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SPCO and U of M form new partnership
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The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra is joining forces with the U of M's School of Music to launch several combined music ventures, and hire a shared conductor. (Photo courtesy of SPCO)
The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra is teaming up with the University of Minnesota School of Music. Under a partnership announced Wednesday, the two organizations will share a conductor. They will also establish an annual living composers festival and create a new doctoral program in orchestral studies.

St. Paul, Minn. — Noel Zahler, the director of the University of Minnesota School of Music,says the partnership with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra is long overdue.

"This is part of planning for the future," Zahler says. "I think that all musical organizations will change drastically in the years to come. We have to find ways to do things with fewer resources, and with partners, that we couldn't do by ourselves."

The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra is already in the midst of trying something new. The announcement of the collaboration comes at the end of the SPCO's first season under the leadership of artistic partners instead of a single music director.

SPCO president Bruce Coppock says the appointment of a shared conductor will not change the orchestra's dedication to the artistic partners, but will make the group more efficient.

"One of the byproducts of this new system with five artistic partners is that we sometimes end up with portions of concerts that require conductors," Coppock says. "Or with our new commitment to contemporary music we find occasional pieces of, say, 12 to 15 players that require conductors."

"So we found ourselves frustrated by the fact that we would sometimes have to engage a conductor to come in for an entire week, just to conduct one piece," says Coppock. "That seemed both inefficient and, quite frankly, unfair to the conductors who made the trip from New York or wherever to conduct portions of concerts."

Coppock says he expects the new arrangement will open a world of possibilities for both the U and the SPCO.

The new resident conductor will be an employee of the university, but the position will be funded by both organizations. Time will be split equally between the two organizations, with the conductor also leading several university music ensembles.

Noel Zahler of the U's School of Music says the new conductor will be someone who is a professional musician and also a teacher.

"This is a way of attracting somebody to the school of music who is probably more interested in professional conducting than they are possibly in teaching. Or perhaps they have an equal interest in each of those areas," says Zahler. "But the quality of person that we could attract on our own would never be as high as the person that we could attract with the added dimension of having the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra as a place they'd be employed as well."

As part of the partnership, the SPCO and the University of Minnesota will spend the next two years developing the curriculum for a new doctoral program in orchestral studies. The program will be housed at the university, but will use the resources of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

The third element of the agreement is an annual living composers festival which will mix performances and seminars to celebrate new music. The first will be held next March celebrating American composer Elliott Carter.

The SPCO and the U are forming a search committee to hire the new resident conductor, who is expected to start in the fall of 2006.