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The Bozeman Symphony is gearing up for its 52nd season of performances, with one big, notable difference from seasons past: instead of one music director, each of the six performances will feature a different conductor, each vying for the permanent position of music director. 

"I think this season, with each of the finalists coming in, we have an opportunity to get to know them through the pieces they have selected," said Emily Paris-Martin, the symphony's executive director. Paris-Martin played violin in the Bozeman Symphony for over a decade, and was promoted to executive director in early September after serving other roles for the symphony.

"We were faced with the challenge of doing this in a short time frame," said Paris-Martin. "Because we are a regional orchestra, music directors here might have to play a different role than in a bigger orchestra." In addition to conducting, a music director is the front line between the organization and the public, a face for donors and audience members alike to see and associate with the group. 

The symphony's previous music director Matthew Savery resigned in February 2019, after a group of musicians and donors wrote a letter to the board alleging Savery created a hostile environment through bullying and verbal harassment. After opening up applications for the music director position, Paris-Martin said the symphony received over 220 applications from candidates all over the nation. A nine-person search committee was created to screen the applications (Paris-Martin said the group carefully looked at every single one) and narrowed it down to 35. From there, the group reviewed conducting videos and rehearsal footage and got that number down to about a dozen. After running background checks and references, the final six candidates emerged: Stefan Sanders, Andrew Crust, Norman Huynh, Wesley Schultz, Thomas Heuser and Janna Hymes. 

"We're just thrilled with the finalists that are going to be coming here," Paris-Martin said. "I think that demonstrates they're very interested in being in Bozeman ... they've given up other things to make it work."

While the candidates are visiting Bozeman, they'll conduct rehearsals and performances with the symphony and meet with members of the community. Each finalist will also choose one or two pieces to perform during the concerts. In a way, these visits are similar to auditions — the search committee will be taking notes on all aspects of the finalists, from the music they choose to their interactions with board members and donors. 

"A lot of symphonies will bring in guest conductors ... we haven't done a lot of that," said Paris-Martin. "To have one for every single concert is going to be really fun." 

The symphony's first performances of the season are on Saturday, September 28 and Sunday, September 29. But the Bozeman Symphony does something a little special: it also "performs" its Friday dress rehearsals.

"We like to provide an opportunity for families who might not necessarily be comfortable coming for the formal concert setting," Paris-Martin said. "We [also] partner with the public schools to do a treats for tickets program, so the kids can sign up and bring treat for the musicians and they get to meet the musicians during the break." 

Paris-Martin said that program is more than just a fun thing for kids to do; it helps get them interested in music, and gives them the ability to see it in action. 

"Providing that access for kids is important," she said. 

The Bozeman Symphony kicks off its 52nd season at the Willson Auditorium with "Nights in the Gardens of Spain" on September 28 and 29, featuring music director candidate Stefan Sanders and solo pianist Marika Bournaki. Tickets can be found on the organization's website, bozemansymphony.org

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