Ryan Turner officially becomes the Artistic Director of Emmanuel Music (and Music Director of Emmanuel Church) in September, but he’s been hard at work planning the new season.
Turner has created a season celebrating the strengths of Emmanuel Music and the legacy of Craig Smith and John Harbison, with a window to the innovative future. Turner will continue to showcase many ensemble members as soloists and will present large choral works that look back to Smith’s love of Handel and Turner’s love of Stravinsky.
Turner knows both organizations well. As a long-time member of the Emmanuel Music chorus and an occasional conductor of Sunday morning cantatas, he’s well positioned to keep the music fresh while honoring nearly 40 years of tradition. And Turner’s approach to ensemble work seems ideal for Emmanuel Music – he aims to keep all musicians fully engaged in the creative process while encouraging ensemble members to share their institutional memory.
“I see conducting as both a dialog between the conductor and the composer, and a conversation between composer, ensemble and conductor. I learned from Craig and John how the conductor needs to bring the larger idea or structure to a piece, while enabling the musicians to fill in the details,” Turner says. “In rehearsal it’s critical how you respond – your eyes and heart need to be open to the ideas the ensemble brings to the piece.”
Turner thinks that Emmanuel Music is poised to reach a new level of creativity, artistry and musical excellence. “We went through an intense period of self-examination after Craig died, and the search process was akin to searching the organization’s soul. Now I sense a powerful groundswell of energy and enthusiasm to turn a page and begin a new era.”
Turner began his musical career as a singer and believes that his work on the other side of the podium makes him a stronger musician and a better conductor. His singing brought Turner to Boston as a graduate student at The Boston Conservatory, where he studied with Bill Cotten, who sang with Emmanuel Music and introduced Turner there and to the Handel and Haydn Society. “In Boston I discovered the career of an oratorio and recital singer, which I hadn’t known about in Texas. I am fond of the repertoire and it’s well-suited to my voice,” says Turner.
Nevertheless, Turner’s conducting experience goes all the way back to his undergraduate days at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where he started conducting a chorus early on and took every available undergraduate and graduate conducting course. “At age 21, when I was still an undergraduate student, I was offered a conducting job at a local Methodist church, where I oversaw ten choirs and found myself conducting players from the Dallas Symphony. I was so young and naïve, I was fearless; I did not know I should be scared. It all worked out exceptionally well.”
At The Boston Conservatory Turner found the small school was an ideal environment for him to develop the two sides of his career. He was tapped to conduct several musical theatre performances, a welcome opportunity to learn and be active beyond his singing studies.
Turner acknowledges that Emmanuel Music is sometimes called a “hidden gem” that deserves to be better known. “We need to spread the word about Emmanuel Music,” he says. Turner plans to explore various ideas for bringing our music to a larger and broader audience. “I also want to find ways to bring our expertise with the music of Bach to a new generation of young musicians. That effort will both keep this musical tradition alive and nurture a younger audience for our performances.”
At the same time that he takes the helm of Emmanuel Music, Turner is entering his fifth year as Director of Choral Studies at Phillips Exeter Academy. He also has a rich family life. His wife Susan Consoli is a soprano who is a frequent soloist and member of the Emmanuel Choir. They have an 11-month old son Aidan. When time permits, Turner is a passionate sports fan. “It’s not uncommon to find me watching the Celtics and the Sox with a Bach score in my lap,” he says. Craig Smith, who loved Bach and the Red Sox, would understand.