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Chorus of voices guides symphony director search

My view l In the hunt for the next music director, the Oregon Symphony and its supporters are conducting themselves admirably

One of my favorite stories about conductors involves the colorful Sir Thomas Beecham, a mighty force on the English and international musical scenes.

He is shopping one day in the 1930s in a large London department store, when he comes across a distinguished-looking lady. She's very familiar, but he can't quite place her. She recognizes him, though, and engages him in animated conversation.

Perplexed, he fishes for clues about her identity with some careful questions. 'How is your mother?' 'Very fine.' 'And your sister?' 'She continues well.' 'And your husband, how is he?' 'Oh É he's still King.'

Like me, all music lovers are fascinated by conductors. Though no one is quite certain how, conductors bring a performance to life, giving passion and direction to the music and manifesting its very sense and meaning.

For the past 22 seasons, James DePreist has been the visionary music director of the Oregon Symphony and the architect of its rise from a part-time ensemble to a full-time orchestra that has recorded a significant repertoire for major labels and attracts the finest international soloists as guest artists. When he retires in the next few years, he will leave a legacy we can all be proud of and one that his successor can mold and develop in his own way.

The international search for the Oregon Symphony's new music director is well under way, with eight candidates having visited and another three to be heard this season. We have attracted outstanding candidates from this country as well as Japan, Russia, England, Austria and South America.

The symphony's musicians are thoroughly involved in the search and form the majority of the members of the search committee. Their hard work and commitment in engaging all the candidates has been impressive.

Our audience is involved as well. After each candidate conducts, we survey the audience and receive upward of 700 responses per conductor, many with lengthy comments in addition to the appropriate check marks. This amazing response demonstrates the loyalty and affection our audience has for the symphony and its support in our search for the right person. We are inspired by our audience members and the way they have embraced their role in this process.

The new music director could be named as the designate as early as 2003, which would allow him to get to know the community and vice versa. He will be taking over an organization whose roots run deep in Oregon.

The symphony not only boasts a 106-year history and more than 100 performances a season, but also provides an educational program touching some 89,000 young people a year. People in the Northwest deserve the best music. And it is our mission to provide it. Recent events have reemphasized to us all the power that music has in our spiritual lives.

This sense of history, this feeling of pride and ownership, these strong ties to a community that is actively involved in bringing a new music director here Ñ these elements go together to form a remarkable gift any new music director would appreciate. And this is undoubtedly something Sir Thomas would recognize.

Tony Woodcock is president of the Oregon Symphony Association. He lives in Northwest Portland.