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Utah Symphony announces Lockhart replacement

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The wait is over.

At a news conference today in Abravanel Hall, the Utah Symphony|Utah Opera announced that Thierry Fischer will be the Utah Symphony's new music director, effective immediately.

"In the process (of searching for a new music drector), we found someone who can engage the orchestra and engage the audience," USUO board of trustees chairwoman Pat Richards said. "Thierry Fischer will bring the orchestra to the next level of leadership."

Fischer's contract began Sept. 1, but the Utah Symphony waited to make the announcement because Fischer was unavailable to come to Salt Lake City until now.

While it might seem that the Utah Symphony has been without a music director since former music director Keith Lockhart conducted his last concert on May 30, his contract didn't expire until Aug. 31, USUO CEO Melia Tourangeau said.

Fischer has led the Utah Symphony in two concerts the last two seasons, and he is scheduled to return in January to conduct the orchestra.

Next season, Fischer will conduct the orchestra in five masterworks programs. It won't be until the 2011-12 season that Fischer will assume his full responsibilities and condcut at least 12 masterworks programs each season.

The Swiss-born conductor's initial contract is for four years. There is an option to renew for an additional three years in December 2011.

Richards said that the 12-member search committee had several criteria in assessing music director candidates. "We were looking at artistic excellence, vision and community leadership," she said. "And Thierry fulfilled those."

She said that Fischer was the search committee's unanimous choice.

"After spending a few days with him, we knew we had the right one," Tourangeau said. "We know that he will build something great and share it with the world."

Better known in Europe than in the United States, Fischer has guest conducted several American orchestras over the years. But this will be his first permanent post in this country. "This was a serious decision on his part and he realized that this would be a good fit for him and his family," Tourangeau said.

Fischer said he is thrilled to be the Utah Symphony's new music director. "I am incredibly happy to be here today. This is a special day for me." He also said that it was "an honor and pleasure" to have been selected. "I am ready to share my love of music with the orchestra. I am looking forward to exploring the possibilities with the orchestra," and not just stay within the boundaries of the predictable.

Tourangeau said she is "relieved" that the search is over. "We've been working on this for quite some time."

It was last April when she and the other members of the search committee had a conference call with Fischer. "We were asking serious questions of each other and we wanted to meet with him." The following month, Tourangeau and two committee members flew to Geneva, where Fischer lives to meet with Fischer in person. "And that sealed the deal for us."

Sitting on the search committee were: board members Pat Richards, Jerry Fenn, Jeff Smith; Melia Tourangeau; Utah Symphony musicians Brant Bayless, Corbin Johnston, Steve Proser, Robert Stephenson, Nick Norton and Jason Hardink; community representative Craig Jessop; and former vice president for artistic planning Jeff Counts.

What Fischer needs to do now is find a house in Salt Lake City. "I am planning on having a large presence in Salt Lake City, even when I am not conducting here. That is very important." His wife and their three children will accompany Fischer when he returns to Utah in January.

Fischer is the principal conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, a position he will retain. He is also the music director of the Nagoya Philharmonic in Japan, where his contract runs through Febraury 2011.

He began his musical career as principal flute with the Hamburg and Zurich Opera, where he studied conducting with legendary conductor and cellist Nikolaus Harnoncourt.

He first began conducting in his 30s, doing concerts with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, where he was principal flute at the time under Claudio Abbado.

After several years guest-conducting with major orchestras throughout Europe, including a stint as music director of the Ulster Orchestra in Belfast, Fischer was appointed principal conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in 2006, with which he has toured the United States and Europe.

In April 2008 Fischer was appointed music director of the Nagoya Philharmonic. He will make his Tokyo debut with the orchestra in May 2010 in Suntory Hall.

Fischer has recorded extensively with the BBC National Orchestra, including discs of the music of Florent Schmitt, Igor Stravinsky as well as a live performance of Olivier Messiaen's "Turangalila" Symphony.

Most recently, he appeared with the Czech Philharmonic and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic.

e-mail: ereichel@desnews.com