Last standing

Laura Jackson

“And with a wave of the baton …” Laura Jackson conducts.

“And with a wave of the baton …” Laura Jackson conducts.

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For more information about the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra, visit

Laura Jackson is the new conductor and music director for the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra. The selection process included a voting contest modeled loosely on American Idol and called Last Conductor Standing. Five candidates for the position conducted the orchestra over the course of the last few months. The selection of Jackson was announced at a public event on March 28.

Congratulations on getting the Reno Phil music director job.

Thank you so much! I’m thrilled, I’m really thrilled.

What have you got planned for next season?

We’ve got a lot of good stuff. We’ve got Brahms’ first symphony. We’ve got Russian stuff—Shostakovich’s fifth symphony … and we’ve got Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. It’s real flashy and shows all the players off. And what else? It sounds like all I’m doing is modern stuff, and that’s not true! I’m doing some Bach, some Mozart … we’ve got Dvorak—we’ve got everything!

It sounds like a full range.

I like doing that … because I find it interesting, first of all. I love all that stuff. I love everything from Bach and Handel through all kinds of electronic weirdness that’s happening now. And I also think it’s good for an orchestra. It’s like fitness. It’s like for their hygiene. It keeps an orchestra in shape. They have to flex their muscles in all sorts of different ways. It’s good for flexibility. And for the listener, it makes it dynamic and interesting to have lots of contrast. And, for the orchestra, they actually get better.

You’re taking over at kind of an economically daunting time. A lot of arts organizations are taking big hits. How’s the current economy going to affect the Reno Phil?

I don’t think anybody has a crystal ball. Things inside the arts and out of the arts are changing really quickly, but I feel like the Reno Phil is actually in a particularly good position in contrast to lots of other arts organizations. So I feel like the outlook is good. Yes, things can change. Things are bad everywhere, but Reno Phil is doing great. …. They have plan B, plan C—they are not in bad shape at all.

How does it affect your job, as far as selecting pieces and conducting? Do you want to choose pieces that are more uplifting and escapist or …

Artistically, I feel like it really distills an arts organization down to its essence, and it comes down to, is this a luxury for society or not? Is this something that we need or is this fluff? And I am determined, I am so sure—and this is from traveling all over the world and conducting orchestras in very poor places and all sorts of places—it is not a luxury. It is absolutely necessary. So, to me, the response to a crisis is not about only doing escapist and fluffy stuff—there’s some of that, sure, we want to do the best in entertainment—but it’s also about nurturing people’s souls and building the imagination of our youth. … When we come to a concert hall, and the performers are creating a moment of beauty, and the audience is putting their attention on them and receiving it—there aren’t many things in life that call that kind of attention from us, and that kind of presence. It keeps us listening to each other. It keeps us open to each other as human beings. It’s an important practice that brings out and refines the very best thing in us as human beings.