The Baton is Back at SFCM

SFCM orchestra, Edwin Outwater, Jaco Wong

Music Director Edwin Outwater watching as student Jaco Wong leads the SFCM orchestra in practice.

Music Director Edwin Outwater and his student mentee Jaco Wong ’22 prepare for the SFCM Orchestra concert on October 23. This semester marks the return of the conducting program.

By SFCM Newsroom Staff

After a few years’ hiatus, SFCM’s conducting program has returned spectacularly under Music Director Edwin Outwater. In a collaborative and small studio, conducting students like Jaco Wong (PSC ’22), hone their skills through exclusive instruction by Outwater and significant podium time—including leading the SFCM Orchestra, as Wong will do on October 23. 

“My vision is for this program to be one of the best in the country,” Outwater said, “No more than two students at any given time, getting a great deal of podium time and lots of hands-on experience, we dive deep into the most challenging music to conduct, and how to handle situations related to this music, in both a practical and philosophical way.”

Wong had previously worked as a teacher and gigging musician in Los Angeles upon finishing his master’s degree but he yearned to be a student again and immerse himself in growth and learning, “Following the work of SFCM in recent years, I have been impressed by its creativity, innovation, and how the Conservatory strives to make music relevant for the community,” Wong said.

After meeting Outwater during the pandemic and reflecting on his future goals, Wong chose to attend SFCM. “Working with Edwin is extremely refreshing,” Wong continued, “He is not only able to provide expert knowledge about conducting techniques, but also the professional connections and soft skills needed for this career.”

Wong has already made progress and spent significant time at the podium. He cites having the honor to conduct the Oakland Symphony in the Michael Morgan Memorial Concert (representing SFCM) as a truly impactful moment.

On October 23, both Outwater and Wong will conduct the SFCM Orchestra in a program that includes pieces by Ludwig van Beethoven, Ernest Chausson, and Jean Sibelius. Ian Swensen (who recently made a list for the SFCM newsroom of his six pieces of advice to musicians), chair of violin, will be featured as a soloist on Chausson’s Poème for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 25.

“After an all-American first program, with lots of new works, I decided to head in a more traditional direction with the October program,” Outwater said. “I know the students are wanting to play important pieces from the standard repertoire, and I wanted to choose pieces that would help them improve as individual players and as an ensemble. The Beethoven overture and Sibelius Symphony are perfect for this.”

Wong will conduct Beethoven’s Overture “Leonore” No. 3 in C Major, Op. 72b, a piece that Outwater chose for him because it contains a variety of challenges and situations that occur in Beethoven's other works and late-Classical and early-Romantic pieces in general. 

“It's a challenge to draw the right energy and focus out of a student orchestra on this repertoire in general, and there are lots of quickly shifting situations where the conductor has to be firmly in charge,” Outwater said. “It's a great piece to build one's technique early on in the school year.”

Wong agrees: “Beethoven's “Leonore” Overture No.3 can seem lengthy and technically challenging at first, but working through it with this fabulous orchestra has been rewarding. One of the specific challenges is to create proper pacing and effective narrative throughout the piece, and Edwin has provided valuable feedback for me.”

Some of that feedback includes finding a strong way to relate to the piece. “I always try to make personal connections with the music I am performing, which in the case of the Beethoven “Leonore” Overture” is relating the political imprisonment of the Fidelio story to the fight for democracy in my hometown, Hong Kong,” Wong explained.

Following the October 23 concert, Wong is looking forward to the rest of his time at SFCM.

“In addition to being able to study and conduct great repertoire, I am most excited about meeting and collaborating with the wonderful fellow students here at SFCM, who will likely be my lifelong friends and colleagues. I value every project I get to interact with my colleagues, including in Orchestra, New Music Ensemble, Wind Ensemble, and beyond.”

Reserve tickets for the October 23 SFCM Orchestra concert. 

Please note that this concert will be held in person at Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall. A live stream will be available for viewers unable to attend in person.