Maestro, If You Please
Raymond Harvey's conducting magic has been enchanting symphony audiences from coast to coast, where he is revered for his ability to absorb the mood of music and, with an even greater intensity, reflect it back to his orchestras.
During a seven-year music directorship with the Fresno (California) Philharmonic, Raymond '73 was credited with rescuing a once fledging orchestra by taking the organization out of the red and increasing ticket sales 40 percent. In 1999 the Oberlin education major, who holds a master's degree in choral conducting and a doctorate in musical arts from the Yale School of Music, was invited to take his talents as a pianist and choral conductor to the Kalamazoo Symphony.
"When I'm on stage conducting, my main function is that of a catalyst," he says. "I'm trying to elicit a response from the orchestra players that will make an impact on the listeners. The conductor is a combination of actor, scholar, cheerleader, policeman, and artist, all in one."
Raymond's excitement for music is all the rage off stage, too. He commits to dozens of speaking engagements throughout the year, and audience members make it a point to arrive an hour early for pre-concert lectures which are growing in popularity. Attendance at his lectures more than doubled.
"Many people who come to symphony concerts arrive without much preparation. This is complex music that is better understood with a little background," Raymond explains. "When I give pre-concert lectures, I'm trying to let the audience know what to listen for. There are great beauties to be uncovered and so many things I don't want people to miss. I keep the lectures brief and entertaining. I play excerpts at the piano, and people seem to like them. They also say they learn a lot."
Somewhat of a child prodigy, Raymond took to music years before formal training, tuxedos, and conductor's batons entered the picture. With the help of musically inclined parents, Doris and Lee Harvey, he began reading music by the age of 9.
"My mother is an amateur pianist, and my father an amateur singer," Raymond explains. "It was great that my mother found the time to teach me to play piano, and obviously, I took to it very well. Although my parents weren't professional musicians, they were very encouraging. They did all they could to pave the way for my musical studies."
Since that time, Raymond's conducting talents have been showcased with many of the country's leading orchestras, including those in Philadelphia, (where he returns for a third time in January), Atlanta, St. Louis, Utah, Rochester, Detroit, Louisville, New Orleans, San Diego, and Phoenix, as well as the New York Philharmonic's Young People's Concerts and the Boston Pops.
Raymond is equally at home in the world of opera. As music director of the El Paso Opera, he has conducted the company's productions of Tosca, Carmen, Madama Butterfly, Don Giovanni, La Bohème, and Aida. Other appearances include the Houston Grand Opera, Greater Buffalo Opera, Indianapolis Opera, and Fresno Opera. He has been featured in Ebony and Symphony magazines and is profiled in Black Conductors by Antoinette Handy.
"The Kalamazoo Symphony is at the start of a brand new chapter in its 77-year history," Raymond says. "Thanks to a Ford Foundation grant, we're now able to add more full-salaried players, increasing our capability for educational outreach concerts, regional touring, and new projects. It also will give us more artistic stability than many orchestras in our budget size.
"For myself, I love doing what I'm doing," he adds. "I've always loved opera and have been a theater nut since I was a kid. I'm glad to have the opportunity to guest conduct major orchestras, and the satisfaction of shaping the artistic direction of my own orchestra here in Kalamazoo. Life is good."