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Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 4

March 10 @ 2:30 pm

Associate conductor of the Oregon Symphony, Deanna Tham, showcases two works from the 1920s. Prayer overcomes sorrow in a symphonic poem by the pioneering Black composer William Grant Still, while Stravinsky’s love affair with music of the past is presented in Pulcinella. Tchaikovsky abandoned an ill-fated romance and laid bare his feelings in his triumphant Fourth Symphony – a piece that also earned him an influential patron.

Friday concert underwritten by Chris and Eve Millington: Trustees of The Lou Williamson Scholarship Fund
Sunday concert underwritten by Helen Stuart and Jan & Joanna GrootWassink


Deanna Tham, conductor

Powerfully compelling, Deanna Tham is known for her captivating and tenacious spirit on and off the podium. She is currently Associate Conductor of the Oregon Symphony and Music Director of the Union Symphony Orchestra.

Previously, Tham was the Assistant Conductor of the Omaha Symphony, following her tenure as Assistant Conductor of the Jacksonville Symphony and Principal Conductor of the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestras. She has performed at the Proms in Royal Albert Hall, Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, and Seiji Ozawa Hall at the Tanglewood Music Center working with Maestros James Ross, Joseph Young, and Sir Antonio Pappano, as well as renowned artists Isobel Leonard and Joyce DiDonato. Highlights of the 2019-2020 season included leading the Jacksonville Symphony’s first educational Martin Luther King Jr. tribute concert and the Union Symphony’s first city-community Pops on the Plaza collaboration of Latin American pop and classical music. Additional recent engagements include Assistant Conductor of the National Youth Orchestra (NYO-USA and NYO2) and Assistant Conductor of the Chicago Sinfonietta with Maestro Mei-Ann Chen. Tham has also regularly guest conducted with the Boise Philharmonic and Ballet Idaho, is a cover conductor for the San Francisco Symphony, and has worked with world-renown soloists in a variety of genres including Melissa White, Capathia Jenkins, and Cherish the Ladies. Her past positions include those with the Boise Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, Louisville Youth Orchestras, and American Chamber Opera.

Tham is also equally at home with a variety of musical genres. These projects include full-feature blockbuster movie scores, collaborations with Cirque Musica, Broadway artists, pop cover groups like Jeans ’n Classics, and independent artists like Silent Film Score connoisseur and composer, Ben Model.

Tham is a staunch advocate of music education from school education engagement and youth orchestral performing opportunities to lifelong learning. In 2018, Tham and the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestras made their debut at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, California. Previously, she has worked with the Louisville Youth Orchestras and the Boise Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. Tham has also created and presented educational concert series in a variety of formats. She has written original school-curriculum-based programs for numerous symphony orchestras and collaborated with organizations including Really Inventive Stuff, the Louisville Ballet Academy, and the International Culinary Arts and Sciences Institute.

Tham is a second-place winner in the Youth Orchestra Conductor division of the American Prize. She was invited as a scholarship participant to the 2015 Conductors Guild Conductor/Composer Training Workshop at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music working with renowned conductors Marin Alsop and James Ross. Additionally, she was the recipient of the 2015 Wintergreen Summer Music Academy Conductor’s Guild Scholarship where she worked with Master Teacher Victor Yampolsky. In 2013, Tham’s work with the National Music Festival was featured on National Public Radio as well as American Public Media. She has also made appearances at the Cadaques Orchestra International Conducting Competition.

Tham has been the Music Director of the American Chamber Orchestra. Her work with the company includes a groundbreaking semi-staged version of Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and Mozart’s Don Giovanni, staged in English for the South Chicago community. During her time with the company, she worked with many talented musicians, including those who sing with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. She made great strides making the company a strong presence in the Chicago area and has sold recordings of her work with the company on iTunes.

Tham holds a Professional Studies Certificate from the Cleveland Institute of Music in Orchestral Conducting studying with Maestro Carl Topilow. She received her Master of Music in conducting with conducting program honors from Northwestern University studying with Dr. Mallory Thompson. There, she additionally worked with Dr. Robert Harris, Victor Yampolsky, and Dr. Robert Hasty, making her equally at home in wind, orchestral, and vocal settings. Tham received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in horn performance studying with Dennis Abelson, Zachary Smith, Bob Lauver, and Steven Kostyniak at Carnegie Mellon University.

MARCH 10, 2024


Whether in the concert hall or the rehearsal room, it’s easy to view the conductor as a kind of interface between the analytical and the emotional, tasked with drawing a living, breathing performance from their cast of musicians while also trying to parse the abstract cartography of black notes on a white page. And, as it happens, Deanna Tham does not disagree with this view of her art.

“I think you can see it that way,” says the Asian-American musician, who is currently associate conductor with the Oregon Symphony and music director of Monroe, North Carolina’s small but innovative Union Symphony Orchestra. “We’re always trying to bridge that gap. Like, how do we make the technical go beyond the technical? We use the technical information that we are given, especially for composers who are no longer with us, in trying to make sense of all the markings that we have in the music. So that’s really important to me.”

Some conductors, Tham adds, find it enough to do “exactly what the ink says”. She is not among their ranks. “I’m like, ‘Uh-uh. I want to do a little bit more than that.’ The ink is just sort of a clue.”

On one level, the Tham and Tchaikovsky program that she has assembled for her first Victoria Symphony appearance is an inspired piece of self-indulgence. “It’s just a lot of music that I like,” she says. But there’s also a hidden through line, in that Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, William Grant Still, and Igor Stravinsky all had to wrestle with how to construct not only an artistic identity but a personal one, just as Tham herself has had to.

The daughter of immigrants from Singapore, Tham describes herself in slightly tongue-in-cheek fashion as the “black sheep” of her family for giving up a promising career in biology. (Her sister, she allows, is a doctor.) The decision has obviously worked out well, but it has not been without sacrifice.

“I identify with music that expresses a strong sense of conflicted identity,” she says. “And I think that has to do with my view of the world, what has spoken to me from being the child of immigrants. I’m a ‘hyphenated American’, as they call it, and then also being both a scientist and a musician… That conflict of identity—of trying to bring disparate parts of myself together and expressing those conflicts from a place of beauty—is something that speaks to me a lot. And I think all three pieces that are on this program have that in them.”

Of the three composers, Stravinsky might have had the easiest time of it, having enjoyed both early success and a reasonably high level of self-esteem. Yet his artistic restlessness, mirrored by his physical peregrination from Saint Petersburg to Paris to Los Angeles, made his long and fruitful career one of constant reinvention. The Pulcinella Suite, from 1922, marked his turn from an almost pagan avant-primitivism—as exemplified by 1913’s Rite of Spring—to neo-classical forms, and in discussing that move the composer once gave a rather revelatory explanation.

Pulcinella was my discovery of the past, the epiphany through which the whole of my late work became possible,” he said. “It was a backward look, of course—the first of many love affairs in that direction—but it was a look in the mirror, too.”

Darker America and the Symphony No. 4 in F minor find William Grant Still and Tchaikovsky doing their own mirror-gazing. When the latter looked in the glass, he would have seen an artist in disguise—a closeted homosexual in a society where being “out” was not an option.

“In the Fourth Symphony,” Tham says, “Tchaikovsky is starting to recognize how he’s feeling, who he really is as a person, and you just feel this conflict, this fight, within him. ‘Who am I going to be? Am I going to be happy about this?’ And the finale is just so impactful, because it has this overwhelming insistence upon joy. And the audience can determine for themselves whether he is truly happy or whether he is trying to force himself to be so over the top.

“That really struck me,” she adds. “Is this really joyful? Even though it’s so fanfare-like and so bombastic, is this joyful or not?”

Darker America, which Still saw as representing “the triumph of a people over their sorrows through fervent prayer,” ends on a more decisively optimistic note. “It’s a very personal piece,” Tham comments. “It’s a conglomeration of all of Still’s musical influences and social experiences as a Black American. You’re going to hear influences of jazz, you’re going to hear influences of gospel, you’re going to hear influences of folk—but also influences of classical music, because he was trained that way. And because of how they conflict with each other you’re going to hear a lot of dissonance, but also a lot of beauty.

“It was really moving to me when I first performed that piece, to see how he reconciled all of these different parts of himself and put them so blatantly on the page,” she continues. “And, yes, it does end in a place of gratefulness. Ultimately he’s glad to have what he does have, even though there have been struggles—as I’m sure there were for him, being an African-American.”

A century after Darker America’s premiere, however, Still’s music remains relatively obscure. As Victoria Symphony music director Christian Kluxen has noted, “With the quality and the sheer amount of the music he composed, it’s crazy to think that his music is so little performed.”

It’s not hard to imagine why, and it’s not because of any inadequacy in Still’s nearly 200 works. Although many of his scores are believed to have been lost, Still wrote thirty choral works, nine operas, five symphonies, four ballets, and dozens of other pieces, many of which are ripe for re-discovery.

Notes by Alex Varty

William Grant Still (1895—1978) 
Darker America

Stravinsky (1882—1971) 
Pulcinella Suite
Gavotta con due variazioni


Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840—1893) 
Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36
Andante sostenuto
Andantino in modo di canzona
Scherzo: Pizzicato ostinato
Finale: Allegro con fuoco


March 10
starts at 2:30 pm


Victoria Symphony


Royal Theatre
805 Broughton St + Google Map

Concert Credits

Concert Programme

  • William Grant Still
    Darker America
  • Stravinsky
    Pulcinella Suite
  • Tchaikovsky
    Symphony No. 4 in F minor