In February 2016, longtime music director Gordon Johnson announced his impending retirement. Fifteen months, 115 applications, four finalists and four hours of deliberation later, the Great Falls Symphony has chosen his replacement.
At a gala event Saturday night, it was announced that Grant Harville will be the one taking up the baton at the helm of the orchestra and youth orchestra.
“We were so impressed by him every step of the way,” said executive director Hillary Rose Shepherd in a recent email. “Before he was ever selected as a finalist, he did his homework and knew so much about our organization and our community. By the time he came to visit, he knew a little bit about every board member, and he could call out every principal musician in the orchestra by their first name. It was as if he had already spent a season with us.”
“Beyond that,” Shepherd continued, “we were thoroughly impressed with his concert. He took the program very seriously and dedicated himself to drawing out beautiful music from our orchestra and choir.”
Harville, 36, hails from Wisconsin and currently lives in Pocatello, Idaho.
“I spent a few years in Georgia, but I’m a northern boy at heart,” he said. “My parents were both musically inclined, so they were insistent that it be a part of my education since before I can remember.”
After studying music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Michigan, Harville went on to spend four years as music director of the Idaho State-Civic Symphony. For the past year, he has also directed the Boise Philharmonic Youth Orchestra.
“Youth orchestra has been a part of my life since I was eight years old,” said Harville, who added that conducting youth orchestra will “help me get just one other tentacle into the community and into a population of the community that I might not otherwise get to see.”
Like his predecessor, Harville plans to make his home in Great Falls and is looking forward to living on the river and near the mountains.
“All conductors do a fair amount of travel,” he said, “but given the way my life is working right now and the work I’m doing right now, being in Great Falls makes the most sense.”
When applying for the position more than a year ago, Harville was attracted to Great Falls because of its similarity to Pocatello. He was attracted to the Great Falls Symphony because of the caliber of musical guests and special shows it is able to draw to the community.
“It looked like an organization that was willing to swing for the fences, so to speak, artistically,” he said.
The journey to becoming music director was not an easy one.
“I think the weird part about it is it really takes a long time,” Harville said. “You get six months to sit there and wait for the phone interview and then another six months until they actually make their decision.”
When he visited Great Falls during the process, he worked with students from the Great Falls Public Schools and was impressed by the music they produced. It was important for Harville to get to know the symphony members, the board and the community.
“Really, it’s a lot like dating and a little less like the feeling of a formal interview,” he said. “It’s a lot about fit and comfort, ultimately.”
Because his concert took place in the winter, Harville had a chance to see to city at its best.
“I was there during Christmas,” he said, “so that was a really good chance to see everybody out and about and to see the events the community really gathers around, so it was really nice to see the community kind of come together in that way.”
Harville had an email heads up that he would be receiving a call from the symphony, so getting the job offer wasn’t exactly a surprise, but he admitted the news was bittersweet.
“It’s a really exciting new opportunity for me,” he said. “At the moment what I’m having to do is say goodbye to a lot of people that I really like. Once I get through that process--which is actually really difficult--I will be able to feel the joy.”
When he arrives back in Great Falls, Harville plans to get to know the symphony members better before establishing a definite direction for his new position.
“Gordon has put together a really fine season next year that I am really excited to be a part of,” he said.
He enjoys working in small groups, so Harville will be looking for ways to be involved with the symphony’s core musicians. Working here also provides him the opportunity to indulge in everything a conductor position can possibly offer.
“What’s really important is that we really have to have a great diversity of offerings,” he said. “It’s important for me to like, therefore, a wide variety of music and a wide variety of types of events.”