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Associate conductor David Cho is leaving the Utah Symphony for the best possible reason: to take the helm of his own orchestra.
Cho will become music director of Texas' Lubbock Symphony in fall 2012 after first spending an academic year as associate conductor at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music in Houston. Vladimir Kulenovic has replaced him as the Utah Symphony's assistant conductor.
Cho will conduct the orchestra in a farewell concert at Salt Lake City's Abravanel Hall on Aug. 17. Utah Symphony vice president of artistic planning Toby Tolokan said the unusual musical goodbye is a mark of the organization's respect for Cho.
In his five years as associate conductor, Cho bore heavy responsibilities, and he grew in all areas of his multipronged job, said Utah Symphony | Utah Opera CEO Melia Tourangeau.
He is best-known in the community for conducting pops and family concerts and hundreds of educational concerts for Utah schoolchildren.
But one of Cho's most important duties lay outside the public spotlight. He attended all of the orchestra's masterwork rehearsals as an understudy for the music director and guest conductors.
"David's an incredible musician," Tourangeau said. "And he's been able to integrate himself into the community he has this great fan club. I've seen him grow and become much more comfortable on the podium and communicating with the audience. That's really important in his position, and they don't train for that in conservatory."
Cho said among his happy memories was conducting Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, but he enjoyed sparking children's interest in music during school concerts, too. Hearing enthusiastic children yell out "Mambo!" during Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story" Suite is also on his list of good memories.
"And I can't leave out proposing to my wife, Gloria, on the stage of Abravanel Hall at the 'Wizard of Oz' concert last November," Cho said. "That was very memorable."
The position of staff conductor has evolved in the United States into a sort of an apprenticeship for young conductors, and it can be a stepping stone to bigger things. "If [conductors] are progressing well in their own craft, they might have the opportunity to conduct a masterworks concert," Tourangeau said. "Getting to that point, as David did a couple of years ago, is the goal of anyone in that position, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily going to happen."
Utah Symphony music director Thierry Fischer valued Cho's opinions during the rehearsal process. "David has a great set of ears, and he's very honest about what he's hearing," Tourangeau said. "He doesn't mince words, which is what you need."
Tolokan said the orchestra and its followers are pleased about the appointment of Kulenovic, an exciting young conductor with excellent qualifications for the job, but will miss Cho's contributions.
"I'll miss him greatly," Tolokan said. "But I can't imagine how wonderful it is that he is going on to a music directorship."
A musical farewell
P The Utah Symphony will say goodbye to associate conductor David Cho with a showcase concert. Cho will conduct Sibelius' "Valse Triste" and Symphony No. 3 and Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, with 2010 Gina Bachauer gold medalist Serhiy Salov as soloist.
When • Wednesday, Aug. 17, 7:30 p.m.
Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City
Info • $15; $5 for students, at 801-355-ARTS or http://www.arttix.org