Augusta's Maestro will be missed

May 15, 2008, News 12 at 6 o'clock

AUGUSTA, Ga.--- The curtain is about to come down on a remarkable run. Maestro Donald Portnoy has already been conducting the Augusta Symphony for 16 years. But he just finished his last full season. And he'll be missed for many reasons.

First of all, just look at him. He looks like Hollywood's version of what a conductor should be. Right out of Central Casting. But after an 18 year run, Donald Portnoy says it's time to let someone else lead.

News 12's Richard Rogers spent some time with the maestro between rehearsals recently. They talked about his years in Augusta and the timing of his announcement.

"Why...?" Portnoy repeated the question.
"You know people ask me that question all the time..."

Dr. Portnoy says it's simple. After all this time in the spotlight, its time. The building years--- are behind him now.

"I enjoy taking an orchestra and building it." he confessed. "I mean if the New York Philharmonic called me- I would probably do it, you know."

It's been a career dedicated to bringing the music to the people. Portnoy made it a point to share Augusta's symphony, taking it on the road to other towns.

"We've been to Swainsboro, Waynesboro and all the other 'boros," he said.

And he's conducted symphonies--- around the world.

"One of my students said the other day- how many countries have you conducted in- so I started to add up... 22 countries."

And to prove that there's nothing stuffy about this guy--- or his music, he even appeared in a series of commercials a few years back. He was dressed as a country singer, and a rap star, making the point that if you'll just try his music, he'll try yours.

(RR) " What is it like to stand here in front and conduct a symphony orchestra?"
(DP) "Well, its a very humbling experience. The orchestra is your instrument and its what they do that makes you look good."

"They will give you 75-80 percent of their talent automatically," Portnoy said, the other 25% you have to prove you deserve." And he's been proving it to his musicians and his audiences--- season after season.

Donald Portnoy is only the 2nd conductor in the symphony's 54 year history. For some younger fans in Augusta-- he's the only conductor they've ever known. His only real regret--- seems to be that he was doing this interview in a church, and not a performing arts center.

(RR) "Would you like to see the symphony have a permanent home thats not a church sanctuary?"
(DP) "Oh sure- I've always said that. I think the people of Augusta deserve a real bona fide performance hall."

News 12 also asked Dr. Portnoy if there was any music on his i-pod that might surprise us, and his answer was surprising. He doesn't have an i-pod. Hopefully the folks at the symphony will remedy that before he takes his final bow.

Then again -- maybe he has enough music in his head.

Donald Portnoy says he will continue to run a conducting institute which he founded at U.S.C. and he will continue to conduct during Charleston's Spoleto Festival.

And even though he just wrapped up his last full year-- he will conduct some concerts during the '09 season starting this fall. Augusta's Maestro wanted to make sure the symphony has plenty of time to audition his replacement. They're down to four candidates who have big shoes to fill.

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