Setting the Beat: A New Leader Wants to Unite the Community Through Music | Arts & Theater


Scott Seaton considers his role as the new Artistic Director of the Signature Symphony at Tulsa Community College to be as much a bridge builder as a leader of musicians.

It was something that was part of the first concert he conducted for the orchestra, when he was still a candidate for the position of artistic director of the orchestra. The program combined orchestral arrangements of songs made famous by the Beatles, as well as one of the epic “barnburners” of the orchestral repertoire, Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique”.

It was a program that demonstrated, Seaton said, that “there is a place for all types of music in an orchestral concert. I want to do concerts that are relevant, that take risks, but in the end they are musical evenings that everyone can enjoy.

The Signature Symphony announced last week that Seaton had been chosen to be the orchestra’s new artistic director, succeeding Andrés Franco, who stepped down during the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season.

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Seaton becomes the third person to conduct the orchestra in its more than four-decade history. The orchestra was founded as the Tulsa Little Symphony in 1978 by G. Barry Epperley, who served as its conductor for 35 years before handing over to Franco.

Seaton is also Music Director of the North State Symphony, which primarily serves the communities of Chico and Redding in Northern California. He said he planned to continue his association with that orchestra in addition to his duties with the Signature Symphony.

“The two jobs should fit together pretty easily,” he said. “I know there are conductors who have jobs with three different orchestras on three different continents, but that’s not something that interests me.

“Also, the community aspect is, I think, very important when you’re working with a regional orchestra,” Seaton said. “It’s a different dynamic than what you’ll find in big cities. You want – you really need – to have that connection with your community.

That sense of community and connection is even more important now, as performing arts organizations struggle to recover after years of canceled concerts and postponed shows.

“Today, all arts groups are in desperate need of community support,” Seaton said. “We need to bring back the audience we had before this all started, as well as find ways to connect everything we do with new audiences. I really appreciate that the orchestra places a strong emphasis on its educational component.

Seaton studied at Vanderbilt University, the New England Conservatory and the University of Montreal, and began his conducting career with the Nashville Youth Orchestra. Previously, he was Music Director of the Minot Symphony Orchestra (North Dakota) and Principal Conductor of the Veridian Symphony Orchestra in Yuba City, California.

As a guest conductor, Seaton has worked with orchestras across North and South America and Europe.

“In fact,” he said, “before coming here in April, I had visited every state in the country except Oklahoma and Hawaii.”

An avid cyclist in his spare time, Seaton has cycled across the United States “one and a half times. The first time I had this rugged touring bike and loaded myself up with all sorts of gear. And that made traversing the Rocky Mountains a real challenge.

“The second time around I rode a light bike and carried the bare minimum of gear,” Seaton said. “It took me 44 days and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But it also showed me a side of this country that I had never seen before and probably never would have discovered any other way. It also proved to me that I could take on a huge challenge and accomplish it.

Seaton is currently finalizing what will be his first season with the Signature Symphony. He will conduct the orchestra for its annual “Fourth on the Third” concert of patriotic music on July 3.

“The season is almost over,” he said. “This may not be as robust a season as the orchestra would have presented in the past, with five classical concerts and five pop concerts. This model will have to be suspended a little longer.

“What we’re looking at is five big gigs (for 2022-23),” Seaton said. “We plan to keep things that audiences love and expect, like the ‘Christmas in Tulsa’ holiday concert and the Tulsa Sings! competition, which I think is a fantastic thing to have. The other concerts will probably venture beyond the realm of purely classical music, like the concerts presented this season.

Seaton said he was also looking forward to strengthening the bond he made with the orchestra during their rehearsals for his April concert.

“Sometimes when you first walk into a rehearsal room with a new orchestra, you can often tell from the first few minutes what kind of energy there is in the room,” he said. “One of my mentors once described it as ‘walking into a room full of bright eyes.’ You know everyone wants to be there and wants to do the best they can.

“It’s a rare thing to find,” Seaton said. “But that’s what I felt with this orchestra. And it wasn’t just because it was the biggest ensemble I’ve conducted in the past two years, because it takes a huge orchestra to run the Berlioz. It was the level of investment that each player brought to what they were doing. It’s a big task to play this symphony, and they handled it with aplomb.

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