Maestro's song to play through 2011

Stefan Sanderling, who conducts the Florida Orchestra, extended his contract for five more years.

Published June 7, 2006

Stefan Sanderling, the young German conductor whose arrival as music director signalled a new era for the Florida Orchestra, has extended his contract through 2011, officials announced Wednesday.

He became music director in the 2003-04 season on a five-year contract. The extension suggests that the once-beleaguered orchestra and its audiences are pleased with Sanderling’s leadership. It’s a pivotal time for the group, which is establishing an administrative home at the revamped Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, though it will continue also to perform in Tampa, Clearwater and other venues.

Sanderling, who came to the Tampa Bay area after leading a French orchestra, said he was “delighted to extend” his contract.

“This is one of the best orchestras I have ever conducted, and as the orchestra continues to grow artistically, I can say quite confidently that it is well on its way to become one of the most respected orchestras in the United States,” he said.

Terms of Sanderling’s contract were not disclosed. In the orchestra’s 2004 nonprofit tax return, the most recent available, he was listed as an independent contractor with compensation of $166,000.

During his first three seasons, Sanderling established a rapport with the audience, making frequent appearances in the community, giving preconcert talks and occasionally speaking from the stage to explain unfamiliar works. His programming has been traditional — Beethoven symphonies supplied the theme this past season — but he has also introduced plenty of new music to the orchestra.

Orchestra musicians, who had a significant voice in Sanderling’s selection to succeed Jahja Ling, continue to be supportive.

“This is wonderful news to the musicians,” said clarinetist Erika Shrauger, chairman of the orchestra committee. “His first years here have had a positive impact on the orchestra’s artistic growth.”

Sanderling, 42, was on the podium for 10 of the 14 masterworks programs in the season that concluded May 27. He also conducted several nonsubscription programs, including holiday concerts of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay.

It was not the easiest of seasons for Sanderling. In August, he tumbled down a staircase at his mother-in-law’s house in France and broke bones in both feet and his left arm. With a cast on one foot, he conducted sitting down for several months.

For much of the season, the orchestra could not perform in Mahaffey Theater during its renovation. Instead, the orchestra played its St. Petersburg concerts at Pasadena Community Church, which had inadequate acoustics and sight lines. Attendance declined, and the orchestra lost more money than it expected in the temporary digs.

The orchestra has not had any conspicuous financial emergencies during Sanderling’s tenure. In the last fiscal year, it reported a budget surplus. The current fiscal year ends on June 30, and a fundraising push is on, aided by a $500,000 challenge grant to match donations.

There has been turnover in several principal chairs under Sanderling, including concertmaster, second violin and flute. Principal oboe Martin Hebert recently left for the same position with the Oregon Symphony.

A key appointment came in February when Jeffrey Multer was named concertmaster, or first violin, the most important leadership position among orchestra players.

Sanderling owns a house in St. Petersburg, but he will be gone most of the summer. On Wednesday, he was in Toledo, Ohio, conducting auditions for the Toledo Symphony Orchestra, for which he is principal conductor.

In June and July, he will be conducting at festivals in Breckenridge, Colo., Greensboro, N.C., Houston, Texas, and Chautauqua, N.Y. He and his wife, Isabelle, a cellist with the Florida West Coast Symphony in Sarasota, plan to spend August in Europe, where they have apartments in Berlin, Sanderling’s hometown, and Switzerland.

Sanderling’s first appearance in the orchestra’s 2006-07 season will be a concert with pianist Van Cliburn Sept. 25 to celebrate the reopening of Mahaffey. The masterworks season gets under way Oct. 7-8, with Sanderling on the podium. He also has a busy guest-conducting schedule that includes the season-opening concert of Northern Ireland’s Ulster Orchestra on Sept. 22.