RIC Symphony’s Edward Markward Reflects on 40 Years at RIC

Edward Markward
Described by The Providence Journal as “a pillar of the music community,” Edward Markward has led the RIC Symphony Orchestra for four decades and remains as forward-looking as ever. The conductor and professor of music said, “There is still a lot of repertoire I haven’t covered yet.” And, he might have noted, there are still plenty of young musicians who can benefit from his knowledge.

Though he claims to have “mellowed a bit,” he remains as enthusiastic as ever about his work, and still finds it rewarding to “make something out of the notes on the page.”

That “something” – classical repertoire both centuries old and newly commissioned – is performed by an orchestra composed of about 60 percent students, with the rest professional and community musicians, most of whom were students of Markward’s at one time.

“Unless you have done this for a while,” he said, “one can't imagine the feeling of seeing the collective pride on the faces of a group of 70 or so people from ages 18-60 who have just delivered an awesome performance of a Brahms symphony.”

He and the orchestra frequently collaborate with well-known guest soloists both from outside the RIC sphere (pianist Michael Boriskin, cellist Mihail Jojatu, violinist Arturo Delmoni among many others) and inside the college community (former students such as internationally noted opera singers Lori and Mary Phillips, Diane Alexander and his wife, Diana Mcvey).

Edward Markward and Teresa Coffman discuss a musical score.
Markward also performs with faculty members, many of whom are also acclaimed musicians. He credits the efforts of music colleagues such as John Sumerlin, Robert Franzblau and Teresa Coffman with helping to develop the talents of students who have the chance to perform in multiple ensembles, including the orchestra.

Though he’s had several offers to leave the college, he decided he would stay “to guide the young people in the state to go out and be the best they could be.”

Markward noted that when he first came to RIC in 1973, he was told by some that there were certain things musically out of the reach for students at the college. “I’m proud to say that we have not only overcome that negative attitude, but we have done things here that are the equal of, and in some cases the envy of, much larger and higher profile institutions.”

In addition to conducting the Symphony Orchestra, he is also co-director, along with Susan Rodgers, of the RIC Opera Workshop. In the past, he also led the RIC Chorus and Chamber Singers.

Outside of RIC, Markward has spent the past 26 years as musical director of the Rhode Island Civic Chorale and Orchestra, an 80-voice community ensemble that performs classical masterworks.

He has also guest conducted the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra as well as the Vermont and Brooklyn Heights symphonies, among others, and served as music director for the Bel Canto Opera Company and Opera Rhode Island.

At this stage in his career, the 68-year-old Markward, seems to want to emulate his mentor, the conductor Gustav Meier. Markward has studied with Meier for 30 years and it was Meier who introduced him to legendary conductors Andre Previn, Leonard Bernstein and Seiji Ozawa. Meier’s exuberance for conducting – including jumping up and down during performances – remains undiminished at the age of 82.

It is certainly apparent that Edward Markward plans to lead the RIC Symphony Orchestra for years to come. He’s not sure, however, about the jumping up and down part.