May 18, 2013

Curtain rises on assistant PSO conductor

Norman Huynh, 24, is poised to conduct Pops and Discovery concerts – and community outreach.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Norman Huynh has performed in front of 100,000 fans whose screams and cheers were so loud, he could barely hear himself play his instrument.

So the prospect of performing in front of 1,800 people at Merrill Auditorium hardly intimidates the young man.

The Portland Symphony Orchestra will introduce Huynh, 24, as its new assistant conductor and community liaison at its Discovery concert at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Merrill. Huynh (pronounced "When") formally begins his duties Aug. 1.

Huynh, who turns 25 in early June, graduated from the University of Alabama and played euphonium in the Alabama marching band, known as the Million Dollar Band. The experienced prepared him well, he said.

"We would walk into Death Valley at LSU (Louisiana State University), and the stands would be full of people booing us," Huynh said.

The polite applause of an appreciative classical audience is a nice change of pace, he said.

The position of assistant director is new, created by the symphony to help in its mission of community engagement and education.

It evolved from the PSO's recent internal review process, in which the orchestra considered all aspects of its operation, including its mission, and talked to members of the community about its role and future.

"We have to remain relevant," said the orchestra's executive director, Lisa Dixon. "For some folks, there might be a lot of barriers to coming into the concert hall for the first time. How can we help people connect with us? Norman is going to help us do that."

Huynh will conduct various concert cycles for the symphony, including the new Discovery concerts for family, the Pops series and the orchestra's educational outreach concerts. He will serve as community ambassador for the orchestra, assist Music Director Robert Moody with programming decisions and the rehearsal process, and cover for him when Moody is unable to conduct the orchestra.

Funding for the position and Discovery series came from an anonymous donor, Dixon said.

Huynh has worked with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, where he served under conductors Marin Alsop, Juanjo Mena, Vasily Petrenko and Christoph Konig. He co-founded the Occasional Symphony in Baltimore with a mission of bringing orchestral music to nontraditional venues.

He grew up in Alabama, and began playing music in middle school.

"I didn't come from a family of musicians," he said. "But I saw my cousin play the trombone in his middle school band, and I thought, 'I really want to do this.' "

Huynh learned to play the trombone soon after, joined his school band, and traveled to festivals and competitions across the region. He realized the power of music when he joined the marching band at the University of Alabama.

Moody said it was a Facebook video of Huynh with the marching band that got his attention.

"The band members were outside the stadium before the game, and he gets a few of them to start the Alabama cheer. Soon, there are thousands of fans walking around getting into the cheer," Moody said. "Norman started it. I was really impressed with that. I said, 'This is the guy we want.' We want this kind of take-charge, do-something personality."

About 90 people applied for the job, Dixon said.

Huynh will live in Portland. He and his fiancee -- their wedding is scheduled for June 1 -- spent the weekend looking for housing on the peninsula.

He fell in love with the city during his initial visit.

"The first thing that really appealed to me was the food," he said, laughing and noting that he has been to Duckfat three times already. "The food is great, the city is beautiful, and I love the cultural community. The people are nice, and it feels like a very healthy, welcoming city."

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

bkeyes@mainetoday.com

Twitter: pphkeyes

 

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