Tuesday, May 16, 2000

CCO names Santora its maestro

Two-year search for Lockhart successor ends

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It began with more than 200 applicants, and ended with a year-long season featuring six conductor-finalists. After a two-year search, the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra has a new maestro.

        Mischa Santora, 28, is the fourth music director of the chamber orchestra. The baton was passed Monday, following the season's conclusion on Sunday.

        Mr. Santora succeeds Keith Lockhart, who was music director from 1992 until June 1999, when he left to add the Utah Symphony to his Boston Pops post.

        “I'm excited; I can't wait to start the season here. I felt that I had very natural rapport with the orchestra,” Mr. Santora said after arriving by plane from New York on Monday.

        “Not only is it an extremely good professional orchestra, but they really care. It's more than just a job. There's a spirit that they want to be there and make music. As a conductor, that's simply the most gratifying thing you can imagine.”

        Each finalist auditioned for the job in a subscription concert, and each was “rated” by the audience. Mr. Santora received strong endorsements from musicians, board and audience, says Boris Auerbach, chair of the search committee and former president of the board.

        “We were looking for someone that the orchestra would be comfortable with and would want to play for, someone the audiences would not only appreciate, but be excited about,” he says.

        “This is someone who is going to be a major player.”

        It was not an easy choice. In what turned out to be an extraordinary season, each conductor had strong selling points.

        “We think Mischa will bring excitement, but that doesn't take away from how good those other people were. All six of the conductors were strong, and in different ways, produced very fine music.”

        Mr. Santora's concert was in February.

        “It was a pleasure from the very start, and my opinion only got better each day,” says concertmaster James Braid.

        “He got exceptionally fine results at the concert. He has a wonderful combination of musicianship and personal warmth, and that comes through in the music making. The incredible level of the Beethoven (Symphony No. 4) was as good as we've ever played.”

        Born to Hungarian parents in the Netherlands, Mr. Santora grew up in Lucerne, Switzerland, where he is a citizen. As 13th music director in a distinguished line at the New York Youth Symphony, the New York Times has praised him for “maintaining the high standards of his predecessors.”

        “You have a great opportunity in front of you,” faxed Mr. Lockhart from Boston, in a congratulatory letter to Mr. Santora.

        “The musicians of the CCO are outstanding players, capable of making great music. They will always have a large piece of my heart, so I hope you will treat them with care and lead them to ever-greater heights.”

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