A Bettendorf native is coming home to take on a newly created position for the Quad City Symphony Orchestra.
Benjamin Klemme, a Pleasant Valley High School graduate, has been hired as the QCSO's new assistant conductor, community engagement coordinator, and music director of four youth ensembles. He will work as artistic liaison with community groups and educational institutions to further the mission of the QCSO and its youth ensembles.
"Ben is uniquely qualified to fulfill these duties," according to a Monday press release from Jacqueline O'Donnell, QCSO education committee chair. "He is a native of the Quad-Cities, a graduate of the Quad Cities Youth Orchestra, and, in addition to his excellent conducting skills, he has very valuable experience collaborating with educational systems to provide students with the best musical experience possible."
Dr. Klemme earned his doctor of musical arts degree in orchestral conducting from the University of Minnesota, where he conducts the University's Campus Orchestras and is an assistant conductor of the Opera Theatre and a colleague of QCSO music director Mark Russell Smith.
Mr. Smith is also artistic director of orchestral studies at University of Minnesota and has been one of Dr. Klemme's principal conducting teachers.
The QCSO staffer, who officially will start the new job July 1 but already is working on planning next season, presently also serves the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies as concert orchestra conductor and MacPhail Center for Music as chamber orchestra conductor.
Dr. Klemme received his master's degree in orchestral conducting from the Cleveland Institute of Music and his bachelor's in music education from the University of Northern Iowa. While in high school, he played trombone in the Quad City Symphony Youth Orchestra.
"Ben is great," said QCSO executive director Ben Loeb Monday in an interview, noting he came highly recommended by Mr. Smith. "I can't tell you how excited I am about this."
"Because we're short staffed, we haven't done nearly enough," Mr. Loeb said of promoting the orchestra and youth ensembles in schools and the community at large. "How can we create better communication in the community? He is the key. We're not just putting somebody in place; we're putting somebody great in place -- somebody who understands the area. This is a great opportunity."
Last July, former Youth Symphony Orchestra conductor Kevin Price-Brenner, Youth Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Paul Alan Price-Brenner and Dortha DeWit, director of the Youth String Ensemble and Prelude Strings, all resigned over what they called unwarranted intrusion by Mr. Loeb -- including questioning of their decisions following auditions for the groups.
Mr. Loeb said last summer the QCSO was not able to reconcile "major differences in philosophy, administration and artistic practice" with the former conductors and that a decision to reorganize and expand the youth programs -- including a year-long youth choir -- was discussed at length by the education committee, the conductors, Mr. Smith and the QCSO's former youth and education coordinator, and agreed to by the symphony board.
Rebecca Swartz, the former education coordinator, left last August to pursue a master's degree at California State University, Long Beach. Katie Thom will stay on as general manager and administrator for the youth ensembles, and Mary Tallitsch will remain as conductor for the youth choir.
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Other conductors have been working part time this season -- Aaron Kaplan is interim conductor of the Youth Symphony Orchestra and Youth Philharmonic Orchestra programs, serving middle through high school students. John Schultz is interim conductor for the Youth String Ensemble, for students in grades five through 10, and Prelude Strings, for students in grades four through eight.
Dr. Klemme will attend all QCSO rehearsals and will conduct the Holiday Pops concert, but will not lead any classical Masterworks concerts to start with, Mr. Loeb said. The QCSO will continue to have occasional guest conductors sub for Mr. Smith.
Dr. Klemme's previous conducting posts include assistant conductor of the National Repertory Orchestra, assistant conductor of the Cleveland Pops Orchestra, and music director of the Santa Fe Youth Symphony Association. He has guest conducted the Cleveland Pops Orchestra, National Repertory Orchestra, and Cleveland Institute of Music Orchestra.
He and his wife, violinist Deborah Coltvet Klemme, have two sons. For more information, visit benjaminklemme.com.
Symphony gets new development director, too
The Quad City Symphony Orchestra on Monday also announced the hiring of Stephen Mohr as its new director of development, beginning Friday.
Mr. Mohr most recently served as director of corporate and foundation relations at the Figge Art Museum, Davenport, and previously worked as development officer for the museum. He is on the board of the Association of Professional Fundraisers, where he holds the office of treasurer and also writes regularly for the group's quarterly newsletter.
Mr. Mohr is taking the place of Paul Plagenz, who recently accepted a position as development director for the Western Illinois University Riverfront Campus.
"Steve knows the community through his work at the Figge," QCSO executive director Ben Loeb said Monday. "He's very smart; he's very interested in supporting arts in the community."
Mr. Plagenz -- who was the QCSO's chief fundraiser since October 2011 -- will begin his new position in Moline on April 14. He replaces Gary Rowe, who retired from Western in December 2013.