Monday, 03 October 2016 09:30

Passing the Baton: Raymond Harvey to retire from the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra

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Raymond Harvey has led the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra for 18 years, but at the end of the 2016-2017 season, someone else will take the stand.

However, Harvey won’t exactly be resting on his laurels. He’s already spent the last two years simultaneously directing the Kalamazoo orchestra and acting as the associate professor and music director for the Moores Opera Center at the University of Houston. Now, he’s decided to shift his focus entirely to Houston.

In the coming season, the orchestra is planning some special events to celebrate Harvey’s 18-year legacy and say goodbye. Revue will also be following up in spring, looking back on all those years. For now, we talked to Harvey about what this decision means to him, the orchestra, and Houston.

Why did you decide to take on this role?

People that know me well, know that I’ve always been a born teacher. They also know I’ve had a long love of opera my whole life. So when this opportunity came along to be at a university and head an opera program, it was a perfect fit for me. It was unexpected, and just an ideal situation, so I couldn’t say no.

You’ve balanced the roles in Kalamazoo and Houston for the last two years. Why leave the symphony now?

They are each very, very much a full-time job. It’s a lot of work and they’re 1,200 miles apart. I had hoped that I’d be able to keep up this crazy schedule to the symphony’s 100th anniversary, but that’s still another four years away. And I’m afraid that by that time, I would probably kill myself. It was a hard decision, I love the symphony and I’ve been there for 18 years. It’s a really great organization. 

How did they take the news?

We had a lot of emotional moments and some tears and shock, but they’ve been nice enough to offer me music director emeritus, so I will still have a presence there coming back once a year to give a concert. That’s really very special.

Is this in any way an unusual move?

I’m retirement age. One doesn’t usually start a brand new full-time job at retirement. Most of my friends are looking at me as though I’m crazy, that I’m doing all this work when they themselves have retired. That’s what I meant.

What kind of work does the Moores Opera Center do?

They put on four fully-staged opera productions a year, with multiple performances. The students who sing in these performances are not only undergrads, but also masters and doctorate students. So we’ve got singers with some real ability. Some of them, I know, have the opportunity to go on to a major career if the stars align. It’s a beautiful opera house that we perform in that was built about 20 years ago, right on the campus. It can hold 75 or 80 musicians.

How has this decision impacted you personally?

Well, it’s sad. Whenever you’re coming to the end of something, you have that awful feeling that everything you do, it’s the last time you’re doing that. Even the fact that last week, we had a great opening concert, and I realized, ‘That’s the last time that I’ll open the season.’

Will this affect the coming season at all?

Someone did ask me if I had particularly programmed my favorite music for this being the last season. And I said, ‘Well, no.’ When this season was programmed, which was more than a year and a half ago, at that point, this was not something we were considering. So this decision has come up much more recently. The ironic thing about that, though, is that the last classical concert of this season in May is an opera. We’re doing Mozart’s Don Giovanni. That’s kind of an interesting way to close my tenure here. 

What’s most important to you, going forward?

As a musician, of course, this has been my whole life. Any musician can still remember back to the time when you were a little kid and you fell in love with music. I’ve been extremely thankful to have had such a wonderful career and such a long career. I think as I go forward, I want to make sure that I’m still enjoying my love of music, getting the most out of it that I can and giving the most of myself in the cause of music, and doing so in a way that for me can be nurturing and comfortable and maybe a little less stressful. 

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