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Who Will Be HSO's New Director?

Marcelo Lehninger Leads A Terrific Crop Of Finalists

Jeffrey Johnson

January 09, 2011

The Hartford Symphony Orchestra will be announcing its choice for a new music director any day now to succeed Edward Cumming, its leader since 2001.

The search process was extensive and thorough. It produced seven finalists who were announced in the fall of 2009. To give both the public and the orchestra a chance to hear and compare the finalists, each conducted an entire program of four concerts with the HSO.

The public responded — far beyond expectation — with a significant online following during the search process, even though it lasted through the 2009-2010 season and the first half of the 2010-2011 season. Many thoughtful comments were posted on a blog set up for audience feedback on the HSO's website, http://www.hartfordsymphony.org.

The candidates in order of their performances are: Constantine Kitsopoulos (November 2009), Andrew Grams (December 2009), Tito Muñoz (January 2010), Tania Miller (March 2010), Kevin Rhodes (October 2010), Marcelo Lehninger (November 2010) and Carolyn Kuan (December 2010).

Several of them could successfully lead this orchestra.

Marcelo Lehninger would be my first choice. He is one of the new assistant conductors of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, associate conductor of the Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra in Brazil, and principal conductor of the Dell'Arte Sinfonieta, also in Brazil, his country of birth..

In the United States, he has conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra in Virginia, the Conductors Institute Orchestra in New York and the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.

"Oh, my God!" Lehninger said of the HSO last October. "This is an orchestra that has the potential to become a very important orchestra in the country, not just a regional orchestra — No !— a very important and established national symphony."

Lehninger projected a warm and relaxed personality, but his musical persona was commanding and precise. He expressed a clear interest in making Hartford his home. He is young and talented and would bring a youthful spirit to the HSO.

Also In The Running

Kevin Rhodes or Carolyn Kuan also would be fabulous choices.

Rhodes is music director of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, right up I-91, and lives in the area. But he has maintained an impressive schedule as a guest conductor and works regularly with major opera houses in Europe.

He brought a significant following with him when he performed in Hartford. One imagines that if he were with the HSO, new possibilities might emerge for connecting the classical music scenes in Springfield and Hartford.

Rhodes is articulate, witty and quick with a laugh. He is a skilled pianist and has big energy. His leadership would likely be a continuation of the HSO's successful aspects under Cumming.

Carolyn Kuan has worked with an impressive list of organizations that include the Seattle, San Francisco and Baltimore symphonies and the New York City Ballet.

"One of the reasons I am very excited about [the HSO]," said Kuan last November, "is that I feel like if we work together that this orchestra can be a leader and a model of the new 21st-century orchestra: a highly relevant and change-effecting organization. We are entering an engaged and participatory time." Kuan intends to move to the Hartford area if selected and become part of the community.

In her HSO performance, she conducted Barber and Mozart from memory and showed three very different sounds during the course of the program. Kuan could be dramatic and full of energy but also had an engaging sense of humor. The HSO likely would be innovative and surprising under her leadership while also developing a more significant digital presence.

The Other Finalists

HSO executive director Kristen Phillips said Kitsopoulos and Grams have withdrawn as finalists, so that leaves two other candidates, Tito Muñoz and Tania Miller, both of whom have the potential to succeed with the orchestra. But there appears to be an unresolved issue for both.

Miller is in her eighth season as music director of the Victoria Symphony, based on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Muñoz has recently been named music director of the Opéra National de Lorraine and the Orchestre Symphonique et Lyrique de Nancy in France.

While it is not unusual for conductors to commute between locations, is this the best arrangement for an organization like the Hartford Symphony? Would a commuting conductor be able to devote the time necessary to develop an increased community presence? Would a commuting conductor be able to find new audiences, court new donors and bring the organization to a new level?

There are many different constituencies involved in a decision like this one. Consensus will need to be reached among the musicians and the HSO administration. A contract will need to be agreed on.

But it is the sign of a well-executed search that, on the edge of the announcement, there are several viable candidates.

It is thrilling when an orchestra begins to work with a new music director. The sound of the orchestra will shift and change. There will be new preferences for repertoire and soloists. We need to rally behind the new conductor and see what he or she has to offer.

Soon we will learn what the HSO's future holds in store.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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