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Meet the man in front of the orchestra

Hannah Swayze • Dec 8, 2018 at 12:01 AM

When he first fell in love with Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker,” Robert Seebacher said if he ever conducted the piece, he would do it the way Tchaikovsky intended it: with a full orchestra, a children’s choir and the fully staged ballet.

This weekend, Seebacher, the artistic director and conductor of the Johnson City Symphony Orchestra, will do just that.

This grand collaboration will feature the East Tennessee Ballet Academy, a children’s choir from Mountain Empire Children's Choral Academy and, of course, the Johnson City Symphony Orchestra.

What are you looking forward to most this weekend?

What I’m looking forward to most about this production is the ability to showcase how the arts in the Tri-Cities collaborate regularly and meaningfully for our community. I mean that’s what it’s all about. It’s all about bringing these great works of art to our community.

What would you are the most challenging aspects of doing such a production?

Two things: there are a lot of moving parts and only two rehearsals to make it happen. That is slightly terrifying to think about the number of people that have to be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time and also, I guess I would add a third thing. The music is really hard! I mean everybody knows the Nutcracker, right? Even if you don’t know it, when you hear this performance you’re going to be like, “Oh! That’s where that Christmas piece comes from!” But it’s really, really difficult to perform. Tchaikovsky’s one of our great composers and he didn’t cut us any slack in this piece.

How did you get into conducting?

Most conductors have a very individualized path. All of us have come to the profession in very different ways. For me, it started in high school. I was 15 when I conducted for the first time, and it was a brass ensemble. There was a need to have a brass ensemble at my high school and I said, ‘You know I could probably put that together. And I can probably figure out how to conduct that.’ And so, my band director was really extraordinary and he did that and then I performed in a youth orchestra and I think little by little, as you go through your various degrees and you go through the various building processes, you start to really fall in love with the orchestra, with the orchestra repertoire and that’s really what it was for me.

Do you have a favorite piece?

When you ask a musician what their favorite work is, it’s like asking parents who their favorite child is … I guess I could tell you the composers I most want to do next with the Johnson City Symphony Orchestra. We’ve done a lot of Beethoven, we’re doing a lot of Tchaikovsky. For me the next big one is a composer whose name is Gustav Mahler. Mahler is a massive composer and we’re ready to tackle a piece by him and I’d really love to do Mahler’s first symphony in the very near future. 

So what do you do the rest of the time?

The wonderful thing about my life is I get paid to do what I love, and that means that there is a lot of travel, it means there’s a lot of score study, so, you know, whenever I’m done with this performance, I’ll go immediately to the next one and immediately to the next one. So really in my downtime, if there’s any possibility of fishing I’ll do that. I love to fish. But outside of that the profession is really kind of all-consuming. And I love the program Archer. I know that’s an awful program, but that’s my favorite show.

This weekend’s production of, “The Nutcracker” will take place one night only in the Mark B. Martin Auditorium in Seeger Chapel at Milligan College on Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for students and $35 for adults. For more information, call 423-926-8742 or visit jcsymphony.com/events. Tickets can be purchased on the Orchestra’s website or at the door.

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