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Chelsea Tipton II vies for symphony slot

Chelsea Tipton II remembers the first classical composer who got seriously into his head. It was Tchaikovsky, and Tipton was 12 years old. Itzhak Perlman performed the Tchaikovsky violin concerto on television.

"I saw the music in the store and said I wanted to get it," he says. "My dad said, 'Why? You play the clarinet.'"

These days Tipton is a conductor who has guest-conducted many of the top symphony orchestras in America, has led the Boston Pops in its annual Gospel Night Concert and has twice conducted the Sphinx Competition Showcase at Carnegie Hall, which promotes diversity in classical music.

"That's a very important aspect of my career," he says.

But he still plays the clarinet, having performed with the Rochester Philharmonic, the Heidelberg Festival Opera Orchestra in Germany, and the Chicago Sinfonietta, as well as recording with Wynton Marsalis and James Galway.

Tipton is one of five guest conductors being considered by the Rogue Valley Symphony to replace conductor and music director Arthur Shaw, who retired. Tipton will conduct the orchestra in a series of weekend concerts featuring music by Beethoven and Berlioz.

The concerts constitute a sort of job audition, but Tipton says that's not nervous-making.

"The music part is the fun, easy part," he says. "I love making music. I don't think about it as an audition. Talking to the search committee, that's the audition."

On Tuesday he visited Hedrick Middle School in Medford to talk with music students.

"I reinforced what their director tells them about playing with good sound and having good posture," he says. "Hearing it from a different voice helps. It's important to try to make a connection."

He'll also visit high schools in Ashland and Grants Pass and give a talk and answer questions at 1 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25, at SOU's Music Recital Hall.

Tipton was born 45 years ago in Guthrie, Okla., and moved to Greensboro, N.C., with his music teacher parents. He started playing clarinet in the fourth grade, earned a bachelor's degree in clarinet performance at the Eastman School in Rochester, N.Y., and a master's in conducting at Northern Illinois University.

He says he has affection for both the Beethoven concerto and Berlioz's program piece, although he hasn't conducted either one before now.

"But I've played the clarinet part of the Berlioz on many occasions," he says. "It's a masterpiece of orchestration."

Tipton and the other candidates will rehearse with the orchestra four times before the concerts.

"I've been happy with the level of playing," he says. "They want to play well and get the music right. It's a really nice group of people to work with, people who have a positive attitude and like to make music and have fun doing it."

He says the "Emperor" especially suits the Rogue Valley Symphony. His talk on it will focus on the program nature of the music, with the music describing events for the listener.

"I'll talk about the theme that carries through to the audience," he says. "If they can focus on the structure it makes it a deeper experience. It's a lot of music to come at you at once.

"One of the biggest concepts is the fixed idea, a melody moving through the movements. The composer sees his beloved as the ideal woman. When you hear that theme, he's thinking about her. It was kind of a new idea. It became a leitmotif in Wagner."

As for the problem facing all classical orchestras — how to remain viable and gain new fans to replace an aging audience — he says he doesn't know the answer, but thinks part of it has to do with reaching out.

"We have to be sure to embrace the people who come," he says. "Don't neglect the ones who are supporting us."

He's a big backer of music education.

"Going into the schools, taking a string orchestra or working with a school band. Reaching out into the community. In doing so you create a dense web of support. It really is about communicating."

Tipton thinks if he hadn't been a musician he would have been a cop or a lawyer.

"You want to help people," he says. "I got that from my parents."

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or bvarble@mailtribune.com

Chelsea Tipton II vies for symphony slot