Meet Rockford Symphony’s New Maestro

The Rockford Symphony Orchestra’s (RSO) long search for a new music director is over. After three years of sifting through more than 200 applications, hosting nine original concerts conducted by nine finalists, and with an unexpected global pandemic thrown in for good (or bad) measure, Yaniv Attar is set to take the podium for his first concert this fall.

“I could not be more pleased with our selection,” says Julie Thomas, RSO’s executive director. “Yaniv brings an exceptional level of artistry along with a great sense of humor and approachability.”

For Attar, the position represents an exciting new chapter in his career, one that has been a long time coming. As the first of RSO’s finalists to lead a concert, back in January 2022, he had to wait almost a year to be chosen.

“It’s like speed dating in slow motion,” he says. “It wasn’t about who is the best conductor. It’s about chemistry. Now that the dust has settled, I’m excited to get to work.”

Attar is only the fifth music director of the RSO, which was founded in 1934. He replaces longtime maestro Steven Larson, who retired at the end of the 2020-21 season after serving as music director for more than 30 years.

“It’s always thrilling when you join an orchestra that has a rich history like the RSO,” says Attar. “When I applied for the job, I knew that it meant leading one of Rockford’s most important cultural ambassadors. It’s exciting to be a part of its 90-year history.”

Attar brings with him a history of his own as an accomplished musician and an award-winning conductor. A native of Israel, he has a long list of accolades, including first-prize winner of the Duna Szimfonikus Conducting Competition Budapest, multiple Sir Georg Solti Foundation Awards, and the 2009 Bruno Walter Memorial Foundation Award.

He also brings a wealth of experience, having worked with the Cincinnati Symphony, Dohnanyi Orchestra Budapest, the Israel Chamber Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland and a long list of other notable ensembles.

In addition to directing RSO, Attar plans to continue serving as music director of the Bellingham Symphony and an artistic partner with the Northwest Sinfonietta, both in Washington State where he resides with his wife and children. He is also wrapping up his final season with the Pennsylvania Chamber Orchestra, where he was music director for eight years.

Now that he has signed on the dotted line for RSO, he’s ready to roll up his sleeves and start making music on Main Street.

“The RSO has a wonderful artistic advisory committee,” says Attar. “The first thing I got to do was sit down with them and do my favorite part of the job, which is planning the upcoming season.”
Attar plans to make his debut with the orchestra Sept. 9 at the Coronado Performing Arts Center in Rockford. For Attar, that first concert cannot come soon enough.

“It’s tough,” he laughs. “They’re keeping me waiting, but it’s going to be so worth it.”

Attar likens his role as a conductor to taking apart a piece of machinery and examining each component.

“I always think to myself, ‘Who needs me the most and where?” he says. “‘Which section do I need to give my attention to?’ Then, little by little, I put it all back together.”

While Attar prepares for his debut as the RSO’s new music director, the orchestra has several concerts that will be led by guest conductors. Attar is hopeful audiences won’t wait for his arrival to buy a ticket and experience the exquisite artistry the orchestra has to offer.

“There’s nothing like experiencing live music, especially in a beautiful hall like the Coronado,” he says. “You’ve got this incredible band in your backyard. To be sitting in an audience, completely silent, listening to the orchestra play beautiful music…there’s nothing like it.” ❚