Jack Looney

Kate Tamarkin recently became the third music director and conductor in the 32-year history of the Charlottesville and University Symphony Orchestra. Leonard Bernstein has described Tamarkin as “extremely musical, a vivid personality and a strong performer.”

Few major symphonies in America have women conductors. Why is that?

You need to remember that at the start of the 20th century, women didn’t even play in orchestras. … When I first began conducting, I knew very few women. I’m still friends with many of them, because we were a small club. It may have to do with the nature of authority and giving direction, that we don’t really expect women to do that, although anyone can learn to do it.

Is it harder to guest conduct, or to take a permanent post?

It depends on whether you want a marriage or a fling. People who like to build and spend time and put down roots enjoy the music director aspect. People who just enjoy getting around and like the idea of something new and exciting can really enjoy guest conducting. I particularly prefer music directorships. With guest conducting, you always have to make a first impression; I would rather not have that pressure all the time, although I did quite a lot of it and enjoyed it very much.

It’s interesting that you compare a music directorship to marriage. What’s the similarity?

It’s just like people have chemistry or they don’t. You can put two perfectly nice people in a room and it just doesn’t work. And you can put a conductor and an orchestra together and it doesn’t work, and you can put another conductor with the same orchestra and it does work.

When you’re not listening to classical music, what kind of music are you listening to?

I like gamelan music, from Bali and Indonesia, because I can’t analyze it. I have to find something I can’t analyze. I’ll listen to almost anything. I enjoy the lyrics to country music. There’s one I heard recently, and the lyric was, “How can I miss you if you won’t go away?”