Brian McWhorter, a hyperactive founder and the always entertaining conductor of Eugene’s student/professional OrchestraNext, is adding a new musical challenge to his portfolio: running the Oregon Mozart Players.
The board of OMP announced on Monday, May 8, that McWhorter, an associate professor at the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance, is its new executive director, overseeing operations for the 35 musicians who perform chamber concerts as OMP. He started work on Friday, May 5.
McWhorter will continue his work both at the UO and for OrchestraNext.
“This is quite a thing,” he says in a phone interview. “I have been talking to the musicians. I really have been quite impressed with the thoughtfulness, the consideration, in their desire to keep OMP alive and thriving as a premium chamber orchestra.”
Founded in 1983, the Oregon Mozart Players was a musicians’ cooperative — without a single leader — in its early days. A few years later it became a nonprofit, and has been led by various music and executive directors since then. OMP’s current music director is Kelly Kuo, whose contract expires next year.
McWhorter’s first challenge, he says, is stepping into an organization that has found itself on the financial brink in recent months as it struggles, like many performing groups, to come out of the COVID shutdown. The orchestra has played five or six shows each season in the recent past, he says, but may need to “reshape expectations.”
“We’re working on what we’re able to do in the coming season,” he says.
Finding a replacement for Kuo as conductor of OMP will be a difficult task, McWhorter says; nevertheless he himself has no plans to step in as music director or conductor. “My dance card is full with conducting,” he says.
McWhorter got his bachelor’s degree in music at the UO in 1998 and a master of music degree in 2000 from The Juilliard School in New York City. He played principal trumpet for the Eugene Symphony before the physical strain of playing put an end to his trumpet performance career.
In 2012 he helped found OrchestraNext, composed of students playing alongside professional musicians, to provide live music for performances of the Eugene Ballet. The orchestra has collaborated with such groups as University of Oregon Opera, Eugene Concert Choir, Soromundi Lesbian Chorus of Eugene and UO Theatre Department.
McWhorter says he has been in discussion with OMP for several months about stepping up to help lead the organization.
“I do have ideas about how an orchestra can operate in this community,” he says. “I am really eager to try out these ideas and rebalance how we do things.”