphony was passed in the summer of 2013 to an Oxonian with a wealth of experience.
Raised near Edinburgh, Scotland, and educated at historic Oxford University in England, Music Director Tim Ribchester already seems right at home inside the beautiful, 300-seat Fred P. Meagher Theater at Neumann University in Aston, Pa.
Observing his unique way of seeing the world and classical music is a source of cultural fascination for audiences and musicians at the Delaware County Symphony. At the helm of the 43-year-old, 84-member community orchestra, Ribchester is pursuing a new symphonic vision and esthetic horizon that is steeped in the time-honored and venerable European traditions that are embedded in classical music.
Each concert I attended during the 2013-2014 season exhibited the vast experience and cultural capital that Ribchester has to share. At Oxford, Ribchester took summa cum laude degrees in Music (M.A.) and Musicology (M.St.), was elected conductor of the Oxford University Philharmonia, and was appointed Artistic Director of the Merle Ensemble chamber music series. He trained concurrently as pianist and conductor at the Royal College of Music, London, and the European American Musical Alliance, La Schola Cantorum, Paris, where he obtained a High Distinction in piano and counterpoint.
In addition to his leadership role with the Delaware County Symphony, he is a faculty pianist, conductor, and vocal coach at the Academy of Vocal Arts, Russian Opera Workshop, and Bryn Mawr Conservatory. He is also a frequent guest conductor for the Orchestra Society of Philadelphia, Concert Operetta Theater, Opera Libera, and Delaware Valley Opera Company. A performance practice specialist in both English and Italian baroque music and the music of Astor Piazzolla, he has researched and performed the latter in collaboration with New York’s most distinguished tango musicians.
Sitting in the audience during his concerts, I see Ribchester’s utter self-confidence and passionate commitment to the composer and score. The music has a clear, crisp sound within a mosaic of sensitive phrase-shaping and emotional exploration. His music-making goes beyond a perfected technique: I hear a personal esthetic vision from this new conductor. Time may change the technique of classical music, but it cannot alter music’s fundamental mission: The symphony must share with us unconditional beauty and the feeling of being alive. Without uttering a single word, the music should convey a universal human experience, helping us transcend time and place. It is clear that Ribchester succeeds in shaping that experience. His emotionally engaged facial expressions and deeply focused body language convey the joy and responsibility of being a professional conductor.
The Delaware County Symphony’s 2014-2015 Symphony Series commences on October 19 with selections from Copland, Mozart and Brahms, and featuring Charles Abramovic on piano. The second concert in the series, on December 7, covers works by Bayolo and Shostakovich and spotlights bassoonist Daniel Matsukawa during a performance of Carl Maria von Weber’s Bassoon Concerto in F Major. All concerts are on Sunday at 3pm in Neumann University’s Meagher Theatre.
A well-known volunteer presence in the Delaware County arts community, Bill Conville is heavily involved with the Delaware County Symphony.