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Orchestra without a figurehead

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Can a symphony orchestra survive without a permanent conductor/music director?

The New Mexico Philharmonic is doing just that. For now.

“It’s obviously a different model if you don’t have one,” said Evan Rice, the president of the Philharmonic’s board.


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Instead of footing the bill for a full-time, salaried conductor, the orchestra paid guest conductors at reduced rates last season. It is continuing that practice for the 2012-13 season.

“Having (a conductor) can become a cult of personality around that person,” Rice said. “I am not criticizing it. It’s a question when you start an organization whether the focus should be on a singular individual, particularly with that kind of personal gravity.”

In the short term, he said, the Philharmonic is emphasizing guest conductors “who bring something interesting, novel or avant-garde” to the concert without the organization committing long-term finances to a single person.

Rice said he was uncertain if a permanent conductor will be the answer as the Philharmonic moves forward.

“For the time being that’s how we will proceed. We’ll see what the future holds,” he said.

Krzysztof Zimowski, the Philharmonic’s concertmaster, said a symphony orchestra might do without a full-time conductor.

“That’s a difficult task for the musicians to keep the high integrity that’s developed. … A lot depends on our professional level,” Zimowski said.

“From my perspective, I like the guest conductors. They bring a lot of new ideas and you have to be able to adapt to them quickly. Good orchestras can do that,” he said.

But in the long term, he added, the Philharmonic will eventually have to find a conductor.

Marian Tanau, the Philharmonic’s executive director, and members of a musicians’ committee decide on guest conductors, guest artists and concert programs.