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WSO music director will rest his baton in Osborne Village

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THE Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's music director is living up to his pledge to move to Winnipeg.

Los Angeles-based Alexander Mickelthwate says he will move into an Osborne Village apartment Sept. 10.

It will mark the first time that the WSO has had a resident music director since Bramwell Tovey departed for Vancouver in 2000.

Mickelthwate, 37, who is preparing to start his second year on the podium with the 67-member WSO, is bringing with him his fashion designer wife, Abigail Camp, and their preschool-age son, Jack.

"I'm going to try to be very visible," he said Wednesday from L.A. "I'd like to connect with the university and do some teaching."

Born and raised in Frankfurt, Germany, Mickelthwate is finishing up his contract as associate artistic director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Some symphony observers were skeptical of Mickelthwate's promise to leave Los Angeles.

They wondered if he could convince Camp to relocate here at the possible expense of her work life. Professional celebrity Paris Hilton was photographed last spring in People magazine wearing a Camp-designed shirt.

Mickelthwate's predecessor, the Russian-born Andrey Boreyko, did not live up to his pledge to live here. It was said that his wife and daughter wanted to stay in Europe.

One of the factors causing the decline in North American orchestral attendance, some observers have said, is that conductors too often have no connection to the communities in which they work.

Mickelthwate's full-time arrival here comes after a disastrous debut year, financially speaking, as music director. The orchestra is facing a possible deficit of $700,000 as it prepares for its annual general meeting at the end of September.

The organization had wiped out a long-standing deficit, thanks largely to a taxpayer-funded bailout, stemming from administrative chaos in the early 2000s.

But Mickelthwate says last year's problems were due to factors beyond his artistic control.

"I thought I counteracted some of them," he said. "From an artistic standpoint, the orchestra sounded good. The New Music Festival was a success. The audience had a younger feel."

He says his wife will run her business from here.

On Wednesday, WSO executive director Dale Lonis said he had two large private donations "on the table." As well, he was waiting for word from officials in the province's culture department who were on summer vacation.

"They want to be careful and do due diligence," said Lonis, who took over the WSO reins last July.

Lonis says WSO subscription revenue stands at $917,000, $28,000 ahead of last year and on target to reach the 2007-2008 budgeted goal of $960,000.

This despite his cancelling 18 concerts from next season's lineup to trim costs. Last year, the orchestra failed to attain its subscription goal of $1.1 million.

New board president Dorothy Dobbie says last season was a transition year. "It takes time to get an organization up to speed," said Dobbie, a magazine publisher and former Conservative MP who was a WSO board member during the organization's recovery in the 1980s.

"And we will do it."

Rei Hotoda, whom Mickelthwate hired last year as his assistant conductor, lives in Wolseley. Her husband and son have remained in the U.S. pending Mickelthwate's decision to renew her two-year contract, Lonis says.

The WSO will kick off its 60th season Sept. 28-29 at the Centennial Concert Hall with Mickelthwate conducting Hector Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique and guest pianist Louis Lortie playing Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major.

morley.walker@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 9, 2007 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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