Friday, Nov. 9, guest conductor Jamie Laredo stood on the stage at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and performed Vivaldi’s familiar violin solo, “The Four Seasons,” as part of the opening concert in Sarasota Orchestra’s Masterworks series.
Musicians and patrons throughout the program shared one recurring thought: “Could this be the next artistic director of Sarasota Orchestra?” That question will remain throughout the next six guest-conductor appearances, and possibly into next season.
The search for a new maestro began a little less than a year ago, when Leif Bjaland completed a devoted 15 years at Sarasota Orchestra.
It was determined that the position would be filled via closed search. The term “closed” means that a guest conductor may or may not be a candidate for the position.
“We thought it was important for all the candidates to have confidentiality to show their interest without disclosing their full interest to the world,” says Joe McKenna, president and CEO of Sarasota Orchestra.
This process offers a chance for the orchestra to try out potential candidates, but it’s also a chance to make a sales pitch to a conductor whose only intention is to be a guest conductor. Either way, the series will entertain with a showcase of talented conductors and musicians until the right person is found.
“Everyone has a strong feeling that we will keep searching until we find that magic,” McKenna says. The next artistic director will be chosen through a consensus — this person will have great chemistry with the orchestra.
The final say will come from a search committee of 10 members: two board members, four musicians, two staff members, a member independent of the organization and the search committee chairman, Edward Alley. Recently, the committee has been meeting as often as two times a week. They will eventually determine when a consensus has been reached and present their decision to the board.
The search committee is conducting formal and informal surveys of musicians and the audience following each performance. Daniel Jordan, violinist and concertmaster on the search committee, and the other committee musicians have been fitting in as many conversations with their colleagues as possible.
“I’ll say affectionately, that musicians are an opinionated bunch — we get lots of feedback,” Jordan laughs.
The committee represents the organization as a whole, explains Jordan. “It’s not like one of those searches where we are the ones that hold the keys to the car.”
The committee also decided upon the credentials of the future artistic director. He or she must be a stellar musician, must lead Sarasota Orchestra into the future, and this person will build on the innovation already established at the orchestra.
Until they find that ideal candidate, the orchestra will “date around,” so to speak. It could be that one of the seven guest conductors will be its next artistic director, but if the chemistry isn’t right, then the search will continue with the guest conductors being planned for next season.
“We intend to get this thing right,” says Jordan. “(Patrons) might feel like it’s taking a while, but this is the kind of search that can’t really move quickly because a lot of these conductors are booked a year or more in advance.”
There could be a new artistic director as early as the next performance, but it could take as long as spring 2014. Both McKenna and Jordan suggest that even though the search committee is waiting for the perfect fit, a sense of urgency remains.
But, let it be known that Sarasota Orchestra is not in limbo. Instead of feeling directionless or leaderless, the organization is excited about the transition and its future.
“I think this is a time of incredible excitement and growth for the musicians in the orchestra because we are getting to work with really world-class conductors,” says Jordan.
Maestro Thomas Wilkins
Instrument: Cello and tuba
Current or most recent position: Music Director Omaha Symphony; Principal Guest Conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and Germeshausen Family; and Youth Concert conductor chair with Boston Symphony
Program: Nov. 30 to Dec. 2; “The Planets’”
Program notes from conductor: (Mozart’s “Jupiter”) is the last of three symphonies that he wrote in a three-week period. It’s the end of his symphonic writing, but one of the most productive times in his musical life. (This masterwork) affirms the fact that he was sort of the Michael Jordan of composers.
Career highlight: The moment when a concert-goer came to me and said the magic words we all love to hear, “I had no idea it could be this wonderful.”
Favorite composer or piece to conduct: My all-time favorite piece is Mahler’s First Symphony. But, interestingly, I have come to the conclusion, in the past few years, that the greatest conductor to ever live is Beethoven. For me, whatever I’m conducting is my favorite at the time.
Maestro Daniel Hege
Instrument: Oboe, by training, but now piano
Current or most recent position: Director of Wichita Symphony
Program: Feb. 1 to Feb. 3; “Turning Points”
Program notes from conductor: Haydn uses humorous things like unexpected silences and interesting juxtapositions of harmonies … After Haydn, the general orchestra textures get more lush and thick … (The Barber Violin concerto) is very challenging for the soloist and the orchestra. The last work on the program is perfect to follow Debussy, because it in many ways takes over where Debussy left off … Stravinsky uses a rich texture in the music and orchestration … (Overall) the pieces work well together.
Career highlight: Carnegie Hall in 2003 with the Syracuse Symphony. Everyone was on his or her game for that performance.
Favorite composer or piece to conduct: The one I’m doing at that moment … When (a composer) is committed to a particular piece, all the commitment is there.
Maestro Andrew Grams
Program: March 14 to March 17; “Made in America”
Program notes from conductor: It’s a program that is varied; it has something for everybody. There’s good fun on the first half with some Eurpoean-centric fun with an American taste to it. I’m sure the first two pieces, the Gershwin and the Fine, were both inspired by the Dvorák (the third piece in the program).
Career highlight: Pass! There is no one thing. I have way too many awesome things that have happened to me … much more than any man is deserved of getting.
Favorite composer or piece to conduct: When it comes to purely conducting, it would be the works of Johann Strauss — I love waltzes and polkas.
Maestro Alessandro Sicilani
Current or most recent position: Former Music Director of the Columbus symphony orchestra
Program: Feb. 28 to March 3; “Beethoven’s Ninth”
Program notes from conductor: I have lots of experience with this one … This is the first example of a major work while using voice in a symphony — it was really a new thing. It’s a magic work.
Career highlight: My first concert in a little town in Deruta, Italy, was a great memory, and also my first (concert) at Carnegie Hall, in 2001, with Columbus Symphony.
Favorite composer or piece to conduct: The soup de jour.
Maestro Peter Bay
Instrument: Retired flautist
Current or most recent position: Director of Austin Symphony
Program: April 5 to April 7; “East Meets West”
Program notes from conductor: The Copland symphony is the culmination of his craft. It’s an exciting, powerful, emotional work and a very positive one. Tchaikovsky is a purely romantic piece of music, and it also wears its emotions on its sleeves. For a piece that was considered unplayable when it was first heard, it has become one of the most famous and most performed piano concertos.
Career highlight: The first time I conducted Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.” That is a holy grail of classical music and the experience I had conducting that for the first time is one I’d never forget.
Favorite composer or piece to conduct: For this program, the Copland symphony is my favorite. It’s whatever is next, that’s my favorite piece.
*Maestro Anu Tali
Current or most recent position: Music Director, Conductor, Nordic Symphony Orchestra
Program: Jan 11. to Jan. 13; “The Emperor”
*Maestro Jamie Laredo
Current or most recent position: Music Director, Vermont Symphony Orchestra
Program: Nov. 9 to 11; The Four Seasons + 7
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