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By Shelby Mack / The Bakersfield Californian
BY SUSAN SCAFFIDI Californian contributor
Judging by the Bakersfield Symphony's last experience in hiring a conductor, finding John Farrer's replacement will not be an easy task. According to retired CSUB music professor Jerome Kleinsasser, who has catalogued the history of the orchestra, the Bakersfield Symphony has had four long-term conductors: founding conductor Harold Burt (1932-1942); Edouard Hurlimann (1947-1969); Alberto Bolet (1971-1975) and Farrer.
During the "audition year" of 1970, several guest conductors, including Bolet, composer and arranger Johnny Green, "The Music Man" composer Meredith Wilson and Farrer led the orchestra for single concerts, said Kleinsasser, who had just joined the music faculty at Cal State Bakersfield and was asked to be one of three people to search for Bolet's replacement.
"I thought he was a person with potential for growth, and by God, he did grow into this. And the guy knows how to read a balance sheet, and that's not to be taken for granted."
-- Jerome Kleinsasser, who participated in the 1970 search that landed John Farrer as BSO conductor
Conductor John Farrer looks back at his legacy.
"It was really a time of transition," Kleinsasser said. "Because we were going from Alberto Bolet, who had many virtues, but he was living in Long Beach (where he served as conductor of the Long Beach Symphony) and he didn't really have a feel for the community."
The field of candidates was exceptionally strong, Kleinsasser said.
"The search committee was really charmed by Carmen Dragon."
But Dragon, who became conductor of the Pasadena Symphony and was well-known for his arrangements of "pops" music, turned out not to be a good fit.
"He was going to commute from down south and he indicated that his arrangements would be fair game," Kleinsasser said.
That meant the orchestra likely would shift away from performing masterworks to becoming a pops orchestra. "Which was not a direction we wanted to go," Kleinsasser said.
There were many things that "sold" the committee on Farrer -- his education and training, his experience to that point, and most of all, some personal characteristics.
"I thought he was a person with potential for growth, and by God, he did grow into this," Kleinsasser said. "And the guy knows how to read a balance sheet, and that's not to be taken for granted."
Kleinsasser also said unlike the previous conductor and some of the candidates, Farrer had no desire to commute. "He worked his way into this community and raised his family here."
Kleinsasser doesn't know if living in Bakersfield will be a job requirement, but noted that fundraising and community outreach require a constant presence and local relationships to be successful.
Farrer, who will not be part of the search process, had a different thought.
"My feeling is you should get the best person you possibly can," Farrer said. "And if you can live here, that's great."
BSO board president Jim Bell hopes to identify three finalists from an expected deluge of up to 300 applicants. This time, the search committee will consist of 10 people, and they are going to be looking at a number of qualities.
"The musicians on the committee will have had the experience of working with each of the conductors," Kleinsasser said. "Their views on this are critical.
"We're certainly looking for someone with a good blend of orchestral experience. We also want someone who shows the kind of promise that John showed back then, and being willing to serve as an ambassador to the county and the town."
Farrer expects his successor will find an orchestra that is ready and able to adapt to new leadership, and hopes the new conductor will not attempt to start from scratch by trying to replace musicians.
"That's easy," Farrer said.
"It was a good orchestra then and it was always a good orchestra. But you have to work with an orchestra slowly to develop the habits that lead to good performances. It did not require replacing players."