Choose the Maestro

Choose the Maestro

Leitmotif: search for Fairfax Symphony Orchestra’s new maestro will shape the entire season.


The Fairfax Symphony Orchestra will take a sort of "American Idol" approach to selecting its next music director, by auditioning six finalists as guest conductors this season, with audience feedback a key part of the process.

Visualize the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra as it begins its 52nd season in the county, and all 95 of its musicians, as one distinct instrument.

"The orchestra is in a sense an instrument to be played," said Concertmaster David Salness, 47 of McLean, who has performed with "The Pride of Fairfax County" for 10 years.

"I’m curious how each of the conductors will play this instrument differently," he said.

For the first time in 37 years, The Fairfax Symphony Orchestra begins its season Saturday, Sept. 20, at George Mason University with a new conductor.

With six conductors, actually.


More than 245 applicants from all over the world, literally, applied for the music director position, and six finalists were chosen to replace William Hudson, who retired at the end of last season.

Each of the six finalists will perform — audition — as a guest conductor for one of the six Masterworks concerts of the 2008-2009 season.

After each finalist has conducted, musicians, search committee members and audience members will all have the opportunity to react.

"It should be fascinating from both the players’ point of view and the public’s. The orchestra is in a very good place, with good musicians … and each of the conductors undoubtedly will make the orchestra sound different," said Salness.

The search for Fairfax Symphony Orchestra’s new maestro is the leitmotif that will shape the entire season.

"Orchestra members will have their own criteria for assessing the quality of each of the candidates. The audience will have its own process," said Salness. "I am looking forward to audience feedback.

"I am interested in the candidate who gives a discernable voice to the orchestra, who makes the orchestra stand out in the community," he said.

<b>AT THE END </b>of the season in June 2009, The Fairfax Symphony Orchestra plans to announce the new music director, said Cathy Smith, marketing director with the orchestra.

"Any kind of change can be difficult, but this is very exciting to us," she said, calling the six music director finalists "the best that’s out there."

Francis Kieffer, of Mantua, has been a regular attendee of concerts with her husband Jerry Kieffer for years. She looks forward to learning about each of the guest conductors and watching how the orchestra responds to each conductor throughout the year.

"It’s kind of an adventure, actually," she said, of the upcoming season.

Lisa Baltzer, a violist, is the longest playing member of the orchestra who joined in 1964.

"I’m dying to go to the first rehearsal this week," said Baltzer, of Vienna. "I expect it to be very exciting, very refreshing because each conductor will bring his or her own music that they love and are inspired by."

Each of the six conductors has chosen the repertoire for their concert, as well as the guest soloist to perform.

"I’m looking forward to the new ideas and new energy that each of the conductor finalists will bring," said Baltzer.

<b>THE NEW </b>music director will assume the position at the beginning of the 2009-2010 season.

The music director plans the music to be performed each season, invites the guest soloists, auditions new players, and will serve as the public face of the orchestra, Smith said. "He or she also shapes its education and outreach programs, and embodies the overall philosophy and artistic direction of the organization."

Helen Fall, a viola player who joined the orchestra in 1993, will be focusing closely on the six conductors this season, from the elbows down.

"They have to make us believe that this is the way it should be done. They have 100 people who think they know something," said Fall, of Fairfax. "To see a conductor that can really tell you non-verbally what we’re doing, if he or she can make you want to do something completely from the elbows down, that’s something."

The Fairfax Symphony Orchestra is funded in part by the County of Fairfax, the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the Arts Council of Fairfax County.

The Orchestra made its Kennedy Center debut in 1974.

"It takes a lot of money to put it all together, it’s a commitment that Fairfax has made," said Fall. "I love playing, I love being a musician, it’s my life."

Guest artists appearing with the FSO have included Jean-Pierre Rampal and Ella Fitzgerald.

Former National Symphony Orchesta music director Leonard Slatkin guest conducted the orchestra last season.

"You don’t need to cross the river to have a high quality orchestral listening experience," said Salness.