Monterey Symphony Conductor Search

By Scott MacClelland

THE SEARCH FOR A NEW MONTEREY SYMPHONY music director offers a rare opportunity to review the search process from top to bottom and to revise it as needed on a variety of levels. During a recent phone chat with Nicola Reilly (pictured), the Symphony’s executive director, she told me that in order to accomplish that task a search committee was formed early this year pursuant to choosing candidates to conduct the orchestra in the first four concert pairs of the 2020-21 season. “Most likely we’ll have four candidates and two guest conductors,” Reilly said. “We hope to announce our choice after the March concert in 2021.”

The search committee consists of four musicians from the orchestra—members of the American Federation of Musicians, Local 6—and five members of the Symphony management, including current or former board members and the executive director. Instead of starting from absolute zero, the search process looked at various models used by other symphony orchestras, for example, Symphony Silicon Valley that engages only guest conductors, as well as processes recently utilized by other orchestras, like the Fresno Philharmonic and the San Diego and San Bernardino symphonies, the 2019-20 season of conductor candidates at the Lexington (KY) Philharmonic and its counterpart during the 2020-21 season at the Modesto Symphony. They also made contact with the Santa Rosa Symphony whose new music director launches his first season this fall.

The guidebook used today by orchestras across America is Roger Saydack’s Music Director Search Handbook, published by the League of American Orchestras, in which the author pointedly advises, “There is no ‘one size fits all’” process for music director searches. (Saydack has served four terms as chair of the Eugene (OR) Symphony Music Director Search Committee, has since 1996 been a faculty member for the League of American Orchestras Music Director Search Seminars, and in 2011 served as program director for the League’s Music Director Search Mentoring Sessions.)

After Monterey Symphony music director Max Bragado-Darman announced his plan to step down after the 2019-20 season, an invitation window was opened to applicants between January 1 and March 1, 2019. Only applicants would be considered Reilly said. They received 138 applications—surprisingly only four from women conductors in this era of women everywhere taking the podium, as proved to be successful case in Fresno.

Advising that there’s a difference between “getting the job and doing the job,” Reilly said the first round of interviews with the applicants have already been completed, with more to be done. Now, and through the coming months, search committee members will travel to see and hear those candidates where they already have or will be performing.

In San Bernardino, executive director Anne Viricel told me they e-blasted all of their constituent stakeholders, funders and grantors, subscribers and musicians, friends and media with frequent updates throughout the search process. Likewise, Mollie Harris at Lexington told me that they have invited the community to participate in the process and strongly advise them accordingly.