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Peter Jaffe to lead Auburn Symphony

Seasoned conductor takes up baton
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal features editor
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Peter Jaffe, the energetic conductor who wowed audiences when he led the Auburn Symphony at the Mondavi Center in April, has been selected as the new maestro for the symphony.

“I’m just very flattered and humbled and honored,” said Jaffe, speaking from South Carolina, where he’s spending this week as a guest faculty member at the Conductor’s Institute.

While Jaffe is ecstatic to start work in Auburn, he’s quick to point out that his new position comes with an air of sadness. A new maestro was needed because Michael Goodwin, who conducted the Auburn Symphony for 19 years, died in a car crash in February.

“This is really sort of a commitment to the Auburn community and to outlying communities to keep the wonderful direction and momentum that was set up so wonderfully by Michael Goodwin,” he said. “Michael was extraordinary and we all miss him sorely.”

Cellist Alan Clark, who served on the selection committee, was delighted that Jaffe had accepted the position. He pointed out that several of the volunteer musicians drive from as far away as Davis to play in Auburn, a testament to the quality of music here.

“This is an amazing thing to have somebody of this caliber looking at this community orchestra,” Clark said. “We’ve got a good community orchestra, and we were terrified we wouldn’t find somebody who would keep the quality at a high level and keep the interest going.”

Jaffe, the son of two musicians, said his musical experience began when he was a young boy. His mother loved classical music and his father enjoyed both classical and folk music – he even has a guitar owned by Woody Guthrie.

“When I was growing up, in my household I might hear in the same day an old Dust Bowl ballad from the folk music scene and a Mendelssohn concerto,” Jaffe said.

That diversity stayed with him into his teen years, when he played both classical violin and electric organ in a rock band. He played violin and viola for years before turning more to the world of conducting. Jaffe was in the fellowship program at Aspen and seminar program at Tanglewood, in Massachusetts, where he was coached briefly by Leonard Bernstein. Jaffe holds a doctorate in conducting from Stanford University, where he studied under Andor Toth.

His many guest conducting credits include the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, Louisiana Philharmonic and Symphony Silicon Valley. This is his 17th season as musical director at the Stockton Symphony, a job he will continue to do while conducting the Auburn Symphony.

Board president Bill Kenney said he was drawn to Jaffe’s high-energy conducting style, both in rehearsals and performances. The Mondavi concert, he said, drew multiple standing ovations.

“The way I look at it, this is a really, really good thing because it also says a lot about the symphony orchestra itself,” Kenney said. “That they are of a caliber that he would be willing, and enthusiastically willing, to partner with, because he’s been doing this a long time and he has very high standards. We were an organization that he thought was worthy of his time, as well.”

The conductor selection committee reviewed more than 60 applications from around the world, according to Rob Haswell, symphony business manager. Jaffe possessed all the qualities they were looking for, including his devotion to children’s musical education. He taught young musicians for 14 years as a resident conductor at the Aspen Music Festival, where he developed the Young Artist Series there along with Dorothy DeLay. In Stockton, Jaffe developed the “Steppin’ Out” program, which introduces 7,000 youngsters to symphony music and instruments each year.

The committee was also looking for someone to be the public face of the symphony, Haswell said, “which is something he has a lot of experience doing down there. And obviously fundraising is something he’s familiar with – he just does a lot of what we really need, beyond being an amazing conductor. So in the end, it was a pretty clear choice.”

Jaffe said it’s time to get down to the business of preparing the symphony’s upcoming 25th season, and to start work with the musicians who made such an impression on him.

“There’s just this incredible ethos, this incredible group telepathy of spirit, if you will,” he said. “It’s a group spirit that you can feel, and it has to do with reaction, timing, it has to do with enthusiasm, it has to do with heart and soul. There’s something that I find quite compelling about the fact that just about everybody in the Auburn Symphony is doing it purely, and ultimately purely, out of the love of music, period.”

Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at krissik@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter, @AuburnJournalAE.

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Meet the maestro

What: Introduction of Peter Jaffe to the community

When: 2 p.m. Monday, June 11

Where:W State Theater, 985 Lincoln Way, Auburn

Info: (530) 823-6683