Jobin to be conductor for opera, symphony

2nd person to wield baton for 2 groups

Courtesy of Toledo Blade, 2015

- Published Sunday, May 3, 2015
by Sally Vallongo

The Toledo Symphony and the Toledo Opera are making local history by appointing Sara Jobin to dual conducting posts. Arrangements for her one-year contract became final Saturday.

Ms. Jobin, a 2010 Grammy Award nominee and internationally renowned maestro of both orchestra and opera, becomes the first woman in Toledo’s long cultural history to hold either of the influential positions.

She’s the second person to hold the jobs simultaneously.

For the symphony, she will plan and carry out the Family Concert Series and Young People’s Concerts and the myriad neighborhood and regional concerts in the organization’s 100-plus performance season.

“I think my job is to be the friendly, welcoming face that allows people to connect with music,” said Ms. Jobin from her current home near Tanglewood in western Massachusetts. (As a teen piano student she watched Leonard Bernstein there and determined her own life’s work.)

When the opera opens its 2015-2016 season with Puccini’s popular Madama Butterfly in early October, Ms. Jobin will be in the pit conducting the production — a reprise of her groundbreaking 2013 debut with the opera for its annual Gala Concert in the Valentine Theatre.

By dividing her time and talent between the region’s two major classical presenters, she will slip into an arrangement instituted by James Meena, one of her key mentors.

Mr. Meena, artistic director of Opera Carolina since 2000, was artistic and general director of the Toledo Opera from 1986-1999. In 1988, he became the Toledo Symphony’s first resident conductor too.

Cross-over from opera pit to orchestral podium is not rare, but it’s not for every maestro, Mr. Meena noted.

“The craft of conducting opera is different than that of conducting symphonic concerts. Finding someone with the ability to traverse both worlds was tricky,” he had said in an earlier email.

He has followed Ms. Jobin’s career for two decades, since not long after she graduated from Harvard University with a degree in music in the early 1990s. (A Leonard Bernstein Scholar, she wrote her thesis on female conductors).

She spent four years on the staff of the San Francisco Opera, where in 2004 she became the first woman to conduct a main stage subscription production of Puccini’s Tosca.

In ensuing years, Ms. Jobin has balanced orchestra and opera-conducting gigs in the United States and abroad, plus recording opera and even launching a series of new operas with nontraditional stories.

Since 2011 she has been chief conductor of the Center for Contemporary Opera in New York City, an incubator for new productions that have traveled to Europe.

Her recording of John Musto’s comic opera, Volpone, with Wolf Trap Opera, was nominated for a 2010 Grammy. In 2014 she conducted the world premiere of a young person’s opera, The Secret Garden, for the San Francisco Opera.

“Conducting is a curious craft. You can tell pretty quickly what the musical personality of a conductor is. [Ms. Jobin’s] personality is very musical and shows a depth of understanding, a finesse, and an affinity for musicians and singers that is almost innate,” said Mr. Meena by phone on Thursday.

Bob Bell, president of the symphony and its guiding artistic force, said, “Sara is not unlike Stefan Sanderling [principal conductor] in her passion, enthusiasm, and devotion to classical music and opera performance.

“In many concerts over the past two seasons with the Toledo Symphony, in neighborhood and regional concert settings, we have seen her unique ability to connect with audiences, drawing them closer to the music through her insightful and, many times, humorous remarks.”

For Ms. Jobin, the move from the Berkshire Mountains to the Black Swamp seems natural, a place to settle down and make seriously great music come alive for more and more people.

“I’m delighted to have a place to call home,” she said. This summer she’ll move her belongings — including her bike and her black belt in judo — to the Midwest.

Ms. Jobin is less impressed with becoming the first female resident conductor than others may be. “The musicians don’t care if I’m male or female, green or purple, or from Mars or Jupiter,” she said. “I love the music. I serve the music.”

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