Down to three finalists for Britt Festivals music director

Britt Festivals has narrowed the field to three "inspiring" conductors who will audition before audiences this summer to replace Peter Bay, who retired after 20 years as Classical Festival conductor and music director.

The trio — two Americans and an Austrian who is now moving to the U.S. — are all in charge of orchestras and music programs and bring "a fresh, energetic approach to music and artistic leadership," said Britt Executive Director Donna Briggs.

The three were chosen from 130 applicants from all over the world.

  • Mei-Ann Chen, music director of the Memphis Symphony and the Chicago Sinfonietta. For five years, she was music director of the Portland Youth Philharmonic and assistant conductor of the Oregon Symphony.
  • Teddy Abrams, resident conductor of the MAV Symphony Orchestra in Budapest, Hungary, and assistant conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He was conducting fellow and assistant conductor of the New World Symphony and co-founded the Sixth Floor Trio.
  • Austrian David Danzmayr is music director of the Illinois Philharmonic in Chicago and music director designate of the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra in Columbus, Ohio. He was assistant conductor of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

All expressed "a passion and love for the broad repertory of classical music, including chamber and the core canon of favorites, as well as new music and rising composers," said Classical Festival Administrator Angela Warren.

The large number of applicants, she noted, "shows that Britt has become something really special and a unique place in the world to make music."

"Peter said there would be lots of candidates, and he was right," Warren said. "It's in summer and it has a special artistic intensity and focused energy, a special joy. It's like their working vacation here, a summer camp for very gifted grown-ups, with a welcoming community, where musicians are housed in local homes."

Each candidate will spend a week in residence next August and conduct two concerts with the Britt Orchestra. The screening committee is made up of the Britt board, musicians and community members.

"What we have been looking for is a dynamite principal conductor with excellent artistry and musicianship who can really connect with the orchestra and audience," said Warren. "That's the alpha and omega for us."

The three finalists, says Warren, "have in common that they're all extraordinary and very different in the ways they are extraordinary ... and range from very established to more ascending ... We were looking for energy and innovation, although that was not our main goal, and these three rose to the top. What we want is inspiration and great music."

A Britt statement cited reviews calling Danzmayr "tremendous" and "electric"; Chen "thrilling, passionate and committed"; and describing Abrams as having drawn "refined, transparent playing" from his orchestra, with "uncommon depth and natural eloquence."

In addition to conducting the three-week classical festival, the music director has year-round duties in program planning and fundraising, Warren said.

The 2013 Classical Festival concerts run Aug. 2-18. All three candidates are working with Britt on programs and guest artists, and the full schedule will be announced Feb. 21.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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