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Seeking a home in key of charm

Florida Orchestra's incoming leader seeks comfort where he lives and a sense of adventure in music.

By JOHN FLEMING, Times Performing Arts Critic

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 19, 2002

Florida Orchestra's incoming leader seeks comfort where he lives and a sense of adventure in music.

ST. PETE BEACH -- Where to live in the sprawling Tampa Bay area? That is a question being asked this week by Stefan Sanderling, music director-designate of the Florida Orchestra, and his girlfriend of five years, cellist Isabelle Besancon.

"Should it be a condo or a house?" Sanderling mused Thursday morning at a resort on the beach, where he and Besancon are staying while they explore the area.

"In a condo," he continued, thinking of Besancon's need to practice daily, "I'm a little bit concerned that, you know, there's always some lady down the hall who says her dog has a psychological problem if you play too much on the G string."

At 37, Sanderling is a far cry from the stuffy maestro. He has a playful sense of humor, and he and Besancon were relaxed and having fun, getting right into the spirit of striking various poses for a picture, marveling at the ovenlike heat.

Sanderling doesn't begin as music director until the 2003-04 season, and this was his first chance to spend time in the area since being appointed in May. His only previous visit was when he was a guest conductor in March. So far, they had looked around in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

"We don't have to find a place this week, but we have to agree on where we want to live," Sanderling said, because Besancon, 31, won't be able to be here the next time he is, in October when he conducts an all-Beethoven program. "We're looking at all kinds of things, but it has to have some charm. It has to be home, and home has to be charming."

Sanderling and Besancon, who plan to marry, now live in Rennes, France, where he is chief conductor of the Orchestre de Bretagne, and she is a member of the orchestra. Last week, he conducted at the Round Top music festival in Texas; next week, he leads the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra during its summer festival.

As well as house hunting, Sanderling has been getting acquainted with the orchestra management staff and meeting supporters. "I feel there are so many things to do, so many people to meet, just to set up relationships," he said. "I need to find out how the organization of the Florida Orchestra works. You can't learn this on paper or on the phone."

With Orchestre de Bretagne, Sanderling has gotten good reviews for putting out CDs of music by interesting but little-known French composers, such as Gossec and Farrenc. He hopes to bring a similar sense of adventure to his tenure in Florida.

"If you want to make a success with a majority of the public, then play Beethoven. It's even good for the orchestra," he said. "But I think people deserve more."

For example, he said, why do orchestras continue to play humdrum music just because it was written by Beethoven or Brahms?

"We all can agree that the Brahms Fourth Symphony is one of the deepest, profoundest works, but maybe it's time for his Academic Festival Overture to be forgotten. Let's have the guts to say this is not first-class Brahms. There's so much other good music that doesn't get played."

Sanderling inherits an impressive legacy from his father, Kurt Sanderling, an eminent conductor in Germany and Russia. The elder Sanderling had some telling advice for his son about the perennial complaint that symphony concerts attract mostly people older than 50.

"My father is 90, and he says the same discussion was going on in the 1920s and '30s when he was young," Stefan said. "Every art has its time in a person's life. Take literature. The things I like to read today are different than the things I liked to read when I was 18. Why shouldn't that apply to music as well? Maybe this kind of music just doesn't appeal to people who are 18 -- not the majority, anyway -- and maybe this is not something we should worry about."

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