Delaware Symphony Orchestra director Amado to step down
WILMINGTON – Twenty years after maestro David Amado arrived in Delaware to lead the Delaware Symphony Orchestra, the state’s only professional orchestra, he is now preparing to step down.
Earlier this month, the orchestra’s board of directors announced that Amado would step down from his role as music director and take on a role as a laureate – the first time the DSO has honored an individual with the emeritus title in its 117-year history.
“Maestro Amado has achieved a remarkable milestone of continuous leadership as our music director through some of the most tumultuous years that arts organizations have navigated. His easy rapport with audiences, musicianship, and dedication to advancing professional musical performance in Delaware are extraordinary,” David Fleming, president of the Delaware Symphony Board, said in a statement.
On Friday, Amado told Delaware Business Times that after two decades at the helm, he felt it was a tough decision to step back, but it was as good a time to do so as possible.
“I’ve been through a lot with the orchestra. I think I’ve done a lot of good. The orchestra certainly is in, from a musical standpoint, the best shape it’s ever been. I will really deeply miss the people on the stage,” he said.
While stepping down from the DSO’s musical leadership role, Amado said he would be back next year to conduct a few performances in the 2023-2024 season and beyond. He is also remaining music director at the Atlantic Classical Orchestra in Fort Pierce, Fla. The DSO plans to start a search for a new director in 2024.
Amado came to Delaware back in 2003 after a worldwide search of more than 325 applicants, having then served as associate conductor at the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. The Philadelphia native was returning closer to home and taking over his first orchestra.
He would lead the roughly 80-member orchestra through its highs – nominations for Latin Grammys – and its lows – the 2012 period where it teetered on bankruptcy.
That year, the symphony didn’t finish its season and canceled performances as it approached insolvency. After that, a contentious bargaining phase with the dozens of musicians dragged on for months and even saw city and county leaders try to intervene.
Through it all, Amado stayed along with his musicians to try to broker a future.
“I believe, and I think many people believe, that had I not stuck around at that point, I’m not sure that we would have a Delaware Symphony,” he said.
Looking back, Amado said he stayed for his musicians and to ensure that they could stay together and pay their bills.
“We’re an orchestra. It’s not so easy to just not be an orchestra,” he said.
Following that period through, the orchestra has rebounded as it found a voice and an audience. In the last pre-pandemic season of 2018-19, the orchestra produced nearly $1.7 million in revenue, according to tax records. The unionized musicians have also found new ground with management, signing a new three-year contract in September.
Much like how Bud Martin arrived to save the Delaware Theatre Company in Wilmington’s Riverfront a decade ago, Amado was able to see such a changeover through too. His efforts helped retain the fine arts in Wilmington.
Amado recalled the letters written to newspapers from that period, and particularly one that posed the question, “Does Wilmington deserve an orchestra?”
“The writer was framing a kind of call to action as an existential issue. Like, ‘Hey, if this is going to work, you can’t just sit back,’” he said. “I think that’s why, even for people who don’t go to hear live orchestral music or don’t go to the art museum or see live theater, the fact that they are there is an indication that the community has kind of large-scale cultural priorities that indicate a certain degree of health and wellbeing,” he said.
After recovering from that major crisis, Amado would have to get creative to endure another after COVID-19 closed their Grand Opera House home to audiences. The orchestra erected plastic barriers between performers and played to online audiences to bridge the gap. While the musicians performed well, he said it’s an experience he wants to relive anytime soon.
“The audience is a big part of our performance,” Amado added. “And our people were separated from their colleagues by Plexiglas, but you play music with your ears by listening and trying to fit in; that sense was taken away from you.”
Today, the orchestra is performing multiple times a month to audiences around the state once again. The DSO will continue to honor Amado’s 20th anniversary throughout the current season, ending with a performance of Beethoven’s triumphant Ninth Symphony on Friday, April 28, at The Grand Opera House in Wilmington.
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