Conducting Student Embraces Leadership Roles

Awards, recognition and conducting opportunity shape Mathew Forte’s identity and passion for teaching.

Matthew Forte conducting at the Aspen Music Festival in the summer of 2015.

As a long-time member of large ensembles, Matthew Forte always kept his eye on the conductor. Sometimes, seated in the trumpet section, he envisioned what it would be like to be up front and leading the group.

Today, the musician from New Haven, Conn., is living that dream and being recognized for his conducting talents. He’s stepped onto the podium as a doctoral student in the MSU College of Music, and as a fellow at the American Academy of Conducting at Aspen—one of the nation’s top conducting programs. Michigan State has recognized his teaching and leadership through the Rasmussen Doctoral Recruitment Award in 2014 and most recently, the 2017 Excellence-in-Teaching Citation. To top it off, he also recently became a cover conductor for a renowned U.S. orchestra.

“I just love teaching, on the podium and off the podium,” says Forte. “Conducting is essentially the opportunity to teach and foster the growth of the musicians who sit in front of you. You have to be socially aware and empathetic, and balance everyone’s needs with that of what the group needs to accomplish.”

Forte came to MSU five years ago after earning his undergraduate degree from the Hartt School of the University of Hartford near his Connecticut hometown. When he met MSU Professor of Conducting Kevin Noe, Forte was all for becoming part of the master’s program in conducting.

Shortly after starting his M.A. in 2012, Forte assumed leadership for the College’s Concert Orchestra. Since then, the ensemble of primarily non-music majors grew from about 40 members to nearly 75 today, and saw a surge in attendance.

Noe says that Forte consistently works to better the structure of the orchestra, as well as rehearsal schedules. Forte has reworked repertoire, overhauled the audition process, and ramped up the advertising and marketing strategy.

“He shaped the direction of the Concert Orchestra in every way,” says Noe. “That includes ideology, policy, enrollment, quality of performance, cultural identity and the energy in the room.”

Forte’s work with the Concert Orchestra as well as his research and scholarly activities were among the achievements that caught the attention of the American Academy of Conducting at Aspen. He was awarded a fellowship to attend the prestigious academy in both 2014 and 2015. Aspen later recommended Forte to serve as a cover conductor for the St. Louis Symphony—a position he trained for and assisted on a concert series in October 2016.

“It’s very flattering to get a post like that, and it’s great to be around musicians of such high technical caliber,” says Forte, who is now “on-call” to cover for the St. Louis Symphony when needs arise. “Although teaching at the collegiate level is central to my identify, I’m loving the chance to work with professionals. It’s central to my education.”

Forte completed his master’s in orchestral conducting from MSU, and is currently working on his doctorate. His hopes are to land a conducting post at a school or university, and build on his passion for teaching.

“One of the values that my teachers, including Professor Noe, have fostered in me is I should always be true to myself and what I want to do,” says Forte. “Of all the awards and fellowships, leading the MSU Concert Orchestra has been the most central to my identity, and the type of work I want to pursue.”

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