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Passing the Baton

Now we were in the market again. Of the 107 people who had applied, our search committee chose five who would each conduct a one-hour rehearsal, during which we would check each other out. It’s kind of like playing “Taxi” at the roller rink, only without the funky lights and with a different genre of music: Would we want to skate around with that one to the tunes of Shostakovich and Beethoven? Would this one choose us to sway with, sweaty-palmed, while we hooked ourselves on classics?

We auditioned three candidates on Saturday and two on Sunday. Two were women, two were from Texas, three were associated with Peabody Conservatory, and one spoke like the overstuffed TV director Raoul in the recent movie “Analyze That.” Each had a distinct style, evident in things like how they handled the baton, which passages of the music they chose to dig into, and what they said to the orchestra.

The amazing thing about any good music, and especially about playing it yourself, is that it grips you like Serena Williams grips the handle of her racket, and nothing else is as important as the pleasure of the game. As I played, I realized that the real power was in the music; my role was not to make an exacting judgment, but to size up how each conductor responded to the music’s energy.

Orchestra members filled out evaluation sheets for each candidate, and after the last hopeful had shaken the sweat from his black shirt-sleeves, the search committee reviewed videos from the rehearsals, compiled the evaluations and recommended three finalists to the orchestra’s board, which had also interviewed each candidate that weekend. At the end of June 2004, orchestra members will select their new director from the finalists.

The board has selected Erin Freeman, Shawn Storer and Carolyn Kuan. Eric Stassen, our assistant conductor, also is a finalist. Each will rehearse and conduct a full concert during our upcoming season. After just a teaser rehearsal with these interesting people, really working on concert music will be a thrill. I wonder if the board would consider getting a disco ball for rehearsals. — Angela Lehman-Rios

The Richmond Philharmonic performs its Great Works series at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Singleton Performing Arts Center in November, February and May, and performs family concerts at other locations in December and June.

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