Slower tempo: Salisbury Symphony conductor Hagy retiring

Published 12:10 am Saturday, March 11, 2023

SALISBURY — For 35 years, David Hagy has been one of the biggest reasons music has been celebrated and thrived in Salisbury.

He has been the music director and conducting at the Salisbury Symphony since the late 1980s, and now he is ready to start a new chapter in his life. Hagy is retiring next month and will be conducting his last shows for the symphony. Even with a long and storied career behind him, Hagy is still looking forward to what is next.

Hagy grew up in Indianapolis. According to him, his mother was not a fan of music and his dad “only danced,” and they never had any records around their house. It was actually the public school system Hagy attended that instilled in him an appreciation and passion for music. He was in the first grade when he was first tested on orchestral pieces and composers.

“By the time I was through eighth grade, I had been trained to know 80 orchestral pieces and their composers,” Hagy said.

Hagy started playing the violin in the sixth grade and was eventually allowed to play other kinds of instruments in other programs. Throughout his education, he played the violin, piano, clarinet, oboe, percussion and woodwind instruments. Some of his favorite composers are Bach and Samuel Barber.

“The decisions that public school system made led me to be a classical orchestra conductor. It doesn’t exist today,” Hagy said.

Music slowly started to take over Hagy’s life, to the point where he wanted to comprehend it to a more intense and even personal degree than others did.

“I wanted to understand how did this thing of sounds manipulate emotions. Because it certainly does for me and maybe that’s what I have innately more than other people,” Hagy said.

And all his hard work paid off. Hagy would eventually get his master’s and his doctorate in orchestral conducting from Yale University. After graduating, he managed the Yale Symphony before moving to Salisbury to become the music director, a job he describes as encompassing, but rewarding.

“Music director means a lot of things besides conducting. Planning a variety of things to do with personnel, programming, all sorts of things,” Hagy said.

Conducting is one of the drivers that makes or breaks a symphony. While many people watching in the audience may see what Hagy does on stage, it is not uncommon to wonder what exactly a conductor’s job is.

“Most people think that I’m keeping everybody together and certainly that’s a first and foremost job of a conductor, but that underestimates the skills of the players in front of you,” Hagy said. “But it doesn’t hurt if you look at the person when it’s time for them to play and they appreciate that.”

He says one of his earliest mentors best described conducting. “He said, ‘You need to tell them how you want them to sound. What kind of tone? What kind of emotion are you wanting from this music?'”

Conductors need to work on translating what the original composer wrote down. There’s a wrong note, wrong articulation or wrong dynamic in almost every piece of music and it is up to Hagy to decipher what he thinks the composer meant to do.

“That’s called interpretation, figuring out what was really the intent of the composer,” Hagy said.

Besides being music director at the Salisbury Symphony, Hagy was the orchestra director at Wake Forest for 27 years, worked with several youth orchestras, and got to do some musical theater in his spare time. Hagy still applied for other jobs during his time here, but he feels like what he’s done for Salisbury is what he’s always wanted to do as a career.

“I’m a little bit different than most conductors…I really preferred to establish an orchestra and do something in a small community and be the music resource for a smaller community than try to work myself up to the highest level that I could achieve,” Hagy said. “That’s really what I wanted for me was the ability to do musical theater, work with youth, work with those at a college level and work with professionals.”

On March 18, Hagy will be conducting the “Ravishing Romantics” concert at the Salisbury Symphony. It will showcase the music of Samuel Barber, Edvard Grieg and Johannes Brahms. This one is extra special because former Wake Forest alumni Zachary Saffa will be the piano soloist. Hagy and Saffa have known each other for 15 years and are very close.

“He’s as much of a son as I’ll ever have,” Hagy said.

Both of their families are coming from all over the country to see them perform. “It’s just a huge delight,” Hagy said. There’s even a big dinner planned for the day after to celebrate the concert and Hagy’s career.

Hagy has devoted his life to music and is ready to take it easy after all these years. Hagy’s last show in April will be “Celebrating Sondheim,” a concert to commemorate Stephen Sondheim’s impact in the theater. Hagy will still be involved with Salisbury, where he will be named music director emeritus, an honor for “people departing in the academic world.” Hagy plans on conducting “The Nutcracker” and “Pops at the Post” in the future. He does hope to spend a good amount of his time in New York City to be closer to the hub of musical theater.