On Sunday, Nov. 3, Luke Fatora will step up to the podium and raise his baton for the first time in front of the Summit County Orchestra. At age 23, he takes over for longtime conductor Kenny Evans and will be the youngest person ever to hold the position.
Fatora’s youth belies his qualifications. A violinist since the age of 8 and an accomplished musician as a teen, Fatora returns to Summit County as a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and has already earned the respect and praise of Summit County Orchestra members.
“He has proven to be mature beyond his years with handling a group of this size with all of the different moving parts,” said board member and violinist Erika Krainz. “He’s taken on this task with great focus and great maturity.”
In addition to his musical qualifications, Fatora is no stranger to Summit County. He grew up in the area and graduated from Summit High School in 2009. While in school he was part of the music program as a violinist, and participated on the Nordic ski team and the diving team. As a teen he won first prize in the Colorado Youth Symphony Orchestra’s concerto competition as well as awards from the Pikes Peak Youth composer’s competition.
But Fatora’s infatuation with music started long before that. Both his parents, while not professional musicians, are musically inclined — his mother at the piano and his father with the saxophone — and they encouraged their son’s interest. It wasn’t until he heard the fiddle, though, that he really got hooked.
“I have this really distant memory of hearing it in a movie,” he said. “I don’t remember what it was, but I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, what is that?’”
His parents like to tell him about a family trip to West Virginia when he was very young and they witnessed an old-time bluegrass band playing at a restaurant.
“I was stomping my foot and rocking out,” he said, with such enthusiasm that afterward the fiddler came up to their table and suggested he take lessons.
At age 8, Fatora picked up his first violin. In the beginning, he focused very heavily on bluegrass and old-time Appalachian music, enjoying the spontaneity and excitement of fiddling. In the summers, he attended Allegheny Echoes, a week of workshops in West Virginia focused on old-time music.
It was in high school that Fatora began his relationship with the classical genre after coming across a website with recordings of traditional violin concertos and symphonies.
“That was a ‘wow’ moment for me,” he said, and the one where he felt this could become his career. “I felt like pursuing music as a career would be a way to kind of spend my life studying the human experience and taking it apart through music, and that seemed like an exciting prospect and then as I got more and more involved, it just became a real passion.”
Fatora got his first taste of conducting at a clinic with the Denver Young Artists Orchestra. He enjoyed the experience and when the opportunity came up to learn more about it at college, he jumped at the chance.
“Being an instrumentalist and a conductor is different in that, when you play violin in an orchestra, you have what you can give to the section, but you don’t get to get your hands dirty in taking the music apart and deciding what it means and then crafting an interpretation to give to the audience,” he said. “Being a conductor lets you really immerse yourself in the process in trying to understand what the music’s about and trying to communicate that.”
Studying at Oberlin, a well-respected music school, presented Fatora with a multitude of memorable opportunities, including the chance to perform with the Oberlin Orchestra in the Isaac Stern auditorium at Carnegie Hall. He described the experience as “surreal.”
After graduating from Oberlin this spring with a degree in violin performance, Fatora returned to Summit County to enjoy the mountains and ponder his next step. He contacted Janet Harriman, president of the Summit County Orchestra board, about the open conductor’s position. Harriman and several other orchestra members remembered Fatora from his high school days when he played with the orchestra.
“His credentials were perfect — he knows the community, he grew up here, he knows what the people are like,” Harriman said. “He’s worked out really, really well. He’s impressed me very much on the podium. Week to week he gets more confident, he gets better. It’s hard to stay up there on a podium and conduct your former teachers,” she added with a laugh.
Fatora’s expertise as a string player has also been valuable, said both Harriman and Krainz.
“To have a conductor who’s actually a string player is something that is really a treat for us,” Krainz said. “And being able to bring one of our own back into the fold has been really great. He’s a young guy but he’s really focused. He’s really creative. He’s got a lot of great insight, great energy.”
As his first concert as conductor approaches, Fatora is more excited than nervous and said he’s eager for the experience.
“For me, a really exciting thing about music is looking at how it’s put together and trying to understand exactly what the composer was trying to convey,” he said. “The great thing about conducting is that when you get ideas about what they’re saying, you can highlight that to make the message clearer.”
Harriman said that the Summit County Orchestra is happy to give Fatora this opportunity to learn and grow.
“I think he’s really got a promising career in conducting if he chooses that route,” she said. “You need to start somewhere if you’re going to be a conductor. This is a perfect place to start. … I think it’s good for the county too, the community, and I hope people turn out to see, to come hear us play on Sunday.”
“For me, a really exciting thing about music is looking at how it’s put together and trying to understand exactly what the composer was trying to convey.”