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In the excitement surrounding the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's ongoing search for a music director to succeed Maximiano Valdes, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that someone has to be planning the orchestra's 1998-99 Classics Concerts series, which is only six months away from the opening concert.

So, in the absence of a music director, Hermann Michael, music director of the Phoenix Symphony, has agreed to act as artistic consultant and principal guest conductor for the BPO's 1998-99 season. He is the most frequent and popular BPO podium guest of the past decade.

The concert schedule Michael has planned will be spangled by many stars, such as flutist Carol Wincenc, violinist Cho-Liang Lin, and pianists Louis Lortie and Garrick Ohlsson.

The opening-night concert will be conducted by Lukas Foss, BPO music director from 1963 to 1970.

As artistic consultant, Michael will conduct four of the pairs of concerts, and Resident Conductor Arie Lipsky will lead one.

Among the other guest conductors will be Keith Lockhart, music director of the Boston Pops, who recently was named to the same post with the Utah Symphony; Peter Bay, who is music director of the Erie Philharmonic and has just assumed leadership of the Austin (Texas) Symphony, and Richard Westerfield, who was appointed the first associate conductor of the Boston Symphony since Michael Tilson Thomas. He will conduct next season's "Messiah." Also on the guest conductor roster is the brilliant young Canadian Keri-Lynn Wilson. She received her master's degree in conducting from Juilliard in 1994, is already associate conductor of the Dallas Symphony, and has such impressive credits as appearances with Canada's National Arts Center Orchestra and the St. Louis Symphony.

Next season will also include the world premiere of a
Flute Concerto by James Mabry, professor of music at Buffalo State College. Commissioned by the Chromatic Club, the work will be premiered by Carol Wincenc during her March 20-21 performances with the BPO.

In the meantime, the orchestra is still conducting its search for a new music director, and all but one of the potential candidates have been to Kleinhans Music Hall for guest-conducting appearances.

Joseph Goodell, president of the BPO, expects that a decision will be made sometime in May. But with that timing, it's uncertain whether the new music director will be available to conduct any of the 1998-99 concerts, because artistic bookings are made from a year to three years in advance.

"However," Goodell explained, "three of next year's guest conductors have expressed a willingness to help the orchestra by stepping aside and letting the new music director take over, if the schedules permit."

One of Michael's tasks was to select programs for 1998-99 season that would not be too adventurous, and conductors and soloists who would not be too costly.

"Given the recovering financial health of the orchestra and the fact that 1998-99 will be an interim year, I can certainly understand this," Michael told The Buffalo News by phone from his studio in Uffing, Germany, in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps.

"Not every concert fits this mold, but my main idea was to design programs presenting different types of musical spirit. We open on Sept. 19 with the French spirit, followed by programs presenting the Russian and German spirits. "Later in the season the Czech, Scandinavian and American spirits will emerge. There's one program, March 6, with a mixture of three spirits. The depth of three different composers and nationalities is revealed in the Barber-Bartok-Brahms concert."

Michael will conduct the Mahler Symphony No. 9, which he says is very near to his heart. And he is enthusiastic about an unusual program on April 10 that has been named "Whirlwind Europa."

"Here is the spirit of 10 different countries and 10 great composers all on one program," Michael said. "We did this in Phoenix. It was our best-attended concert, and you cannot imagine how much the audience loved it. I may even speak to the audience about it, which I don't often do. My hope is that works like 'Pomp and Circumstance' and 'Emperor Waltz' will lure some people who don't usually come to a classics concert."

The maestro is also high on a number of the soloists and guest conductors, particularly the 18-year-old Baltimore-born violinist Hilary Hahn.

"She did the Beethoven in Phoenix," he said, "and the musicians told me they had never heard such a violinist. The audience, which is not very sophisticated, instinctively sensed there was something special there, and rose to their feet immediately. She looks like she's going to be one of the outstanding violinists of the next 100 years."
Here are the detailed programs for the 14 concert pairs in the BPO's 1998-99 Classics Series, with descriptions the orchestra has assigned to each:

Sept. 19-20: French Esprit -- Lukas Foss conducting, with Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, soprano Janice Chandler and baritone Kevin McMillan in Faure's Requiem, plus Berlioz's "Le Corsaire" and Saint-Saens' Symphony No. 3 ("Organ").

Oct. 3-4: Absolut Russian -- Peter Bay conducting, with violinist Hilary Hahn in Stravinsky's Violin Concerto in D, plus Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain" and Tchaikovsky's "Manfred" Symphony (after Byron).

Oct. 24-25: Brazen Beethoven -- Hermann Michael conducting, with pianist Louis Lortie in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4, plus "Leonore Overture No. 3" and Symphony No. 5.

Nov. 14-15: Classical Treasures -- Arie Lipsky conducting, with pianist Jon Kimura Parker in Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1, plus Haydn's Symphony No. 7 ("Le midi") and Schumann's Symphony No. 1 ("Spring").

Dec. 19-20: Choral Masterwork -- Richard Westerfield conducting with Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and soloists Mary Ellen Callahan, Margaret Kuhl, Mark Schowalter and Robert McFarland in Handel's "Messiah."

Jan. 16-17: Resplendent Mahler -- Hermann Michael conducting Mahler's Symphony No. 9 in D Major.

Feb. 6-7: The Joy of Gershwin -- Keith Lockhart conducting, with Morgan State University Choir, sopranos Marvis Martin and Janice Chandler, baritone Lester Lynch and other soloists in Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess."

Feb. 20-21: Bohemian Luster/Eastern Resonance -- Stefan Sanderling conducting, with pianist Terrence Wilson in Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3, plus Smetana's "From Bohemia's Meadows and Forests" and Dvorak's Symphony No. 7.

March 6-7: Heart Strings -- Hermann Michael conducting, with violinist Cho Liang Lin in Bartok's Violin Concerto No. 2, plus Barber's Adagio for Strings and Brahms' Symphony No. 1.

March 20-21: Elegant Zest/Virtuoso Contrasts -- Roger Epple conducting, with flutist Carol Wincenc in premiere of Flute Concerto by James Mabry, plus Schubert's Overture to "Die Freunde von Salamanka" and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10.

April 10-11: Whirlwind Europa -- Hermann Michael conducting, with pianist Fabio Bidini in R. Strauss' "Burleske," plus J. Strauss' "Emperor Waltz," Sibelius' "Valse Triste," Tchaikovsky's "Waltz of the Flowers," Dvorak's Slavonic Dance No. 4 and five other short classics.

April 24-25: Romance and Fantasy -- Lan Shui conducting, with cellist Hai-Ye Ni in Saint-Saens' Cello Concerto No. 1, plus Ravel's "Valses nobles et sentimentales" and Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade."

May 8-9: Scandinavian Escape -- Keri-Lynn Wilson conducting, with violinist Charles Haupt in Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5, plus excerpts from Grieg's "Peer Gynt" Suites Nos. 1 and 2, and Sibelius' Symphony No. 4.

May 22-23: American Pride and Pizzazz -- Matthias Kuntzsch conducting, with pianist Garrick Ohlsson in Barber's Piano Concerto, plus Copland's "Appalachian Spring" Suite, Harris' Symphony No. 3 and Symphonic Dances from Bernstein's "West Side Story."