RPO announces 25-year-old Jherrard Hardeman as new assistant conductor 

click to enlarge Jherrard Hardeman, the RPO's new assistant conductor, most recently held the same position at the Chicago Sinfonietta. - PHOTO BY ELLIOTT MANDEL / CHICAGO SINFONIETTA
  • Jherrard Hardeman, the RPO's new assistant conductor, most recently held the same position at the Chicago Sinfonietta.
The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra has welcomed a new conductor into the fold this week. Jherrard Hardeman joins the organization as the RPO’s assistant conductor.

Hardeman will occupy The Louise and Henry Epstein Family Education and Community Engagement Chair, a position vacated in 2018 by Michael Butterman as the principal conductor for education and community engagement. Hardeman’s expanded position includes leadership of the RPYO.

“I’m always very excited about working with youth orchestras,” Hardeman said in a Zoom interview on Friday. “It's something I've gotten to do professionally now, since I was 18, and I started working with Detroit Metropolitan Youth Symphony as their on-call guest conductor.”

A Detroit native and graduate of The Juilliard School, Hardeman comes to Rochester from the Chicago Sinfonietta, where he served as assistant conductor under its music director Mei-Ann Chen.

As assistant conductor to RPO Music Director Andreas Delfs, Hardeman will provide support in assessing the orchestra’s sound and identifying discrepancies in the written music.

“Jherrard convinced the audition committee with his superb musicianship, affable personality and spirited presentation of ideas and programs,” Delfs said in a press release.

Hardeman brings with him a clear and demonstrative conducting style, with which he hopes to interpret as many composers from as many time periods as possible. He does have his favorites, though.

“I will always be in love with Mozart and Mahler,” Hardeman said.

One of his goals as music director of the RPYO is to perform a Mahler symphony during his tenure —an ambitious undertaking for any orchestra, let alone one comprising students. Hardeman also aspires to present a lesser-known symphony by 20th-century Black American composer William Grant Still.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MEI STONE
Originally a violinist, Hardeman is also a composer himself, though he doesn’t plan to program his own works with the RPYO.

“I try to leave myself out of the thing and tell other people's stories,” Hardeman said. “Number one, because it demonstrates the thing that I'm trying to teach most through music is learning to empathize with the stories of others — those who are different from us, those who look different come from different countries and backgrounds. And I feel like, in a way, it's kind of like cheating on the test if you put your own thing on there because you know all the answers.”

Hardeman, who is Black, says the presence of musicians of color in a symphony orchestra is important for everyone, regardless of race.

“There is this beautiful thing that David Robertson, my teacher while I was at Juilliard, said in a TED talk, which was that you look at the orchestra and you see a piccolo, a bass and a xylophone,” Hardeman recalls. “And you can't reconcile that kind of diversity. But in some way, the symphony orchestra, it works. And (you can use) the symphony orchestra as a model of all these people who come from different places and bring different cultures with them and different lifestyles.”

Daniel J. Kushner is an arts writer at CITY. He can be reached at [email protected].
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