Now celebrating his fourth year with the Kansas City Symphony, Jason Seber has built a strong rapport with the Kansas City community, leading the Symphony in more than 75 concerts each season on the Pops, Family, Film + Live Orchestra, Young People’s Concerts, KinderKonzerts and Link Up series, as well as Christmas Festival, Symphony in the Flint Hills, and many other programs. He made his Classical Series debut in October 2019.
What draws this violinist and avowed foodie into conducting? “Conducting is like being a chef,” says Seber. “One of my favorite shows has always been Chopped. Using the same exact four basket ingredients, four chefs come up with completely different dishes. The same would happen if you gave four conductors the same piece of music to conduct. You’d hopefully get four delicious and unique interpretations. Or even better, let them conduct the same piece with four different orchestras and see the results. It would be like cooking in four different kitchens. Now I’m hungry. And I might be onto a new reality show… .”
Seber is getting ready to conduct The Symphony in the Flint Hills, after the all-day event’s two-year absence due to a violent storm two years ago and the pandemic last year.
What are some things about being an orchestra conductor that most people don’t realize?
Many people think a conductor is only necessary to start and stop the orchestra and to keep it together. But that’s only a small part of it. Just like a coach, my job mostly entails what the audience never sees: Hours and hours of picking repertoire, studying scores, learning all the parts and how they fit together, coming up with a convincing interpretation, planning rehearsals, and then working with the orchestra during those rehearsals to prepare them for success, and manage the “game.”
I do have a good idea of what I hope to hear going into every rehearsal, but music making is very collaborative. I like to hear what musical ideas my colleagues in the orchestra bring to rehearsal as well, especially if it’s a solo, and work together to present a cohesive and engaging interpretation of the music. Every orchestra is a living entity filled with creative minds and hearts, traditions, and their own unique approach to music making. That’s one of the most exciting and interesting aspects of being a conductor and getting to work with many different orchestras.
What drew you to conducting?
I love working with other people, and I feel like I am naturally drawn to leading. Combine that with my desire to share great music with a diverse, broad audience, and it was a calling that made sense to me early on in my musical path.
For the concertgoer, the Symphony in the Flint Hills can be an out-of-body experience, with evocative music under the big prairie sky. How is the experience for you? Do you sense the magic of it all?
Absolutely! It is without a doubt one of my favorite concerts we perform each season. The tallgrass prairie is certainly one of the most serene and beautiful landscapes I could imagine for a concert. I try to program music that is characteristic of the landscape and the history of the Flint Hills region. From the music of American icons such as Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, and John Williams, to standard repertoire and new works by living composers, we try to cover the gamut of music fitting to the occasion. My favorite moments are always the cattle drive in the distance and the feeling of community among 8,000 people as we close the program singing Home on the Range as the sun sets over the rolling hills.
How has the Kansas City area nurtured your creative spirit?
Kansas City has been incredibly influential in my musical and personal growth. I have been inspired by countless phenomenal performances by my outstanding colleagues in the Symphony and have learned so much in my time here. I relish the city’s arts and culture scene, from First Fridays to many live-jazz shows I’ve attended, from the Nelson-Atkins to the opportunities I’ve had to collaborate with friends in the KC Ballet and Heart of America Shakespeare, as well as actors, vocalists, writers, and musicians from other genres. And that’s not even taking into consideration the many pounds of barbecue I have consumed for the past five years! KC is a vibrant place to be.