Throughout his 35 years as music director of the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra, Bill Hudson has always striven for the highest level of playing possible. Under his tenure, the orchestra has grown in prominence and skill, performing with famous guests such as Ella Fitzgerald and Marvin Hamlisch, and soloists such as Jean-Pierre Rampal. Although he is leaving the FSO this year, Hudson said a conductor's work is never finished. Recently, he sat down and answered a few questions about himself and his work in music.
How long have you lived in the area? Twenty years ago I moved to Vienna.
Education: I have degrees from the Philadelphia Conservatory and the University of Pennsylvania and from Yale.
Job history: I joined the faculty of University of Maryland in 1970. I was conductor of the orchestra and the opera and head of the graduate orchestral conducting program.
Activities/interests/hobbies: Tennis I like, and white water canoeing, mountain climbing up in Maine and Canada. The Allagash River up in Maine.
Favorite memory of the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra: It would be hard really as you can imagine to narrow that down to one. There are some highlights, and I enjoyed doing a concert at Wolf Trap with Ella Fitzgerald. It was a lot of fun. And then there are some of the biggest names in the business, you know, that it would be hard to sort them out — Jean-Pierre Rampal, people like that. We did an interesting concert at the Kennedy Center where we did the Lincoln Portrait, which is a piece based on the words of Lincoln with music by Aaron Copeland. As a narrator we used Joan Fontaine, the movie actress from the ‘40s and ‘50s, which was interesting.
How did you become involved with FSO? When I came to the University of Maryland I got an invitation to be a guest conductor that year, I think it was in the spring of ’71. They were looking for a new conductor, and I, along with a number of other people, were given a concert [to conduct]. As a result of that they asked me to become music director the following year.
How did you get introduced to music? Most musicians, it’s something that almost appears at birth. You know at a very young age that you have an interest in it. At age 2 I was picking at tunes on the piano.
Of all your accomplishments, what are you the most proud of? In several situations I’ve taken an orchestra that was not at a distinguished level and brought it up to a much higher level. There’s a degree of satisfaction in being able to do that because you are doing it in concert with a lot of other people and you get the feedback from those people, and you feel like you are part of a team doing that.
Community concerns: I’ve seen so many changes in the Fairfax area, with i-tech coming in, and an increased appreciation of the arts and education and so forth. It’s been interesting to see the evolution of Fairfax County.
When you put together a program for the coming year, do you have a philosophy or theme? I try to have one piece on the program I think most people will know and enjoy, something they can latch on to, so they’re not looking at a program with pieces that are all unfamiliar, which can be a little daunting to some people.
Favorite place to hang out in the community? I have some favorite restaurants. Do you think I should give them credit? When I meet with people to have lunch, it’s often at Le Canard there in Vienna or 29-41 or two or three other places.
Last book you read or the last movie you watched: Well the last book I read were the recent essays of Gore Vidal. And the last movie was “History Boys,” about an English boarding school. It was a New York play, and they used the same cast. Some friends of mine saw the play and they recommended it.
What are some future plans for leaving FSO? “Retirement” is not a word that conductors use; I don’t know of a conductor who’s ever retired. It’s not a job we retire from, it’s an existence for us, it’s a life.
What’s on your car stereo? I just turn the radio on. Either WGMS or the Baltimore station, usually, but I like to listen to C-SPAN too, see what’s going on in Congress. I enjoy jazz very much, and I like Ray Charles. We performed with Ella Fitzgerald, that was a wonderful evening. She was getting on in years a little bit, she had to take my hand to come out on stage. We had a rehearsal in the afternoon, and we were just going to start each piece [for practice] … she had such a good time she sang through every piece in rehearsal. It was like a rock concert, people were reaching up, trying to touch her.
When you are conducting a piece, what do you hope the musicians gain from it? I hope we are all able to somehow do the best we are capable of doing. I’ve never been satisfied with any concert I’ve conducted. I'm always rather depressed after a concert, because you know what it should be like and it never is, really. But we try to get as close as we can to what the composer wanted, whatever that is … it’s only third-rate conductors that are pleased with what they do. But then it’s a matter of motivating the players to bring their best efforts … I feel ultimately that if they come in and play their best, that’s what they’re there for. That’s their reward, and that’s my goal and their goal.
Favorite composer: I guess Mozart would be the composer I feel the most compatible with and the one I most enjoy doing. If I would sit down and hear something for pleasure it would be a Mozart piano concerto or a Bach cantata.
— Marilyn Batonga & Lea Mae Rice