Summerville Orchestra’s new conductor says ‘arts are ready to explode’
From the Charleston Post and Courier
Article by Alison Graham
With the flick of his baton, he can control the winds, the brass, the drums.
Wojciech Milewski holds the thin piece of wood with his thumb, middle and pointer fingers, keeping the rhythm of the music and translating the composer’s intentions through subtle movements and gestures as he cues the instruments.
Conducting is physical, requiring the conductor to dip, bend his knees and thrust his arms in a dance that can be quiet or dramatic depending on the score. The flow of the composition is dependent on his leadership.
Milewski has a talent for conducting, says Naomi Nimmo, executive director of the Summerville Community Orchestra.
The orchestra’s board of directors offered Milewski a three-year position as their full-time conductor at the end of May. He officially started July 1.
And it’s an exciting time for an orchestra in a town like Summerville.
“It’s a place where the arts are ready to explode,” Milewski says. “I can sense this kind of feeling that the community is ready to be taken over by art.”
Milewski is looking forward to helping guide that artistic explosion through expansions and outreach programs as conductor of the orchestra.
He said he likes to push the envelope and bring in music that challenges the ears of listeners. Milewski didn’t grow up in a family of musicians, so the music that resonates with him can resonate with audiences who may not be familiar with classical music, he says.
The Summerville Community Orchestra was founded in 2003. At that time, musicians would look out to an audience of about 60 people. Now, they see close to 1,000.
The orchestra’s core membership is volunteer-based, ranging from middle school musicians to their oldest player, who is 80.
“When you’re a musician and you love music and you get to play it with all these other people who love it, it’s a pure joy,” Nimmo says. “And that’s what we offer them.”
One of the orchestra’s missions is to help adults continue playing orchestral instruments, which they often stop pursuing once they enter college or start careers.
“It’s one of my reasons for being involved in the orchestra,” says SCO board chair and singer Diane Rodwell. “I think it’s so important for adults to have the opportunity to continue their passion.”
The volunteer aspect is something that attracted Milewski to apply for the conductor position a few months ago.
Sharing music with people who don’t perform for a living provides him with a different perspective as a conductor, he says.
Sixty-three people from around the world applied for the position, and the board selected the best four applicants to lead one concert in a series. Afterward, the musicians and audience filled out a detailed survey about the conductor.
When Milewski conducted, the audience said they could feel his energy with the musicians from the beginning.
‘A great future’
Milewski, 27, graduated with a master’s in orchestral conducting from the University of New Mexico, and has been conducting for five years.
He started as a piano and clarinet performance major, but when he conducted a musical during his senior year of college, he was hooked.
Everything Milewski loves about music is wrapped up in conducting, he says. He can experience musical theory, history and each instrument when he conducts a singular piece.
Nimmo says Milewski’s talent is beyond his years. What has taken him five years to achieve, usually takes conductors 20 years of experience. He has an energy and connection with the audience they haven’t seen before.
“He’s really a great future for the Summerville Orchestra,” she says. “He’s very special.”
Milewski’s first concert with the Summerville Orchestra will be the annual 9/11 memorial concert Sept. 9. After that, he will be in charge of conducting the regular four-concert season starting in early November.
Nimmo says the board will be announcing the shows of the new season in a few weeks.
The goal is to make the orchestra relevant in the lives of Summerville residents and the greater tri-county area. And not just the orchestra, but music in general.
“Music literally gets into your body,” Milewski says. “It enters your mind and your ears and affects you in a certain way if you let it. When we use music to sort of tell that story, whether it’s personal or not, I think that’s a really beautiful experience.”