In Des Moines, we are fortunate to have Joseph Giunta as our resident Music Director and Conductor. So why, you may ask, do we from time to time bring in a guest conductor? We took that question to Concertmaster Jonathan Sturm, who expertly answers below. 

The idea of a guest conductor, someone other than the Music Director, leading an orchestra is over a century old and ties in part to the reality that classical music is really one of the only kinds of music in which we principally interpret pre-existent music by other composers.

In rock, country/rap bands, the performers write and perform their own music most of the time. You don’t typically hear Queen performing Pink Floyd, or Lizzo interpreting Rihanna, for example, but every orchestra performs Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Brahms. Musicians train to ensure the technique and basics of music (pitches, rhythms, timbres) are in place. So the interest and variety in a performance exists in the interpretations each ensemble and its Music Director brings to a composition. Each ensemble and conductor brings something a little different (or sometimes dramatically different) to music with which we are often already familiar.   

Classical music is importantly about interpreting music. This is where guest conductors come in, and can provide real interest for audiences; and for the orchestra’s musicians. When a guest conductor arrives, audiences and orchestra experience an interpretation that is different from the one their Music Director might create. Both are interesting and valuable, but variety is also desirable—partly to keep the music of the past fresh, and partly to keep the musicians of the present curious about what they might expect from the podium.  

Full-time orchestras in large cities use guest conductors all the time—as much as half a season may be conducted by people who are not the Music Director. While both audiences and orchestras grow to love their Music Directors, it is also reasonable, in an interpretive art, to look forward to the fresh ideas of an outsider from time-to-time. The Lauridsen Guest Conductor Series with the Des Moines Symphony allows Des Moines audiences and our musicians to experience masterworks under the baton of experienced and accomplished guests who would not otherwise lead and challenge us from our podium. Their artistry, just like that of our Music Director, helps us grow as an audience and as an orchestral ensemble. Whether we ultimately love an interpretation we hear or not is up to us and our personal interaction with the music in the moment. But, since classical music is about interpretation, having a broader experience is edifying and enlightening. 

The Lauridsen Guest Conductor Series

On February 3 and 4, 2024,  renowned conductor Keith Lockhart, known for his tenure with the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops, leads the Orchestra in Bartok’s groundbreaking Concerto for Orchestra and Barber’s gorgeous Violin Concerto, performed by fifteen-year-old prodigy Amaryn Olmeda. The Orchestra performs the Midwest Premiere of Wang Lu’s innovative Surge in collaboration with the New York Philharmonic’s World Premiere. Surge was commissioned by the League of American Orchestras with the generous support of the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation.

We hope you'll join us this year and in years to come to hear inspiring interpretations of great orchestral masterworks. Thank you to Virginia and Nixon Lauridsen for bringing this series to Des Moines Symphony audiences!

Jorge Mester – 2015
Gerard Schwarz – 2016
JoAnn Falletta – 2017
Christopher Seaman – 2018
Gerard Schwarz – 2019
Peter Oundjian – 2020
Jahja Ling – 2022
Carl St. Clair – 2023
Keith Lockhart - 2024