For Ming Luke ’00, variety is the spice of his musical life.
Luke, who graduated with a double major in music education and piano pedagogy, is a conductor who makes music with many different ensembles. The early weeks of 2019 saw him conducting the Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra’s performance of Dvorak’s The Spectre’s Bride and assisting during the San Francisco Symphony’s presentation of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 and concerts by San Francisco Opera and San Bernardino Symphony.
Based in California’s Bay Area, Luke is also the principal guest conductor for San Francisco Ballet, music director for the Merced Symphony, associate conductor and education director for the Berkeley Symphony, and music director for the Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra.
He says collaborating with different ensembles allows him to conduct more of the great music repertoire. And while conducting different types of music such as pops, classical, opera and choral works isn’t unusual in Europe, it’s much less common in America.
“In the U.S., conductors tend to be pigeonholed,” Luke says. “They tend to be classified as orchestra conductors, opera conductors or ballet conductors only. It’s not that common in the rest of the world because composers didn’t limit themselves to writing one type of genre. Tchaikovsky wrote great operas, great ballets and great symphonic works, so only focusing on only certain areas of his compositions doesn’t make sense to me.”
He describes the conductor’s job mainly as trying to unify an orchestra or ensemble in a singular musical vision during a performance.
“If you’re an instrumentalist, like a violinist, different violinists will have different interpretations of various pieces, different approaches and different experiences that lead to those interpretations,” he says. “The same thing goes for conductors. Conductors will have a certain interpretation of a piece.”
One of the reasons Luke, who was raised in nearby Belle Mead, N.J., attended Westminster Choir College was to work with Professor of Music Education Frank Abrahams, with whom Luke had collaborated with on a chorus featuring vocal singers throughout the tristate area.
His collaboration with Abrahams also influenced his decision to conduct choral performances as a professional. “It’s something I was always interested in, and the opportunity at Westminster to perform with some phenomenal orchestras like the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra was a big influence on my training and musical experiences,” Luke says.
While Luke has long loved music, he considered other career options. His mother is a chemist and his father is a mathematician, and he studied both of those while attending Westminster.
“I realized music was what I wanted to do, and to be expressive and to work with all these great ensembles,” Luke says. “My experience at Westminster solidified that.”