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Arts & Life

Meet Kansas City Symphony's New Classical 'Ambassador' Jason Seber

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Eric Williams/Kansas City Symphony
Jason Seber is the new assistant conductor of the Kansas City Symphony.

This season, Kansas City Symphony audiences will discover a new assistant conductor leading the pops, family, and Screenland at the Symphony concerts: Jason Seber.

Seber relocated to Kansas City just a few months ago from Louisville, Kentucky, after three seasons as education and outreach director of the Louisville Orchestra and 11 years as music director of the Louisville Youth Orchestra. 

I recently talked with Seber about his background and expectations in Kansas City.

Like many kids, Seber first started playing an instrument during elementary school — in his case, it was the violin. But, he says, he didn't really make a connection to classical music until he started listening to it closely. 

"My parents brought home a few cassette tapes, back in the day of cassette tapes in the '80s, of classical music," Seber recalls. "And I had one in particular, The Best of Tchaikovsky. And I just remember playing that thing until I wore it out. And I think that's when I first fell in love with orchestral music, classical music, so to say." 

Do you remember what struck you about the music? 

"I think the beauty of it, just the natural beauty of it, first of all. It was unlike anything that I was hearing on the radio, of course — and I was a big fan of pop music, too, but there was something much more deep and emotional about this music that I felt from a very early age. 

"And, actually I remember going to films and being very inspired by music in films, just as much as I was on those cassette tapes. (Stephen Spielberg's) E.T., I was seven years old in 1982 when it came out. And I just remember the scene where Elliott takes off with E.T. and his friends on the bikes, and I literally felt like I was being lifted up out of my seat. And when I think back to that, it was the music, it was (composer) John Williams' powerful music that really made me feel that way."  

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Credit Eric Williams / Kansas City Symphony
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Kansas City Symphony
Kansas City Symphony's assistant conductor Jason Seber led the family series performance with Buckets N Boards on Sept. 16.

As assistant conductor, often the audience that you are presenting these works to will have their first experience with classical music, with the family concerts and the pops concerts. And I'm just wondering if you feel like you have a certain responsibility? 

"Absolutely. I sort of feel like an ambassador of great orchestral music ... I want everyone that's new to Helzberg Hall to feel very welcome, to feel very comfortable and relaxed. And I think that those family concerts, pops concerts, Classics Uncorked are the perfect atmosphere for that. Because they're a little more casual, a little more laid back, and I want everyone just to feel excited to be there and to enjoy some great music." 

In this role, you'll be working closely with music director Michael Stern. Are there thoughts for you about that relationship, as a collaborator? 

"I really look forward to working with Michael. When I was here for my audition, last October, immediately he struck me as someone who was going to be a great mentor. And that was one big reason why I was really hoping to win the job. I plan to learn a lot, not only from interacting with him and sharing ideas together, but also just watching him rehearse and perform with the orchestra.

"I think he's a consummate musician, an amazing leader, and I think I will learn a lot both from watching and also from interacting with him and asking questions. I'm sure he's going to help me a lot to really blossom in this job."

In Louisville, you started new programming working with the youth symphony and the orchestra, connecting the two. Are there any initiatives that you see yourself starting hereor are you still getting your feet wet? 

"Yes, I mean, I'm getting my feet wet. I think this first season in particular I'm going to get a good feel for what we're already doing. I think that I will learn from that, and think about future ideas of how we can expand what we offer — especially for middle school and high school students.

"I want to build upon the relationship that we start with these kids in elementary school, through our KinderKonzerts, our Link Up concerts, our Young People's Concerts. We do a great job of introducing kids to orchestral music at an early age. And what I want to do is find ways that we can keep that relationship going."   

Kansas City Symphony's Assistant conductor Jason Seber next takes the podium Oct. 11 - 14 for Young People's Concerts, and Oct. 28 - 30 for the pops series concerts of Boys II Men. 

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter,@lauraspencer.