Arts and Entertainment

Saratoga Orchestra launches conductor search

 Julia Tai conducts the orchestra for the first time during rehearsal on Monday, Oct. 28. Tai is one of three finalists for the conductor position.  - Celeste Erickson / The Record
Julia Tai conducts the orchestra for the first time during rehearsal on Monday, Oct. 28. Tai is one of three finalists for the conductor position.
— image credit: Celeste Erickson / The Record

Swoon to the sounds made by a few of South Whidbey’s finest musicians.

The Saratoga Orchestra of Whidbey Island is kicking off its season with “Nature’s Dream” this weekend.

The season, which begins Sunday, Nov. 3, will feature a new element to each performance — the competition for the new artistic director and conductor.

The first three performances of the orchestra will be conducted by the final three candidates for the position. The number was whittled down from 15 applicants to three last year — Julia Tai, Chao Li and Anna Edwards. The chosen candidate will begin during the 2014-15 season.

Audience members will be able to weigh in on the decision by filling out a questionnaire during each performance, an aspect Executive Director Larry Heidel is excited to include.

“We will be presenting fresh faces at the orchestra,” he said. “I’m hoping people will come out to see that.”

The conductor search follows the announced retirement of founding artistic director and conductor, Legh W. Burns.

In the first production of the season, Tai chose pieces of music reminiscent of nature in “Nature’s Dream.”

“When I program an orchestra, I always think about themes; pieces of music have similar picture imagery,” Tai said. “I wanted a theme of nature because Whidbey has beautiful surroundings.”

The program features Mendelssohn’s overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Mozart’s Piano Concerto #21, K. 467 and Symphony #6 Op. 68 “Pastorale” by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Tai is currently the music director of Philharmonia Northwest and founder and co-artistic director of the Seattle Modern Orchestra.

She said she was excited about working with the orchestra.

“It’s always fun to connect with an orchestra I don’t know very well, personally and musically,” she said.

Robert Swan, a concert pianist, will be featured as the soloist during the performance. Swan has performed throughout the United States, England, Taiwan and Korea with major orchestras.

Tai said she also looks forward to getting to know people on the island. She hopes her performance helps to enrich people’s experiences with nature.

“I want to get their imagination going and see where the pieces of music brings them and how they connect,” she said.

The next two performances of the season will feature Li on Jan. 26 and Edwards on March 9.

Heidel finds each candidate is strong in their own way, but all are a “new strain of the modern conductor.”

He is looking forward to engaging with the audience base and community with the conductor decision.

Each candidate will host a meet-and-greet event with community members on their upcoming performances.

During the busy conductor search, the orchestra will also put a hold on its usual Christmas program and Young Artists Concerto Competition.

Heidel said the main goal of the orchestra is to be able to engage the community and provide great music that people don’t have to go off island for.


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