Jonathan Spitz, Artistic Director, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra

When we first sat down with Jonathan, he was quick to correct us on his title—he is one of three artistic directors of the internationally acclaimed Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. It’s an important distinction because it gets to the very heart of Orpheus’ artistry. Orpheus is a conductor-less orchestra that allows its players to engage directly with the music. Their unique process has helped them earn a Grammy® award and is the reason why students at Harvard and Stanford study them. In a traditional symphony orchestra, the players follow the interpretative vision of the conductor. Orpheus’ players work through passages together as a smaller chamber ensemble might. Their creative process is marked by steady negotiation and an intimacy with the material that changes the quality of the performance—every phrase, every interlude is infused with personal passion and unequivocal conviction.

June 2015

This type of leadership is not for the faint of heart. It takes courage to set aside your ego, embrace ambiguity and allow others to shape the vision. Jonathan would say it’s a tough journey at times, but one well worth making. Because at the end of the day, you will have engaged a true team—people bringing their best selves forward and contributing their all to create something that no one individual could have ever imagined alone.

On balancing the individual and group needs (3:41)
One of the most difficult things is, Orpheus lives or dies as a team. And yet that team is made up of individuals who all have wonderful careers as teachers, performers, and soloists. Balancing out this in the career sense, sorting the needs of the individuals with the needs of the group is really a challenge.
On improving engagement (4:04)
First of all, to set a specific mission for the organization and a specific high target for how well you're gonna achieve that mission.
On leaders being followers (3:12)
I think one of the things that's special about Orpheus is that we have a lot of both – of leadership and following. The same individuals play both roles.
On the power of a team (2:44)
We will disagree vociferously in rehearsal and we all have very passionate ideas about the music and not the same passionate ideas but once the group comes to a consensus and it's time to go on stage, what's really wonderful is the way it comes together.
"Conductor-less" does not mean "leader-less" (3:05)
Very often members of the group go out to the audience, empty auditorium, to hear how the interpretation is sounding from that perspective and that's a very important part of our process – is someone stepping back and looking at it to try to get the big picture.