Friday, Sep 27 2013 04:47 PM

Who will fill conductor's shoes?

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    Conductor John Farrer will leave the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra at the end of the 2014-15 season.

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BY SUSAN SCAFFIDI Contributing writer

As the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra prepares for this year's new season, a committee of musicians and board members is focused on next year's season, trying to answer the question: who will replace John Farrer?

Once the announcement that Farrer will be leaving after the 2014-15 season was made in the spring, the orchestra began advertising for a new music director. Jerome Kleinsasser, who chairs the search committee, said the plan is to have each of the finalists conduct one of the subscription concerts that season, which means the committee must identify the "short list" of applicants no later than this winter. Kleinsasser said that hasn't been an easy task.

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"It really is a very wide range of ages and preparations and experiences that these people bring."

-- Jerome Kleinsasser, who chairs the committee searching for the next Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra conductor

"It's not a simple job, obviously," said Kleinsasser, who noted that 157 conductors submitted applications before the Aug. 15 deadline. Kleinsasser said the applicants are "all over the map."

"It really is a very wide range of ages and preparations and experiences that these people bring," Kleinsasser said.

The pool encompasses conductors from Asia, Finland, Germany and Russia, as well as the United States, including California, and a number of women. He credited the response to the fact that the BSO is still a thriving orchestra, and one that will pay a full salary -- yet to be negotiated -- instead of a fee-for-service stipend. Each member of the search committee has read all 157 applications, and has narrowed the field down to 43 -- what Kleinsasser called the "quality files."

"Now we're working on a 'short list' of no more than 10," he said.

So what is the committee looking for?

"First and foremost, they have to be musicians with 'chops,' with technique," said Kleinsasser, who cited experience as another key factor.

One thing working in the favor of the search committee is the sneak peek allowed by the Digital Age.

"I bet you 75 percent of the (applicants) we've got left are on YouTube," Kleinsasser said.

The semi-finalists will be assigned a concert, part of which already will be programmed; the applicant will get to choose the repertoire for the rest of the concert. Kleinsasser said the rehearsal will be a big part of the audition, and the primary evaluators of each conductor's total performance will be the orchestra musicians themselves.

"You learn an awful lot more about conductors in rehearsal than in concert," Kleinsasser said. "Orchestra members will have the largest voice; they form a majority on the committee as well."

Kleinsasser worried that one of the most vital qualities of the new conductor may be the hardest to find.

"This is someone who can get along with people, because the relationship between a music director and an orchestra is a very special one," Kleinsasser said.

The new conductor will also have to represent the orchestra to the community.

"Is this person going to be the face of the Bakersfield Symphony?" Kleinsasser asked.

"(John Farrer)'s not an easy guy to replace because he's got a unique blend of musicality and technique and diplomacy."

Farrer and his family also have lived in Bakersfield during his entire tenure with the orchestra. Kleinsasser said he can't predict what will happen with his replacement.

"It's one of the things that made John so successful," Kleinsasser said. "Everyone knew him; he really sold the orchestra."

The position of music director has evolved over Farrer's tenure from that single role, to one that was combined with the business duties of an executive director.

The two jobs were separated again last year when Bryan Burrow became CEO of the orchestra, first on an interim basis, and then officially in March. Personnel and repertoire are solely the purview of the music director.

"It's a very simple paragraph (in the orchestra bylaws): the choice of personnel in the orchestra and what they play is at the sole direction of the music director," Kleinsasser said.

The business skills of an executive director aren't high on the list of criteria for this search.

"I think that is probably less a factor now than if the board hadn't taken over more of the business aspect of the organization," Kleinsasser said.

The search committee's final recommendation must be passed by the board.

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