Female Empowerment 

Erin Freeman keeps ego out of conducting the Richmond Philharmonic.

On Monday nights, they gather at Grace Baptist Church to rehearse under the direction of Erin R. Freeman. "Our members are auditioned volunteers, so we strive to maintain a balance between fun and great performance," Freeman says.

Aaron Ellerbrock and Dave Townsend both inspired the upcoming pops concert entitled "Broadway!" They will solo, not on their usual orchestral instruments, but with their voices, singing variations on such Gershwin classics as "Nice Work If You Can Get It" and "America the Beautiful."

Freeman is multitalented too. Trained as a singer, she grew up in Atlanta and was the youngest member of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus under the direction of the late Robert Shaw. She realized then that what she loved about music was the ensemble.

Now at the end of her second year with the Philharmonic, Freeman recently received her doctorate of musical arts in orchestral conducting from Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. That's where she saw an ad for a job opening at the Richmond Philharmonic.

Freeman, along with four finalists, had to run weekly rehearsals and give a concert before she was finally offered the position here. "I really got to know the orchestra and members," she says.

With Freeman as the Philharmonic conductor, and Sarah Hatsuko Hicks as the associate conductor of the Richmond Symphony, Richmond has become a hotbed for the hard-to-find woman orchestra conductor.

"I think conducting requires a certain kind of ego, the kind of ego that women are taught to suppress because we're caregivers," Freeman says. "But you have to be decisive as a conductor and get over the fact that not everyone is going to agree with you."

Freeman seems to have her ego under control. "I like the way what I do is a group effort," she says. "It's not just about me. It's about all people giving of themselves."

Next year, Freeman takes Richmond on a tour of the world. In the fall, the Philharmonic's program will feature Russian composers Rimsky-Korsakov and Rachmaninoff. In the winter, Spanish works will be performed. The spring will bring works by French composers like Debussy and Ravel.

Preconcert lectures and interactive performances will also help the music become more accessible to everyone next year. "For example, in the French program, we'll talk about how the French language influences rhythm in music," Freeman says.

These tactics all work under the mission of the Richmond Philharmonic Orchestra: to promote the art and appreciation of classical orchestral music for audiences of all kinds and give local musicians the opportunity to develop and show off their orchestral talents. S

The Richmond Philharmonic Orchestra performs its pops concert, "Broadway!" Sunday, June 18, at 6 p.m. in The Gardens at Sunday Park, and Monday, June 19, at 7:30 p.m. at the Glen Allen Cultural Arts Center. Concerts are free; donations accepted. 673-7400.

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