Taichi Fukumura has strong ties to Illinois. The season's first candidate, who will be conducting the concerts this Friday and Saturday in Springfield and Bloomington, spent much of his early career in Chicago. "I was there for seven years or eight years – I've lost count," he said. He had initially moved to the Windy City area to study music at Northwestern University, where he earned a master's degree in music and a Doctorate of Musical Arts degree in conducting, eventually working with five different orchestras in Chicago, including the Northwestern Medical Orchestra, made up entirely of doctors, medical students and researchers – especially significant to Maestro Fukumura personally, as his father is a cancer researcher. "I've driven through central Illinois but I have not done anything in Springfield or Bloomington, so this will be a first. I'm looking forward to meeting the communities there," he said.
Born in Tokyo, Fukumura moved to Boston with his parents when he was one year old. "Actually, I was carried," he said. "I began learning violin at three. My first language was Japanese. We all spoke it at home in my family and still do."
This past summer, Maestro Fukumura won second prize in the Mahler Conducting Competition in Bamberg, Germany, a prestigious competition for young conductors. "That's one of the best orchestras in Germany; therefore it's one of the best in the world," he said. "Once I had passed the first round, they told us to take risks, that we don't need to be safe anymore, to choose something we cared about musically and really hit that roadblock and experiment. That was a very liberating comment for me. It was very rewarding and a huge learning experience as well."
Excited for the opportunity to work with the excellent musicians of the ISO, Fukumara is also enthusiastic about working with the local community organizations and about offering his advice in connection to the youth orchestra.
As for what to expect from this weekend's concerts, the program – which includes works by Marquez, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich – was the result of an involved process with the committee. "It was so much fun," he said. "I came up with probably 15 potential programs and submitted all of them. This program we will be performing is none of the above," he laughed, explaining that it takes pieces from a few different programs he submitted, tweaking his ideas in collaboration with the committee.
Maestro Fukumura said he is particularly looking forward to performing Cello Concerto No. 1 by Shostakovich this weekend, in part because the piece and its guest soloist both also have Illinois connections. Cellist Brannon Cho, who Fukumura described as "a rising superstar," is another Northwestern alum with whom he has collaborated previously. If that isn't Illinois-centric enough for you, Shostakovich himself visited the U.S. three times, and during the final visit he received an honorary doctorate from Northwestern. – Scott Faingold