You might not be used to seeing 33-year-old conductors take control of symphonies, but Timothy Verville is one young local musician taking charge of Valley orchestras. As conductor for Arizona Pro Arte, associate conductor for Boston Chamber Orchestra and music director and conductor of the North Valley Chamber Orchestra, Verville guides symphony members to perform better together than they ever could on their own. There is no need to dress up in fancy duds to watch Verville in action — Arizona Pro Arte, which he helped co-found, is an innovative musical collaboration that pairs an orchestra (with about 50 members) with live art, ranging from silent films to visual slideshows. Check the group out Saturday, June 15 at Tempe Center for the Arts, and keep reading to hear why Verville wanted to be a conductor — as well as five reasons why he loves living in the Valley.
What brought you to Arizona?
I had just finished my Master’s Degree in orchestral conducting at the Boston Conservatory, and ASU had offered me the chance to come here to get a doctoral degree. I came here 4 years ago but am originally from Oklahoma.
Where does your musical background come from?
I started playing double bass in junior high and took up electric bass in high school and played in orchestra and marching band and cover/pop bands on the side. I was always a fan of playing lots of different types of music, not just in orchestra. I studied bass performance at the University of Oklahoma. I’ve played in bands ranging from reggae to rock, to Latin jazz and blues. After finishing my undergrad, I spent 3 years conducting at a theater in Guthrie, Okla. before moving to Boston.
What’s your first memory of being interested in music?
I never really had an, “Aha! That’s what I want do to!” moment. When I first started playing in fifth grade, it was a requirement in school. The first day of class, we didn’t get asked what we wanted to play – the teacher looked at our hands and gave us instruments based on that. I was assigned cello.
What got you interested in conducting?
During my undergrad, we had to take an instrumental conducting class, which is basic patterns of how to wave a baton at musicians. I still remember, before going to class, I really didn’t want to go – I only wanted to play bass. Through the exploration of it, I started to enjoy being in the front of the orchestra. Playing bass, you’re in the back, which sounds completely different than when you’re in the front of the group. I really enjoyed being able to be immersed in the amazing sound. It really is the best seat in the house.
What is studying to be a conductor like?
For a Master’s degree, it’s really about learning the technical portion of how to control your hands and what certain movements mean and gathering as many different influences as you can. For a doctorate, it’s using those learned skills, refining them, and applying them to music more on your own.
How much does the orchestra rely on the conductor?
It depends. The orchestra likes to joke they don’t necessarily need a conductor, and that’s true to a certain extent – there is a lot an orchestra can do on its own. For most orchestras, the job of the conductor is to make them sound better than they could on their own. My job is to get the orchestra to tap into synergy and play better as a group. That’s why an orchestra is going to sound differently depending on what conductor is in front of them.
How much music do you have to learn as a conductor?
You’re always learning new music, and you really have to enjoy the process.
What’s your favorite piece of music?
It’s really hard to say, because no two pieces of music are the same, even if they’re by the same composer. I don’t have a favorite, and I hope I never will, because that locks you into thinking, “Nothing can be better than this.” Close-mindedness is something you have to fight as a musician and conductor so that you’re always open to new pieces and new experiences and continue to grow.
How did Arizona Pro Arte come about?
We used to be the Scottsdale Baroque Orchestra, but found that while it was a solid group, it was offering something audiences here weren’t particularly interested in, which was only classical and Baroque performances. At the end of my first full season, a little more than a year ago, we decided to try something that was a little more different and collaborative than standard orchestras here, and that’s how we got on the path we are now, bringing in other artists and presenting them in a little different context.
What do you look for when you’re choosing a new orchestra member?
We’re looking for someone who has prepared properly and who can demonstrate they have a mastery of their instrument, but also be able to play differently from how they have prepared, and be able to take direction.
What are your professional goals?
I think Arizona Pro Arte has nowhere to go but up. I would like us to become the high-level chamber orchestra the Valley doesn’t have.
Do you still play music?
Yes. And the fun thing about being a conductor is that while I’m not actually playing anything on-stage, the whole orchestra is my instrument. It’s as if I’m sitting at a giant sound board and can control what we hear.
What do you look for when you’re choosing music?
I like to look for music that says something and speaks to me. You have to live with the music a bit because your impressions might change. It’s a process of becoming acquainted with it and deciding if it’s something you want to learn more about.
What makes a great conductor?
Someone who is honest with themselves and honest with the music, and they possess the attitude of being in service to others. You have to be a good musician and be able to reasonably be able to wave your hands in a way that the instrumentalists can understand. Your approach is very important. I like to think that I’m someone who does my best to make others play well and bring out the best from them.
How do you choose the visual art that will be shown?
It’s done by a committee of players. The artwork should be interesting, thought-provoking and of high artistic quality.
Why should people come to an Arizona Pro Arte show?
I think it’s all about trying something different. People will do that with food, and I think for most people, we offer a different way to try the classical cuisine. We ditched our tuxedos, it’s a bit less formal and a lot more approachable.