Sunday, June 8, 2003

Mischa Santora renews Chamber Orchestra contract


Mischa Santora has renewed his contract as music director of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra through the 2005-06 season.

"I'm thrilled. I think it's a unique opportunity for me to work with this orchestra," the 31-year-old maestro says. "It's really all you can ask for as a conductor to have a very capable and dedicated orchestra that's open to all kinds of different repertoire."

Although the orchestra has operated on a shoestring budget for most of its 29-year existence (the budget next year is $425,000), Santora is gratified by the board's willingness to try new projects - such as the 20th century music series he'll introduce next year.

"To have (a) very supportive, generous and ... most importantly, (an) ideologically open-minded board - you couldn't ask for a more gratifying situation," he says. He also praised the audience for going along with unusual musical offerings, such as "Dissolution," a piece by Josef Kost he commissioned and premiered last March.

"It was difficult, complicated, and I did not expect such a spontaneous, enthusiastic audience response," he says.

Since his appointment in 2000-01, Santora has added another post to his resume. He is music director of the International Opera Festival Miskolc, in Hungary, the most prestigious music festival in Eastern Europe. He hopes to expand the two-week June opera festival to four weeks.

This season, Santora made his conducting debut with Zurich's Tonhalle Orchestra, the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra, the Hungarian State Opera Chorus and the Budapest Matav Orchestra.

In the United States, he has been a regular guest assistant conductor for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In February, he nearly had his "big break" when conductor Bernard Haitink became ill, and Santora stepped in to prepare the orchestra in Mahler's Symphony No. 4 in rehearsals. Haitink, however, made it to the concert.

"It was fun," he says, nevertheless pleased. "It's a great, great orchestra."

Janelle Gelfand

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