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A conversation with Tania Miller

Conductor Tania Miller_Photography by Todd Rosenberg.JPG
© Todd Rosenberg Photography
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Todd Rosenberg Photography
Conductor Tania Miller leads the VSO on Saturday March 26, 202

Tania Miller is the Vermont Symphony Orchestra's third music director candidate, as the VSO seeks to replace longtime director Jamie Laredo, who retired last year. She conducts the VSO on March 26, 2022.

Helen Lyons
Last year, the Vermont Symphony Orchestra's longtime music director. Jamie Laredo stepped down after a two-decade tenure with the orchestra. Since October, the VSO has invited several candidates to Vermont to meet with the orchestra and the audience, as well as conduct concerts throughout the season.

The third conductor candidate, Tania Miller, will be leading the orchestra's March 26th concert at the Flynn Center in Burlington. I had a chance to chat with Tania over Zoom. We talked about the upcoming concert, the future of the VSO, and Tania's thoughts on leadership and performance, and the origins of her passion for music and conducting.

Tania Miller
I grew up in a very small town of 1000 people. And my talents for music were something that the entire community needed. And so I threw myself into whatever endeavors the community needed. I started to discover that I loved conducting, feeling the energy of collecting all of the music-making within the musicians themselves, and helping all of us together to create something that was a unified musical force.

Helen
You write extensively about music, and in your writing, you talk about how being a conductor puts you in the unique position of being both a performer as well as a leader. Can you speak about your discoveries there?

Tania
When I consider what leadership is as a conductor, it is a balancing point between letting the music unveil itself or transform itself through a collective endeavor, allowing all of the forces to reach their best potential.

Helen
You also have an interest in neuroscience and the psychology of performing and creating music. Can you tell us about your thoughts and experiences in that regard?

Tania
I find performance of music to be fascinating in how it asks of us as performers to use so many aspects of our intelligence, all at once. After all of that hard work, somehow we are expected to let it all go and be inside the music, let the music speak of itself, trust yourself. This is why I think music is so incredibly important for young people. The ability to focus in on something that is flying by us in real time, and our brains need to react. And the only way to do it is to be inside that moment. It's an incredible lesson for kids to feel the power of their own intelligence by playing music, to connect that with their emotion, with their feeling, with their humanity.

Helen
What would your vision for the VSO be? And how would you foster a connection with the Vermont audiences?

Tania
I want to understand what will inspire this community in the greatest possible way. I want to understand the needs of the orchestra. I would be focusing on youth. It is so incredibly important to understand a community and to make sure that the music that is within this community is something that is bringing people together, is available to every citizen in the community. And when we are sharing an experience of music, we are united in that one moment.

Helen
Tell us about the concert on March 26th. What can the audience expect? What makes you passionate about the music you've chosen?

Tania
I'm really excited about the program. We're opening with a fanfare by a Sri Lankan composer named Dinuk Wijeratne. His music is sparkling and full of life. It's called “Yatra,” and it means a spiritual journey. And he speaks about it being a celebration of the diversity of people. The Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 is an inspiring work. It was Rachmaninoff’s own favorite work to perform. I'm so excited to be working with Steven Hough. He is an extraordinary, internationally renowned performer and such an incredible mind as well. He's a writer, he's a thinker and he's someone I'm so excited to meet and work with. For me, Sibelius’s Symphony No. 1 is a personal, important, and favorite piece. There is this spaciousness to Sibelius that reminds us of nature. There is a sense of questioning that we have as a human being within a vast universe, that we are one small part of something that is much greater than ourselves. He takes us through all sorts of chaos and, and turbulence and things that aren't actually beautiful. And then he harmonizes them in surprising ways.

Helen
Tania Miller, thank you so much for spending time with me and our listeners on VPR Classical. I look forward to meeting you on the 26th of March.

Tania
It's great to talk to you. I look forward to being with you on stage for the pre-concert chat. And it's great talking to you and your audiences today.

Helen
That was Tania Miller, the Vermont Symphony Orchestra's third music director candidate. Tania is conducting the VSO in concert at 7:30pm on Saturday, March 26th at the Flynn center for the arts in Burlington. You can find out more about the concert at www.vso.org and get to know Tania at her website, www.taniamiller.com.