Maestro Fouad Fakhouri Raises His Baton As the New Director at the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra

    icon Sep 01, 2016
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After an unprecedented year long search that incorporated feedback from audience patrons into the selection process, the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra is kicking off its 2016-17 Concert Season on October 23rd with their newly named Musical Director Fouad Fakhouri, who was selected to this pivotal position from among 197 applicants.

Fakhouri is an internationally acclaimed Lebanese-born American conductor & composer who has been credited with raising the artistic standards of orchestras that he conducts, while dramatically increasing symphony attendance.

After moving from his native country of Lebanon to the United States at the age of 17, Fakhouri attended West Texas A&M University and Penn State University, finally receiving a doctorate from the University of North Texas.  He has conducted orchestras all over the world, most recently serving as Music Director & Conductor of the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra in North Carolina.  After a highly successful 12-year tenure with that entity, and in recognition of his many artistic contributions and expansion of the organization, The Fouad K. Fakhouri Endowment for Artistic Excellence, which is a $1.1-million-dollar endowment fund was established in Fayetteville in his honor.

 ‘I had heard about the level of the orchestra and high standards of the orchestra and the musicians,” explains Fakhouri when asked what prompted him to audition for the position of Musical Director with the SBSO.  “So that’s initially what intrigued me. And then when I came and visited, I really, really fell in love with the community as well as the staff.”

Fakhouri’s work continues to receive accolades for “musical accuracy” and “emotional intensity.”  He has been conducting internationally for nearly two decades, starting with a performance at age 22 in the International Jerash Festival of Jordan. In 1999, he conducted the first West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in Weimar, Germany, as one of only three students invited by world-renowned pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim to participate in his conducting master class.

Lauded for his artistry and ability to elicit the best musical results from orchestras he conducts, Fakhouri is a committed proponent of the subjective interpretive style of conducting. As such, his performances have been celebrated for their broad, dynamic, and powerful interpretations, which model the Austro-Germanic conducting tradition of Furtwangler and Celibidache in going beyond the score to capture both the essence and spirit of the music.

Recently Fakhouri sat down with The Review to discuss his background, vision, and future goals as the newly named director for the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra.

Review: How did you get interested in Classical Music and what drew you to the whole arena of classical composition?

Fakhouri: I grew up overseas in Lebanon and also grew up in a musical family. My great-Grandfather was a medical surgeon, but also played church organ every Sunday and my Grandfather was one of the pioneers for Lebanese television in the 1950s. He was one of the first people to do a puppet show on TV for Kids; and then my father was also into musical theatre and the head of a Conservatory, so I started piano lessons at the age of five; but by the time I hit the age of nine or ten, my practicing on the piano started to decline.  I wanted to play more basketball outside and be with my friends, so by the age of 13 or 14, I stopped practicing.

I clearly remember my father sitting me down during this period and saying, ‘You might waste every dime I have by not practicing, but I’m not stopping the piano lessons. No matter what you do, you will continue to take piano lessons.’  And he basically insisted that I continue. Around the age of 15 I came out of that phase and liked Jazz a lot at the time, so started up my lessons again. Then when I hit the age of 16 I started thinking about what to do with the rest of my life, so decided I wanted to become a composer and started looking for universities to attend and came the USA at the age of 17 to go to school.

Review: There is a certain tradition within the lexicon of Classical Music where core audiences expect to hear the memorable works of certain classical composers – sort of a ‘Top 10 Pops Chart’ that almost always includes Braham’s, Beethoven and Mozart; yet this isn’t always the best route to take when it comes to engaging younger audiences.  What are your thoughts about this situation?

Fakhouri: You’ve hit on something that is at the forefront of my mind all the time, because all orchestras deal with this issue insofar as those core audiences are the ones that sustain the entity.  But one thing I am very passionate about and want to see us as an organization do more is focus on educational outreach.

I’d like to see us focus more on the opportunities that exist outside of the Temple Theatre so that we can continue to maintain our core audience but expand more upon attracting younger people to our performances.   And to do that we need to look outside so that we can expose more people to this wonderful entity that we are fortunate to have within our community.

I would like to take the orchestra out to perform at a middle school, or even to schools outside the county. I did this in North Caroline and through a grant we identified seven of the lowest schools in our county and sent invitations to the kids to come see a youth concert performance.  This was very successful, as the kids would bring their parents with them; and many would pick up an instrument and start to create themselves.

Review:  In tandem with these thoughts about expanding the audience base of the SBSO, your new season is titled ‘More Than Music’.  Can you explain the selections you’ve developed to shape the 2016-17 season?

Fakhouri:  The season opens on October 22nd with a program I’ve titled Symphonic Fireworks. I wanted to open the season with pieces and composers that I love to create a balance and set the tone for what we’ll be doing this season. We’ll be performing Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, Stravinsky’s The Firebird Suite, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #4.  Not only do I adore these composers, but this program will give everyone something traditional and modern while maintaining some continuity.  For people that really enjoy orchestral music, we are offering something for everybody.

December 6th will feature our Holidays in Saginaw Pops concert with Silvestri’s Polar Express, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, and many other favorite holiday melodies. The exciting thing about this concert, however, is that we will also be featuring the Shite Pine MS Choir and the Saginaw Bay Youth Orchestra, so we’ll have 150 middle school kids singing with us and also bring the Youth Orchestra side-by-side with the SBSO for some sing-a-long pieces with 200 to 250 kids that evening towards the end of the concert.

January will feature Music from the Americas and feature Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, Marquez’ Danzon No. 2, Poulenc’s Double Piano Concerto, Dvorak’s New World Symphony, and also feature the piano duo of Anderson & Rowe, which are an incredible duo and a youtube sensation.

April 8th will feature The Best of Hollywood and showcase film compositions by John Williams, Danny Elfman and Silvestri, which should appeal strongly to the millennials. And then we will close out the season in June with Brilliantly Orchestrated, featuring the works of Glinka, Adams, Mendelssohn and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, which is also one of my favorite pieces.

Review: Can you tell me a bit about your own compositional work?

Fakhouri: I’ve never written an actual symphony, but one of the last pieces that I wrote is titled Disasters of War and was written two to three years ago. If you go to youtube you can find a live performance of it.  Essentially, the painter Goya did these amazing etchings and also witnessed the ravages of the Napoleonic wars.  He drew these etchings of some of the horrors of war that he witnessed, so my goal was to set those works to music.  I used some of those etchings and created several movements based upon those etchings. Because I also grew up in a war torn country, I remember my own images of war; so this is one work that I am very proud to have accomplished.

First and foremost, I love composition – this is my first love and the one thing that I do that gives me a feeling unlike anything else because you are creating. As you get older you realize not a lot of things in life are you able to just be free to do whatever you want without any parameters, unless you set them.  So I create my own world when I write and compose and nobody says to me whether I can or cannot do this.

I don’t have as much time to compose as I would like; and I do get a lot of requests for my original music; but I am hopeful, as part of my plan is to write a piece specifically for the SBSO in the near future.

Review: Who are you own favorite composers that have informed or shaped your own conception and love for classical music?

Fakhouri: To answer that question I go back to our first concert in this current season. For me I grew up learning about Beethoven and liked him, but then went through this period where I felt he was overplayed. But then as I got a bit older and studied his music, you realize why he is go great – nobody uses notes to create building blocks of drama such as he does; and not a lot of composers have been able to do that effectively. I also love Bach because of his piano concertos and Stravinsky because he was so experimental and highly original. I also love a lot of modern composers such as Christopher Rouse who teaches at Julliard and is still alive. He’s an American composer that I like a lot.

Review: What are some of the things that distinguish your own approach in terms of shaping and cultivating an orchestra?

Fakhouri: This is something I’ve given a lot of thought to over my life. You always hear about the objective and subjective interpretation in terms of how one should approach a piece of music. You can follow the notes religiously and let everything else fall into place; or you can look beyond the notes and use those as a starting point for interpreting the piece as you see it; which is more of my own approach.

I look at the score as a blueprint and take it and try to figure what the composer is trying to say. We have all these notes we must perform in a certain way with dynamics, so how is the best way to interpret them? That’s my approach. I want to leave the audience with an experience that if done right will leave them overwhelmed. That doesn’t happen all the time, but I want them to leave a performance thinking they experienced something they never have before – even if they’ve heard the piece before; I want them to leave the concert feeling and learning something new about it.

Review: Any final thoughts or reflections?

Fakhouri: I am very passionate about going out to the youth in the region and exposing them to all these great things that classical music can deliver and give to them, because the schools are not doing it and we need to fill that void.  This is why I want to send our musicians out into the schools.

In North Carolina I did a performance of Peter & The Wolf for 11 years and every year we would perform that amazing piece for all the 3rd Graders of the county. One day we would select where they would all be bussed in for different shows and different performances and over that expanse of time we performed for over 40,000 kids and introduced them to classical music.  Years later I would walk into a supermarket and this kid who was not 15 or 15 would remember and come up to me and tell me how that one performance changed their life, because kids don’t forget those experiences.  This is what I want to do here in Saginaw.

I also want to encourage people to come to the concerts, especially this season, because we have so many things happening that encompass a broad range of music and everyone will get something out of these performances.

To purchase Season Tickets for the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra please phone 989-754-7469 or go to


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