Theater & Arts

Fresno Philharmonic announces finalists for new music director

Meet the candidates for Fresno Philharmonic's next music director

In a video produced by the Fresno Philharmonic, the six candidates for the music director position are unveiled. The six candidates will each conduct a concert in the 2016-17 season. The candidates are: Sameer Patel, assistant conductor of San Die
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In a video produced by the Fresno Philharmonic, the six candidates for the music director position are unveiled. The six candidates will each conduct a concert in the 2016-17 season. The candidates are: Sameer Patel, assistant conductor of San Die

With Theodore Kuchar’s 15 years as music director of the Fresno Philharmonic coming to a close at the end of the 2015-16 season, it will be a chance for a new conductor to take his place on the podium.

The orchestra on Tuesday announced the names of the six finalists selected to compete for the post.

“We’re thrilled about this group of six candidates,” said Stephen Wilson, the orchestra’s executive director. “We’re incredibly impressed with their achievements thus far in their careers and the potential they present to us as possible music directors.”

The five men and one woman each will conduct one of the Masterworks concerts in the 2016-17 season and spend an intensive week meeting subscribers, musicians, donors and – most important – members of the orchestra’s search committee. The candidates and concert dates are:

▪ October 2016: Sameer Patel, assistant conductor, San Diego Symphony.

▪ November 2016: Daniel Meyer, music director, Asheville Symphony and Erie Philharmonic.

▪ January 2017: Alexander Mickelthwate, music director, Winnipeg Symphony.

▪ February 2017: Aram Demirjian, associate conductor, Kansas City Symphony.

▪ March 2017: Rei Hotoda, associate conductor, Utah Symphony.

▪ April 2017: José-Luis Novo, music director, Annapolis Symphony and Binghamton Philharmonic.

The announcement was made in a video presentation early Tuesday evening at the Fresno Art Museum. The video was made by Bay Area filmmaker Tal Skloot of Tritone Film, who directed the documentary “Freeway Philharmonic,” an exploration of California musicians who cobble together professional careers by playing in cities up and down the state (including Fresno).

As per American tradition, finding a new music-director position for a significant regional orchestra such as the Fresno Philharmonic is an elaborate, time-consuming and very public process. It’s hard to come up with examples from other fields that put candidates through such a long and drawn-out “try out,” other than college professors who work for years to try to achieve tenure.

Speaking to the competitiveness of the field, the orchestra received 105 applications worldwide for the position.

The 13-member search committee, made up of Wilson, board members, musicians and one community member (Fresno State choral conductor Anna Hamre), narrowed the candidates to six finalists by Skype interviews and viewing YouTube videos of their conducting.

The criteria were demanding. First and foremost, Wilson said, is finding an excellent conductor and musician.

“In addition to that, we’re looking for someone with artistic vision and innovative programming ideas, and someone who will be an effective ambassador both for the Fresno Philharmonic as well as the art form.”

Also important: a strong commitment to education and cultivating the audience of the future.

It’s definitely a requirement of the job that the music director needs to be an active and visible presence in Fresno beyond just the conducting of concerts.

Stephen Wilson, Fresno Philharmonic’s executive director

The Tuesday video announcement at the museum was attended by orchestra subscribers and members of the arts community. Board president Judith Kuipers and search committee chair Bernard Karian offered introductory remarks, followed by the video and a reception.

The orchestra wants to find someone committed to the fabric of the community.

“It’s definitely a requirement of the job that the music director needs to be an active and visible presence in Fresno beyond just the conducting of concerts,” Wilson said. “Whether or not they make Fresno their primary residence is not a requirement and will depend on the candidate.”

For each of the six candidates, the week leading up to the concert he or she conducts will be busy. The itinerary will include rehearsals with musicians and opportunities to meet subscribers. The orchestra will solicit feedback from audiences after each performance.

The search committee hopes to make the announcement as soon as possible after the last candidate visits Fresno, although when he or she actually starts conducting will depend on prior commitments and availability.

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