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Passing the Baton 

Carlos Miguel Prieto, Marc Taddei and Jonathan McPhee are among this season's guest conductors who might eventually lead the LPO.

LPO members and staff are keeping close-lipped about early favorites in the search for a new conductor. LPO musician president Mike Bucalo admits that North Carolina Symphony conductor laureate Gerhardt Zimmerman was well received on his two previous visits. But there are four new guest conductors yet to come in this season -- and Bucalo offers at least a hint of another early favorite: "You can sort of look at the schedule and get some clue."

The schedule for the coming season heavily favors Mexican conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto -- the only returning guest conductor this year -- who previously conducted the LPO in a magnificent Shostakovich Fifth Symphony in 2002 without the use of a score. The son of famous cellist Carlos Prieto, the Princeton University graduate will appear three times throughout the season, tackling works ranging from the Rachmaninoff Second to the Beethoven Fifth. Prieto already works regularly with three symphonies: He's the music director of the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra in Alabama and of the Xalapa Symphony Orchestra in Mexico and is associate conductor for the Houston Symphony Orchestra. He also plays violin with his family's Prieto String Quartet.

"Because of the situation of the orchestra and how it's run, it really feels [like] the musicians are Š very active in the process of music making and organizing, and that's nice," Prieto says. "They feel ownership of what they do."

LPO members likewise had a great impression of Prieto. "He certainly is very young, he's vibrant, he gets the musicians' attention, certainly, and I think the audience responds to him on a visceral level as well," says Bucalo.

Other guest conductors include Marc Taddei, the American conductor of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra in New Zealand. Taddei, who studied trombone at The Juilliard School, is offering an ambitious program, switching from what he calls the Mozart Overture to the Impressario's "populist elements" to Robert Aldridge's Leda and the Swan, which is "a bit of sex and violence, really," to Paul Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis to the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1.

"It's going to be quite a challenge," says Taddei, who adds he's never been to New Orleans. "I'm dying to go," he says.

Jonathan McPhee will head two performances of Gustav Holst's The Planets in January. McPhee's education took place at the Royal Academy of Music and Juilliard, and he served for 15 years as music director of the Boston Ballet. "It's not just what I want to do that's important, as a music director," McPhee says. "The choice of repertory is really dependent on what the orchestra needs to thrive and to feel like they're really getting a full range of why they decided to do music. You also have to factor in where the audience is, too."

Edwin Outwater, the guest conductor for April, is the associate conductor for the San Francisco Symphony, working under Michael Tilson Thomas. Outwater studied English at Harvard University, but also conducted the Bach Society Orchestra and wrote the music to Harvard's satirical Hasty Pudding Show. Outwater prioritizes outreach programs to area schools. "It's one of the most satisfying parts of my job," he says.

Finishing up the season in May, Emil de Cou can almost qualify as a prodigal son. His father lived in New Orleans, but left in the 1950s for California; de Cou was born and raised in Los Angeles. "So we always grew up with music in the house, usually jazz," he says. "I started playing French horn in high school in marching band. That and Fantasia were my first exposures to orchestral music."

After high school, de Cou went to the Vienna Music Academy, earned a master's degree in conducting from the University of Southern California, and took a master class in conducting with Leonard Bernstein. He now serves as an associate conductor with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.

This season's pool of guest conductors belongs to an energetic younger generation. Ages range from Outwater at 33 to McPhee at 49. And though many older directors develop specialties -- Seibel is known for his love of the Romantics -- this crop is reluctant to be tied down. Only de Cou admits to a favorite -- in his case, "a particular love for Tchaikovsky." And all of them say they realize what a unique opportunity it is to work with the LPO. "The fact that the Louisiana Philharmonic players think strongly enough to not only work in a collaborative way musically, but also a managerial way and a board way, is extraordinary to me," says Taddei. -- Brown

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