Meet New Faculty: Chad Hutchinson, conductor

Chad Hutchinson, a native of Iowa, came to Wisconsin as adjunct professor to conduct both the UW-Madison Symphony and University Opera Orchestras. Prior to his appointment here, he was assistant conductor of the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra and director of the South Dakota Symphony Youth Orchestras, and has also conducted in Minnesota, Iowa, and Williamsville, New York. Prof. Hutchinson holds conducting degrees from the University of Minnesota and Bowling Green State University and a bachelor’s degree in music education from Morningside College. Read Chad’s full biography here. His commitment to outreach and the performance of new music is strong, and he has been recognized for his opera conducting skills with a third-place award in the American Prize in Opera Conducting.

Conductor Chad Hutchinson in rehearsal with the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra. Photograph by Michael R. Anderson.

Interview conducted by Kyle Johnson, a dissertator in piano performance.


When you go to the Coasts, what questions do people ask you about the Midwest, and how do you answer?

When traveling outside the Midwest, when I say that I live in South Dakota people automatically assume that I live in a small town and don’t have access to resources. Sioux Falls has 175,000 people and I feel that it is my job to educate others that the Midwest has both rural and urban areas.

Having lived in Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio and South Dakota, truthfully they are all quite similar.  The generosity and genuine care for others is something that sets people apart in this part of the country.  The biggest difference living in South Dakota is that the state itself has a small population, so no matter where you are in the state the degree of separation is much less.  Also, my wife always has told me that the beauty of the prairie will grow on me.  There is a sense of calm that one experiences when being able to see the sunset to the west for many miles.

Concert audiences here can expect to hear the programming of both old and new music. How do you choose the newer works? 

Exposing students and audience members alike to new music is a core value of my educational philosophy.  I try to select repertoire by composers who are getting a lot of recognition and being performed regularly across the country in professional orchestras, or are composers that I feel are under-represented.  This season we  performed works of Mason Bates and Christopher Theofanidis on our first two concerts, and will feature Caroline Shaw and Stephen Shewan on concerts in the spring.  Many of these works have never been performed in Madison or the state of Wisconsin, so it is very exciting to bring something fresh and invigorating to the area.  The “Composer’s Datebook” segment on National Public Radio always says that “All music was once new,” which is true.  I feel that if we only perform works that have been vetted in classical music we will miss out on exciting new opportunities.  As an assistant with the South Dakota Symphony, I learned from Maestro Delta David Gier as he programmed living composers on nearly every subscription concert during his tenure with the orchestra.  There has been a transformation in the audience’s and orchestra’s reaction to new music there and I hope to make the same type of footprint here.  The School of Music at UW-Madison has so many applied faculty with experience in these endeavors that it has been a joy to have so much support from others with our selections of new music.

The “Composer’s Datebook” segment on National Public Radio always says that “All music was once new,” which is true.  I feel that if we only perform works that have been vetted in classical music we will miss out on exciting new opportunities.

After a helping of Babcock ice cream last summer, Chad Hutchinson’s daughters Lauren, 4 and Julia, 7, take a spin on the famous Terrace chair.

Share one memorable and one embarrassing musical experience.

When I was 20, I traveled to Spain, France and England as part of a college choir tour.  On successive nights in London, I saw the Philadelphia Orchestra on tour perform Wagner’s  Die Meistersinger and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite.  For a young kid from Iowa, this was life-changing and made me realize the power of opera as well as the possibilities of color and dynamics within a professional orchestra.  I am always taken aback not by the loud playing of the great professional orchestras, but the control of soft dynamics.

My embarrassing moment came in Europe a few years later when doing a conducting workshop in the Czech Republic. As a college baseball player, I always would represent the number 2 as the index finger and pinky finger.  I got on the podium and said in my broken Czech, “Second movement please,” while holding up two fingers.  Pretty soon the entire orchestra is laughing and doing the same back to me.  I came to realize that in the Czech culture this is the equivalent of our middle finger gesture.  The orchestra liked “giving the finger(s)” to the young conductor.

What is different about conducting today vs. 30 years ago?

I think that the dictatorial days of the conductors of the past seems to have shifted quite a bit in recent years to a more level playing field with musicians.  Social media has changed the professional landscape with marketing campaigns for the top conductors of the major orchestras.  However, at the end of the day, the joy of collaborating with great musicians on amazing works of art is still the same today as it was 30 years ago.

Chad and Karen Hutchinson at the Wisconsin-Iowa football game.

You’ve been involved in quite a few unique events. Are there any that you would like to replicate here?

I spent the past year and a half working on a ballet project in South Dakota with four local companies and our youth orchestra.  I accepted this position [in Madison] before getting to the performance of the project, but I am happy to say that my successor is going through with the concert.  In this project, each company received a different composer – Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Copland and Gershwin – and the goal was to trace some of the evolution of the dance medium as well as giving the orchestra and dancers an opportunity to perform live with each other.  I hope to collaborate with the dance department on a project in the future as I feel that the more we work together in all the arts, the better.

Where were you guest conducting recently?

I have been in many high schools recently in South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin recruiting first and foremost.  I also recently conducted the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphony  and just returned from doing a High School Area All-State Festival in New York.

Your wife and family visited Madison this fall for the Badgers-Iowa football game. Did your family enjoy it (even though Iowa lost)?
I will admit that being a die-hard lifelong Iowa fan has been a bit difficult in recent years, both by getting my graduate degree from the University of Minnesota and now working here at UW-Madison. However, I root for the Badgers when they are not playing the Hawkeyes.  I had high hopes for the Iowa-Wisconsin game as it started so well for the Hawks, but the tides quickly turned and the Badgers had a great day. This being said, even though the Hawkeyes lost, the atmosphere at Camp Randall stadium was amazing and a lot of fun to be a part of.  Karen and I also took our kids to the Badger men’s and women’s basketball games, where they were super excited to meet Bucky Badger.


Professor Hutchinson will next conduct these performances:
University Opera presents La Bohème, February 23, 24 and 25 at the Memorial Union’s Shannon Hall, David Ronis directing.

Symphony Showcase, a concert featuring our concerto competition winners, March 18, Mills Hall.

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