By Elaina Palada
Bienen students are known for creating innovative avenues through music, and doctoral candidate Taichi Fukumura ’17 MMus is no different. Fukumura received his master’s degree in orchestral conducting from the Bienen School under the tutelage of Victor Yampolsky and is now pursuing his DMA. Read on to learn more about his experiences.
Can you tell us about your conducting journey and how it led you to the Bienen School?
Playing violin has always been an important part of who I am, but my conducting journey also began at a relatively young age. I made my first baton in middle school from a chopstick and wine cork and started my own student orchestra at age 16. During my freshman year studying at Boston University as a violin performance major, I founded the Accompanietta Orchestra. The ensemble’s success led to two invitations: a call from the Boston Civic Symphony, which asked me to be its assistant conductor, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which invited me to conduct Stravinsky's L’Histoire du Soldat featuring members of the BSO.
With these conducting opportunities added onto what was already a busy senior year at BU, I had no time to make pre-screening recordings for violin programs but had many new conducting videos! There was a significant moment when I realized I didn't have the slightest bit of regret when it came to pursuing conducting; this was the path I wanted all along. After seven adventurous years of self-taught study, I arrived at Northwestern. I still play the violin as well!
What have been some of your most memorable musical experiences at Bienen?
There were several major firsts for me at Bienen that I will never forget. Mahler Symphony No. 1 was the first numbered symphony I've conducted in performance, which featured exactly 100 volunteer musicians. I also conducted opera for the first time at Northwestern, first as an assistant conductor to guest conductor Andrew Bisantz for Don Giovanni (2018), and then as music director for Britten's Turn of the Screw (2018). Both productions were directed by Bienen’s phenomenal Artist-in-Residence Joachim Schamberger.
How do you feel Bienen has prepared you for a career as a conductor and musician?
The Bienen School is full of opportunities in so many different areas. I’ve enjoyed taking a variety of courses, such as Social Justice in Arts Education and Introduction to Music Technology; and working with incredible guest artists, including Jennifer Higdon, Steve Reich, Giancarlo Guerrero ’92 MMus, and many more. Opportunities to conduct world premieres with the Contemporary Music Ensemble and opera productions with Northwestern Opera Theater have allowed me to develop into a multi-faceted conductor. I’ve also met so many friends at Bienen and am still in touch with colleagues around the world who have gone on to do amazing things after graduating.
Professor Yampolsky’s guidance and trust in me means that every year at Bienen is full of personal and musical growth. I have been invited to compete in five international conducting competitions in recent years, and have advanced through the preliminary, first, and second rounds of every competition I have participated in so far. I also wouldn't be who I am today if it weren't for the incredible faculty of the Bienen School.
Tell us about your involvement with the Northwestern Medical Orchestra (NMO) and your role as its artistic director.
It's funny that I ended up becoming the director of a medical orchestra, because my dad is a cancer researcher and my mom a harpsichordist. The NMO sparked my interest right away, and making music with this orchestra continues to be one of the most rewarding things I do. NMO's core values deeply resonate with my own, as we both seek to unite communities through music. Whether it is the orchestra itself—which brings together medical students, faculty, staff, researchers, and alumni—or the audience of patients, staff, and families, the NMO is making an impact in the Chicago medical community.
What are some of the virtual events you have taken part in during the pandemic?
The Northwestern Medical Orchestra has gained national recognition for several new initiatives that have emerged during this pandemic. Alongside more than 20 other medical orchestras around the country, we established the first national consortium. I conducted a virtual performance with the National Virtual Medical Orchestra, which featured members of the NMO.
Other NMO initiatives include my webinar series The History of the Symphony, as well as a chamber music program comprised of over 15 groups. Through socially distanced coaching sessions, I am able to continue working with our members and present far-reaching digital concerts as well as more intimate virtual performances for patients.
What do you hope to do after graduation?
My goal is to become music director of a professional orchestra in the U.S. I love how each musical score is uniquely constructed and brings together the many different instruments of the orchestra; similarly, I want to build community through music.
I am fortunate to already be working with six different orchestras in the Chicago area and am excited to continue nurturing my relationship with each of them!
Elaina Palada is a master's flute performance student.