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Associate conductor to leave Florida Orchestra

Susan Haig's departure after four years is partly the result of a change in job description that could reduce the position's flexibility.

Published October 12, 2006

Associate conductor Susan Haig will not return to the Florida Orchestra after this season. Haig is working on a one-year extension of the initial three-year contract she signed in 2003.

"Four years is optimal. Then it's time for something new," Haig said during a break in rehearsal Wednesday at Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg.

Haig is in the middle of a typically busy, eclectic week on the podium, going from youth educational concerts to a morning coffee concert today at Mahaffey to outdoor concerts tonight at Coachman Park in Clearwater, Friday night at Lykes Park in Tampa and Saturday night at Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg.

Haig's departure comes in part because of the orchestra's need to redefine the role of the staff conductor under music director Stefan Sanderling.

"We're changing the position," executive director Leonard Stone said, explaining that before Haig, when Thomas Wilkins held the post for eight years, it was called resident conductor, with duties that included "covering" concert programs in case Sanderling or a guest conductor became indisposed on short notice.

Haig's contract does not call for her to be a cover conductor, which entails sitting in on rehearsals for concerts that somebody else ultimately leads. "Not having to cover gave me flexibility and made it an attractive position," the associate conductor said.

"Frankly, we've been running by the seat of our pants" without a staff cover conductor, Stone said.

Haig did step in to substitute for a 2005 masterworks program that was to be conducted by Jahja Ling when the former music director dropped out less than a week beforehand to be with his wife for the birth of their child in California.

Haig, 52, had been music director of the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra and the Windsor Symphony Orchestra in Ontario before coming to the Florida Orchestra. Her annual compensation was $63,548, according to the organization's 2004 nonprofit tax filing, the most recent available.

Haig has been a champion of community outreach for the orchestra. In March, she was named music educator of the year by the Hillsborough County Elementary Music Educators Council. She had a hand in founding the St. Petersburg Chamber Music Festival and is giving a series of talks on orchestra music this month at the Gallery@620 She has conducted innovative orchestra programs, such as an opera concert with up-and-coming soprano Erin Wall and the appearance of Pink Martini. She has introduced contemporary works to youth concerts. Her commentary from the stage is invariably well done.

The associate conductor's plans beyond this season are not set. "I'm interested in doing more opera," said Haig, who held positions with the Canadian Opera Company, New York City Opera and other opera companies before concentrating on symphonic conducting. "I feel like it's time to circle around and do it again."

The orchestra plans to begin auditioning conductor candidates in December and continue through the season. Last time, it took two seasons to find Haig to replace Wilkins, now music director of the Omaha Symphony and resident conductor of the Detroit Symphony.

Dance performances focus on local companies' work

Dance teachers gather this week at Hillsborough Community College in Ybor City for the Florida Dance Education Conference, and two performances open to the public will spotlight Tampa Bay area companies. Florida Dance Theatre, Moving Current, Rolling Chair Dance Project and others perform at 8 p.m. Friday. Gaudere Danza performs a contemporary program, El Porvenir de Mi Pasado The Future of My Past, choreographed by Elsa Valbuena with music by Dee Moses, at 7:15 p.m. Saturday. Both performances are at the Dance Center, 1505 Palm Ave., Tampa, and tickets are $5.

Palladium Theater begins 'Side Door Opera' series

Soprano Liana Valente opens a new series at the Palladium Theater called Side Door Opera that presents recitals cabaret-style in the Stavros Great Room. Valente (Berta in the theater's staging of The Barber of Seville in June) will sing arias of Mozart, Rossini, Puccini and others, with pianist Howard Kim, at 7:30 p.m. Friday. $20. (727) 822-3590;

John Fleming can be reached at (727) 893-8716 or

[Last modified October 12, 2006, 05:59:55]

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