​Welcome to the New SSO Artistic Director

by Bailey Basham, Messenger Staff Writer

This semester is Mathew Ward’s first as Sewanee Symphony Orchestra Artistic Director, but he is no stranger to the Mountain and its magic.

Ward, who earned his doctorate in orchestral conducting at Louisiana State University, made his first trip to Sewanee the year when he was selected for an orchestral fellowship with the Sewanee Summer Music Festival (SSMF). Ward is one of five new music faculty welcomed to the University this year. He started following César Leal’s departure last spring. Ward is also a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University.

“I first came to Sewanee in 2018 as an orchestral fellow for violin, and coming back to work with the Sewanee Symphony Orchestra (SSO) has been quite the full-circle moment,” he said.

Ward grew up in southern California and said he accidentally discovered his love of music in elementary school.

“In fourth grade, you either had to choose a string instrument or join the choir. I definitely was not going to sing, so I chose an instrument. My sister played violin and said she could teach me the basics. Even though I wanted to play cello, I decided it was too big and I’d just learn the violin,” he said. “After taking lessons and seeing the work paying off in ensembles, I fell in love with the instrument.”

As a member of the regional youth orchestra, La Primavera Symphony, Ward performed throughout Sydney in Australia. One of the most memorable performances was at the Sydney Opera House.

“The director there kept saying things like, ‘This is so special for you all, because this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This will never happen again.’ And I thought right then, ‘No, you watch. I’ll be back.’ I realized then that music was something I really wanted to pursue. I did my undergrad and masters for violin and my doctorate for orchestral conducting,” he said.

Ward previously conducted the SSMF’s New Music Ensemble as well as the Louisiana State University’s Symphony Orchestra. He also served as the founding Music Director of the Baton Rouge Civic Orchestra and performed with the Boston Civic Symphony, Boston Opera Collaborative and New England Repertory Orchestra.

Ward is currently working with the SSO to prepare for the Dec. 9 concert, which will honor the 50th year of women at the University.

“Oftentimes, conductors want to push this standard repertoire to young populations, and lots of time that encompasses the same few composers. Those composers are worthy of learning, but the depth of our repertoire is so rich,” he said. “My specialty is American symphonic heritage, and there is so much we have that can be represented. Both of the female composers that we are representing in December are American composers. Exposing young people to repertoire that they might not be familiar with is a great celebration and can be very eye opening to the younger people.”