New maestro finds his 'dream orchestra'

11. Jun. 2005 – STAMFORD -- After a year of playing musical chairs, the Stamford Symphony Orchestra has officially passed the baton to a new music director.


Eckart Preu will step up to the podium in October to lead the orchestra into its 25th season.


Preu, who is serving his first season as music director of the Spokane (Wash.) Symphony and ending his second season as associate conductor of the Richmond (Va.) Symphony, "proved to be the most outstanding candidate on the podium," SSO Executive Director Barbara Soroca said.


The 35-year-old conductor "brings a freshness and a vitality to the podium that was different than what everyone else was bringing," she said.


Preu will spend a week in Stamford at the end of this month for the SSO annual meeting, but his first public appearance as music director will be at the orchestra's opening gala and concert Oct. 8-9.


The decision marks the end of a two-year search by the SSO for a new maestro. A 13-person search committee, comprising an equal number of board members and musicians and the executive director, pared down more than 200 applications after longtime conductor Roger Nierenberg announced his departure in January 2003.


Nierenberg is credited with turning the SSO from a semiprofessional community orchestra into a fully professional body of world-class musicians.


The search was narrowed to five finalists, each of whom spent a week in Stamford to meet the community and perform audition concerts during the 2004-05 Maestro Season. Preu appeared in March, earning rave reviews.


"You could just see the smiles on everyone's face," Soroca said.


"This was a unanimous choice," John Canning, search committee chairman, said.


Search committee members were impressed by the maestro's ability to wear the many hats of a modern music director, he said.


Musicians respected Preu's musical aptitude while board members appreciated his commitment to community involvement, Canning said.


Last week, Preu reflected on the audition concert weekend from his home in Spokane, Wash. It was a great experience and he is thrilled to return to Stamford, he said.


The SSO is the sort of orchestra one "can conduct until the end of time," Preu said. "It's just a dream orchestra."


Born in the former East Germany, Preu began his musical studies with voice at 3 and piano at 5. He studied with the Boys Choir Dredner Kreuzchor in Dresden, Germany, for eight years, working with them as a soloist, rehearsal pianist and assistant conductor. He later served as music director of the Orchestre Internationale de Paris, principal conductor of the New Amsterdam Symphony Orchestra and music director of the Norwalk Youth Symphony.


Preu also served as resident conductor with the American Symphony Orchestra and the American Russian Young Artists Orchestra. He has been associated with the Bard Music Festival as both assistant and guest conductor since 1997.


One of Preu's goals in Spokane, as it will be in Stamford, is to update the concert experience.


"It has become very generic, very predictable, very difficult to surprise people," he said. "Presentation has become so stylized."


SSO patrons caught a glimpse of the maestro's efforts at re-energizing the concert hall during his audition performances, in which he added two works that were not on the program: Strauss' "Blue Danube Waltz" and "Pizzicato Polka."


Preu's penchant for surprises was attractive to the SSO, which is seeking to redefine itself after 24 years under Nierenberg's capable arm, search committee members said.


"(Preu) doesn't like to do the same thing twice. He's kind of a man of a little bit of mystery," Soroca said.


At 35, Preu was the youngest finalist in the search. But the SSO believes his musicianship is mature and that he will conduct significant orchestras in his career, Soroca said.


"He knows how to get the trust of the audience and I think that as the years go by here, as his relationship with the audience solidifies, he will gain their trust and be able to introduce an unfamiliar piece of music," she said. "He will always surround it and bring them into the music."


Due to contractual obligations in Spokane, Preu will not move to Stamford, but he said he hasn't ruled it out for the future. He can't wait to pick up his new baton.


"When one life cycle of an orchestra comes to an end, a new one starts," Preu said. "(This is) the most exciting time when you can actually create something new . . . that will define the orchestra for decades to come."


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