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June 24, 1994 - Image 77

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1994-06-24

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Concert Maven

DSO artistic administrator Willa Rouder

plans the programs for concert goers.


Willa Rouder. Looking at the summer season.


efore Willa Rouder could
plan ahead for the '94-
'95 season of the Detroit
Symphony Orchestra
(DSO), she had to do a
lot of looking back. ,
As artistic adminis-
trator of the DSO, Ms. Rouder re-
searched 75 years of symphony
performances so that the season
could capture outstanding past
concerts in celebration of the di-
amond anniversary of Orchestra
"The hall opened in October of
1919, so in October of 1994 we are
going to replicate the first pro-
gram that ever was played there,"
said Ms. Rouder, who has had
major responsibility for booking
guest soloists and conductors dur-
ing the past six years.
DSO maestro Neeme Jarvi will
reprise Weber's Overture to

Oberon, Mozart's Concerto for
Two Pianos, Bach's Concerto for
Three Pianos in C and
Beethoven's Symphony No. 5."
Pianists selected to recall the
hall's debut during performances
on Oct. 7, 8 and 9 include De-
troiter Robert Conway and for-
mer Detroiters Ruth Laredo and
James Tocco.
"For about 10 years, Orches-
tra Hall was called the Paradise
Theatre and presented every
great jazz performer of the '40s.
So we're doing a Paradise The-
atre gala on Oct. 16," Ms. Roud-
er said. "And because Duke
Ellington opened the Paradise
Theatre, the program will feature
the Duke Ellington Orchestra
conducted by Mercer Ellington."
Among the many artists spot-
lighted during this season of cel-
ebration will be Isaac Stern,
Andre Watts, Tony Bennett,
Marvin Hamlisch, Joseph Sil-
verstein and Midori—all engaged
to balance the year by bringing
some new musical experiences to
loyal audiences.
"My job is traditionally, con-
sidered the fun job in the organi-
zation," said Ms. Rouder, who
remains the primary contact for
visiting performers while they are
in town. Quite often she hosts
dinner parties for them.
"I get to deal with the art—the
music and the musicians," she ex-
plained. "I don't have to raise the
money, and I don't have to sell
the tickets. I don't have to do the
financial planning."
Most of the booking for the or-
chestra is done nearly two years
in advance to allow for greater
ticket sales with subscription se-
Only occasionally will she trav-
el to hear performers. Because
of her administrative experience
at Carnegie Hall, she has con-
siderable familiarity with a vari-
ety of artists. She also relies on
records and tapes sent by agents.
"That process takes a very long
time, and of course artists' sched-
ules get filled up very far in ad-
vance," said Ms. Rouder, who

works closely with the music di-
rector and a management com-
mittee before finalizing program
"Now I'm booking the '95-'96
season, and I'm about halfway
done with it.
"Our primary concern is artis-
tic quality, but we also want to
achieve the right mix. We always
want to have a few stars anchor-
ing the season to help add to the
excitement. Then we fill out our
programs with some established
artists who are well-known and
others we want to introduce to

My job is
considered the fun
job in the

—Willa Rouder

our audiences."
Ms. Rouder acknowledges that
music has always been at the cen-
ter of her life. Before she turned
6, she heard a neighbor's record-
ing of a Beethoven symphony and
announced that she was going to
write something like it when she
grew up.
At about that time, she began
taking piano lessons, and moved
on to the accordion, flute and gui-
"Piano was always my main
instrument," revealed the native
New Yorker, who likes to explore
various musical styles from clas-
sics to jazz. "I did some perform-
ing and accompanied choruses. I
also did some music for a short,
animated film.
"I majored in music theory at
college and became fascinated
with theory and analysis and fig-
uring out what made music tick.
I decided to go into graduate
school, get a doctorate and even-
tually teach at the college level."
After earning a bachelor of arts
in music from New York Uni-

versity and completing doctoral
course work in music at Brandeis
University, she became a re-
search fellow at the Smithsonian
Part-time work as a publicity
assistant at Carnegie Hall led to
a full-time job. As assistant to
the artistic director, she realized
she preferred managing to teach-
"Carnegie Hall management
basically presents artists and
markets them in a series," Ms.
Rouder explained. "They do very
little producing of their own.
"After I had been there for six
years, I wanted to be more in-
volved with the creative process
of putting together a product. I
think I was most excited by the
orchestras coming through and
was really inspired to want to
work for a great orchestra as
When the job of manager for
the Buffalo Philharmonic Or-
chestra became available, she
moved on because of the orches-
tra's distinguished history. Two
years later, she was ready to take
on a larger symphony and ac-
cepted an offer from the DSO.
Ms. Rouder notes three
changes as among the most im-
portant during her tenure here:
attracting Neeme Jarvi as con-
ductor, revamping the orchestra
season and moving back to Or-
chestra Hall after years at Ford
Since relocating to Michigan,
Ms. Rouder has made an impor-
tant change in her personal life—
marrying attorney Andrew Walk-
er. Introduced at a dinner par-
ty given by mutual friends, the
two went to a James Galway con-
cert on their first date.
While Ms. Rouder remains in-
terested in finishing a book on the
music of jazz pianist James P.
Johnson during her time away
from the concert hall, she also has
become active with the American
Jewish Committee. Additional
leisure time allows her to read,
cook and work out.


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