Symphony conductor takes his final bow
Butler County Symphony Association conductor Matthew Kraemer will take his final bow at the end of symphony’s last concert of the season April 8.
Kraemer has accepted the position of conductor and musical director of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra in New Orleans beginning in September.
“It’s been a roller coaster for the last six months,” Kraemer said last week in the offices of the Butler Symphony during rehearsals for the Feb. 4 “Symphonic Dances” concert.
Kraemer had been interviewing for the Louisiana position, rehearsing and conducting concerts with the Butler Symphony and working as conductor and music director for the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra.
“The Louisiana Philharmonic is a full-time orchestra with a 36-week season. They don’t do a public search. They’ve been evaluating guest conductors,” said Kraemer, who guest-conducted twice in October of 2021 and 2022. Then there was a weeklong interview process.
“I received a phone call two weeks later,” he said. “I was at Disney World with my family. It was the last phone call I expected, but it was welcome.”
He takes his position with the New Orleans-based symphony July 1 with its season starting the third week in September. He plans to move his wife, Megan, and their sons, Gabriel, 10, and Nathaniel, 6, to New Orleans in June.
“I’m looking forward to the food, the music, the history, the weather,” he said of the move to the Big Easy.
He will keep a residence in Indianapolis, however, because he renewed his contract with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra for four more years.
But, Kraemer said, he still has concerts with the Butler Symphony to rehearse and conduct. He just performed “Symphonic Dances” this past Saturday, and “The Inextinguishable” comes up on March 4 along with “The Golden Age of Hollywood” on April 8.
Kraemer said he spent 11 seasons with the Butler Symphony. “I've never been anywhere as long as I have here. I consider it home in many respects,” he said, who came to Butler from the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.
Last week Kraemer was in the midst of rehearsals for “Symphonic Dances,” as well as attending meetings and making plans in his position as musical director. “A lot can be accomplished in a few days,” he said.
And a lot can be accomplished by the conductor during the actual performance itself, he said.
“It’s a subtle, complicated job. The conductor, whether rehearsing or in concert, is preparing or leading in concert. He’s using body language, facial expressions and vocal expressions, when needed.
“When we’re on stage, I’m there to inspire the musicians, bring out the very best in them,” he said.
The Butler Symphony is made up of veteran professional musicians and graduate students from Carnegie Mellon University and Duquesne University. Every musician is paid for their service.
“We have a wonderful personnel person, Virgitina Netchi, she’s marvelous in getting individuals for the symphony,” Kraemer said.
Many are freelance professional musicians holding a day job or teaching music to make ends meet.
“You get veterans and young students with varying degrees of experience,” he said. “When they sit down to play, they assimilate.”
Kraemer said the musicianship of the symphony members has reached a phenomenal level.
“There are many musicians that travel to play here. This is an orchestra that is the envy of much larger cities for the level at which it performs,” he said.
Take, for instance, the Feb. 4 concert, “Symphonic Dances” by Sergei Rachmaninoff.
“It’s a virtuoso tour de force for every instrument in the orchestra,” he said. “The number of notes, the rhythm, it’s hard to balance the notes of the orchestra.”
Five years ago, he said, the symphony wouldn’t have been able to play the piece, now it can.
“Music is a serious art form, and they take it very, very seriously,” Kraemer said of the symphony musicians. “They have been challenged and have responded to these challenges,” he said.
John Furman, the executive director of the symphony, agreed.
“Matthew has brought us from a community orchestra to a professional regional orchestra,” Furman said. “His drive and his artistry as a conductor really contributed to building the level of performance we experience now.”
The skill of the symphony musicians is matched by the caliber of the symphony crowds, he said. “They’re very astute. I’m continuously impressed by their love of music,” he said of the crowds that attend the symphony performances at the Butler Intermediate High School.
Kraemer’s musical career has taken him around the country and the world. The Indiana native started playing the violin when he was 5 and planned to pursue a career as a violinist until he became interested in conducting when he was pursuing a master’s degree in the violin at the University of Nevada. He ultimately received a master’s degree in orchestral career studies and a conducting certificate from the Vienna Conservatory in Austria.
His last performance as the regular conductor of the symphony will be “The Golden Age of Hollywood” April 8.
“I will be sentimental, but I will be conducting these pieces that I dearly love, the great film scores,” Kraemer said.
And he will return to the Butler Symphony in March 2024 during its 75th anniversary year to conduct Mahler’s First Symphony, a concert originally slated for April 2020 but derailed by the pandemic.
“After having been here for 11 years, I wouldn’t want to miss the birthday party,” he said.
Kraemer will be just one of the guest conductors leading the symphony while its board of directors looks for a permanent replacement, Furman said.
“We’ll be beginning a search process this spring, depending on the board’s decision on what direction it wants to go,” Furman said. It’s a process that could take up to two years.