Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra looks to close search for new leadership in 2014

As the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra begins its 2014 season, the hope is that it represents an ending as well.

Over the course of a season chock-full of sterling soloists and contemporary classics, all eyes will be on the eight guest conductors vying to become the ninth music director of the CSO.

The position has remained unfilled since Stefan Sanderling’s departure following the 2010 season, and this year marks the beginning of the formal search for his replacement.

“We’ve had three seasons of guest conductors, so we’ve had quite a selection of people that have expressed interest in the job,” said Jason Weintraub, longtime member and personnel manager of the CSO. “The goal is to name somebody at the end of this season. It’s not a ‘set in stone’ thing. If we can’t decide on one person, it’s conceivable that we go one more year.”

Whether or not a decision will be made is up to the newly formed Music Director Search Committee, which is made up of three representatives each from the orchestra, Institution leadership and community at large.

At the end of the summer, the group will make a recommendation to Marty Merkley, vice president and director of programming, as to whom they wish to hire.

Along with their own observations, the committee will consult surveys filled out by concert attendees and members of the CSO after the conclusion of each concert.

Merkley has been the de facto head of the CSO since Sanderling’s exit and expressed his desire to find a head man capable of a long tenure in Chautauqua.

“What we want is a person who is confident and who is able to lead people,” Merkley said. “Some people do a lot of show, but they aren’t leading. Then there are people who outwardly do very little, but they’re leading an army of thousands.”

Among the eight maestros invited to the Institution, it’s an even split between those returning to the grounds and those hoping to make a good first impression.

The quartet of repeat conductors is made up of Marcelo Lehninger, Rossen Milanov, Roberto Minczuk and Maximiano Valdés. The four newcomers are Cristian Macelaru, Bruce Hangen, Christof Perick and Daniel Boico.

Most of the finalists will have the opportunity to lead the CSO through two performances this season, with only Milanov making a lone appearance.

The committee drew from the League of American Orchestras’ definition of what being a music director entails for the criteria by which they will judge the candidates.

Not only must he possess an elite musical ear, the successful director must be able to fill the role of artistic director as well as that of a prominent face within the Chautauquan community.

“I think by defining those three roles in one, that’s how we selected the eight candidates,” said Deborah Sunya Moore, the Institution’s new associate director of programming. “It’s not just people we think can be great conductors, but someone with great vision who can relate to the community here.”

Though the continued search for a permanent music director will carry through the 2014 season, the music itself will maintain the standards Chautauquans have come to expect.

The performance schedule is headlined by the Chautauqua debut of American composer Aaron Jay Kernis’ newest viola concerto. Commissioned in part by the Institution, the piece will be performed by two-time Grammy nominee Paul Neubauer on Aug. 14.

Chautauquans will also see familiar faces in the coming months via the return of violinist Augustin Hadelich and pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk as featured soloists with the CSO. Both have been coming to the Institution “since they were little kids, practically,” Weintraub said, and the two are ingrained as community favorites.

Gavrylyuk’s selection in particular will have an added level of meaning for Chautauquans as he performs George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” on Aug. 16.

Gershwin notably spent the summer of 1925 at Chautauqua working on his “Concerto in F,” thus any performance of his work by the CSO carries an increased meaning across the community.

But the CSO 2014 season won’t consist of just classical works. As part of their auditions this summer, the eight guest conductors must incorporate a piece of contemporary music into their programs.

Though most orchestras across the world include contemporary compositions from time to time, the amount featured this summer will, according to Merkley, be “interesting” for CSO members and patrons alike.

“Normally orchestras will do a few contemporary pieces here or there, but we’ve got it on almost every concert,” Merkley said. “It’s a lot of contemporary music for one season.”