Wooing the Next Conductor the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra Is Looking for a Music Director Who 'Can Do More Than Just Put on a Nice Concert.' and Its Search Committee Hopes an Intensive Interview Process Will Accomplish Just That

By Phelps, Bob | The Florida Times Union, January 10, 1999 | Go to article overview

Wooing the Next Conductor the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra Is Looking for a Music Director Who 'Can Do More Than Just Put on a Nice Concert.' and Its Search Committee Hopes an Intensive Interview Process Will Accomplish Just That


Phelps, Bob, The Florida Times Union


Candidates for what may be Jacksonville's most important cultural job are put through two weeks in a pressure cooker, with few opportunities to let off steam.

The candidates for music director of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, the largest artistic organization in the city, are under the looking glass constantly, whether they're wielding a rehearsal baton or shoving a forkful of gourmet food into their mouths.

Even the real estate agent who takes them on a tour of the city is on the search committee of the Jacksonville Symphony Board.

But plenty is done to make sure that each candidate likes Jacksonville as much as Jacksonville likes him. Prospective conductors stay at the Omni Hotel and tour the nicer neighborhoods in town. They visit the Beaches. They dine at the River Club, Sawgrass Country Club, the Ponte Vedra Club, Cafe Carmon, Sterling's Cafe, Timuquana Country Club and the Wheelhouse at Epping Forest Yacht Club.

During the 1998-99 symphony season, seven candidates, all male, are appearing with the orchestra in two-week stints, directing various parts of the regular symphony schedule. They all are seeking a position left vacant by Roger Nierenberg, conductor laureate, who resigned last season after 14 years on the podium. So far, three of the seven have been through the courting process, and a fourth is in town now.

"I don't think the lay public really thinks of this, but if you were to select the top 10 or 20 public positions, you'd have the symphony conductor among them," Mayor John Delaney said. "After you work through some of the major elected positions, that one [music director] is just critical. It makes a bigger statement on Jacksonville across the country and the world than most people realize."

Ideally, some symphony officials hope the next conductor will live in Jacksonville and not commute because music directors are expected to be a part in the social fabric of the city and help woo big-money donors to the non-profit symphony organization.

But J.F. Bryan IV, chairman of the search committee, said residency is not a prerequisite if it appears the conductor will be socially active in the time he is here.

The candidates are interviewed by Delaney, the symphony guild, the symphony board, the board's search committee, a group of past symphony presidents, an influential group named Beaches Area Residents Supporting the Symphony (BRASS) and the orchestra musicians.

That gave Bryan cause to laugh when told that Fabio Mechetti, the candidate in town now, was hoping to get a day free to go golfing.

"So far, these guys have hardly had a chance to breathe," Bryan said. "We actually had to cancel some of the events for one of them because it was too intense for him." He declined to name who that was.

One candidate, David Allen Miller, music director of the Albany, N.Y., symphony, said he never experienced such intense scrutiny.

"Having talked to colleagues who have been in various searches and having watched how the industry works, it's very telling that some orchestras just do the searches where you just walk in and conduct and go away and they'll let you know," Miller said. "[Jacksonville's] search is the absolute diametric opposite of this. You're looking for someone who can do more than just put on a nice concert."

Bryan was on the search committee that selected Nierenberg 15 years ago. Chairman of that committee was John McCallum, who also is on the current search committee. Other members include symphony musicians James Jenkins, Phillip Pan, Rick Stout, John Wieland, symphony president Gary Good, artistic administrator Cecil Cole, board chairman Travis Storey, past-board chairwoman Sylvia Sinclair and board members Mark Allen, Val Palmer, John Peyton, Mary Pitocchelli and Mary Ellen Smith.

The candidates barely have a chance to unpack their bags before they are whisked to the very peak of the city's skyline. …

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