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DePreist plans to leave podium earlier

Music director says 2003 is his last hurrah with Oregon Symphony

Music Director James DePreist has offered to step down two years earlier than planned, which should make it easier for the Oregon Symphony to find a successor to the ailing conductor.

The move would give the symphony a competitive edge in its three-year search for a high-caliber conductor to replace DePreist, whose contract runs until 2005. Once a choice is made, the successor would begin conducting in the 2003-2004 season, rather than wait for two years.

'It is my desire to make the smoothest transition possible for the incoming music director,' said DePreist, who made his announcement on stage at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. 'I care about this orchestra enough that I feel it's important to give my successor the greatest advantage.'

DePreist then would assume the position of laureate music director, a title of honor given to conductors who have made significant contributions to an organization, until 2008.

As laureate director, he would conduct four subscription weeks in 2003-2004 and at least one subscription week thereafter.

Although DePreist has struggled with serious health problems in the past few years, his decision was not health-related, he said.

'I wouldn't have made the proposal if I hadn't felt it's thoroughly logical,' he said. 'It just makes sense.'

Colleagues described the move as a generous act indicative of DePreist's 22-year career at the symphony.

'This is a magnanimous gesture that is typical of the man and positive for the symphony,' said Tony Woodcock, symphony president. 'With Jimmy's offer we have a competitive advantage now because we can move much more quickly.'

At least seven other internationally renowned symphonies are searching for music directors, including those in Montreal, Toronto, St. Louis and Denver. If DePreist had stayed on the podium for two more years, the symphony might seem less attractive to a conductor with an offer from one of those orchestras.

The Oregon Symphony orchestra has identified three finalists: Tadaaki Otaka, principal conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Pavel Kogan, music director of the Moscow State Symphony Orchestras; and Carlos Kalmar, music director of the Vienna Tonkunstlerochester.

The search for DePreist's successor began with the creation of a search committee in 1999. The committee is composed mostly of musicians, as well as representatives from several symphony organizations and two major donors.

From a pool of 72 candidates, the committee identified a shortlist of 12 people, who were invited to conduct the symphony over the last two seasons. Of those 12, two canceled, and each of the 10 remaining candidates was evaluated by the orchestra.

The search committee and orchestra will meet on a regular basis in coming weeks.

Last year, DePreist received a transplanted kidney that required a three-month absence from his duties at the symphony.

He suffered from focal glomerulo sclerosis, a scarring of the filters in the kidneys. He was on kidney dialysis for two years, a process that removes toxins from the blood that the kidneys usually filter out.

Most recently he was hospitalized for a neurological condition after experiencing headaches for several weeks.

Contact Cristine Gonzalez at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..