During a recent swapping of stories about our fair city, something was said that struck a chord: “Dubuque is big enough to have an orchestra but small enough that you can be friends with its maestro.”
As someone who once heard William Intriligator, music director and conductor of the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra, deliver a stirring karaoke rendition of “The Rainbow Connection,” complete with Kermit the Frog voice, I can vouch for this.
This year marks Intriligator’s 20th in leading the orchestra. During that time, the community has gotten to know him as an engaging presence on the podium, programming diverse concert offerings from classical favorites to staged performance collaborations and even dabbling in rock and country.
I, on the other hand, have had the unique opportunity to get to know him as my go-to source for the Telegraph Herald’s symphony coverage — and, indisputably, my most entertaining interview. (You think the guy is expressive while conducting an orchestra? Ask him about Beethoven in a conference room sometime. The level of enthusiasm is pretty much the same.)
News coverage aside, Intriligator and I have existed in somewhat parallel universes for the better part of his time in Dubuque — even living in the same townhouse a few years apart at one point.
In 1999, I was a sophomore at Clarke College, studying journalism and — what seemed an odd combo at the time — opera.
Prior to that year, Nicholas Palmer, a beloved fixture in the community who had enjoyed a lengthy tenure at the helm of the DSO, had announced his plans to pursue the next phase of his conducting career elsewhere. This left a mighty void to be filled, and the DSO sought to meet this through community involvement, hosting a nationwide search for its next maestro. Whittled down to five candidates, each would have an opportunity to conduct performances as part of the DSO’s classics series that season.
As part of a collaboration with Clarke, the DSO had made arrangements for the candidates to offer its music students a master class. Upon their visit to the school, each vying for the position on the podium was assigned a work study student to assist them during their campus visit.
Sister Kate Hendel, then the chair of Clarke’s music department, handed me a sheet of paper containing a brief bio for the candidate to whom I had been assigned: William ... something.
After giving me a moment to briefly look it over, she asked, “Do you have any questions?”
Expecting, I’m sure, for me to conjure up some brilliant inquiry about his impressive educational background that included studies at Princeton University, the piece of music he’d be discussing in-depth with students or his connection to the Midwest, my eyes instead squinted at a string of impossibly perplexing letters: I-N-T-R-I-L-I-G-A-T-O-R.
“How do you say his last name?” I asked.
Two decades later, not only does the name “Intriligator” fly through my vernacular with the greatest of ease, but it’s also among the fastest words I can type on a keyboard as often as my role in reporting about the arts finds me writing about the happenings of our symphony.
Not long after Intriligator took the podium, I began seeking my required undergraduate internship. Eager to combine my interest in writing and my love of music, it was the DSO that provided me that opportunity. There, I learned “the other side” of the journalism aisle in public relations. I also got an in-depth understanding of the nonprofit arts world — a knowledge I lean on heavily today when reporting.
Upon graduating, a job offer at the TH kept me rightly on the path of journalism. It also maintained my immersion in the arts as part of the “beat” I was tasked to cover — some of which encompassed the symphony.
Simultaneously, my music pursuits also began presenting greater opportunities as I began auditioning and performing with professional organizations. One of the first of those was the DSO, after being invited to audition by Intriligator.
I have since collaborated with him and the symphony as a guest soloist numerous times — three occurring within the past year and the most memorable for a Voices from the Warehouse opening reception. Joining a small ensemble from the orchestra, my hiring was contingent upon one unusual request: “I can’t believe I’m actually typing this but ... how would you feel about singing this from a forklift?” Intriligator inquired in an email.
Of the places I’ve gotten to perform, there is something especially gratifying about getting to represent your hometown on your home turf and alongside so many talented musicians as the ones who make up my hometown orchestra. I’ve always been grateful to Intriligator for those opportunities and for his encouragement as I’ve grown in my artistic endeavors.
In marking my 15-year milestone in covering the arts for the TH, I’m also grateful Intriligator has entrusted me in helping tell the story of the DSO, concert season after concert season.
Here’s hoping for more stories to be told ... with the occasional aria delivered from a fork lift.