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July 31, 2014

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Las Vegas Philharmonic says search for new music director to begin ‘immediately’

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Leila Navidi

David Itkin, shown conducting the Las Vegas Philharmonic.

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Geri Crawford, seated in her home, in a Sun file photo.

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Las Vegas Philharmonic conductor David Itkin.

The Las Vegas Philharmonic's search for a new music director starts ...

Now.

Las Vegas Philharmonic President and CEO Jeri Crawford announced this afternoon that the orchestra is starting its search to replace David Itkin as the Phil's conductor and music director, a post he assumed in the fall of 2007 after a nationwide search. Itkin replaced Hal Weller, who co-founded the Philharmonic in 1998.

On Thursday, the Phil's board of trustees (with 15 of 17 members present) voted against extending Itkin's contract, which expires June 30, 2013. He will fulfill all nine scheduled shows for the 2012-2013 season.

The vote to allow Itkin to leave was 15-0.

The board meeting was a regularly scheduled session for the orchestra's annual review, but the vote on Itkin was not at all anticipated until Tuesday morning. Fresh off Memorial Day Weekend, about 6 a.m., Itkin cut loose with an email to the L.V. Phil's board of directors, which he copied to the LVP Orchestra Players Committee, stating that he planned to leave the orchestra in 2013.

In that message, Itkin said that artistic differences and a lack of institutional transparency weighed in his decision to leave his post. About 30 individuals received the missive.

The resulting board ruling means that Itkin will serve as an outgoing conductor, with one hand on the baton and one foot out the door, through the entire 2012-13 Philharmonic campaign. The season begins Oct. 20 at Reynolds Hall at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts with a performance of Beethoven's Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano and Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition." The season concludes May 4 with "Masterworks V."

Itkin has not returned a call today for comment on the board's decision to find a new music director.

Crawford attempted to sort out why the orchestra's conductor decided just three shows into its rejuvenating residency at the Smith Center to inform officials that he wanted out.

"This was a total surprise to everyone. His resignation, I feel, is for personal reasons," she said. "It's his decision alone." She also added, "David is inflexible, from time to time, but there's no question what he's done for the Philharmonic is spectacular. Spectacular."

Even so, Crawford said, "We decided four years ago to revive the Philharmonic, then get to the Smith Center, and now to keep moving forward. After we read that email, there was the question, 'Is the person who feels this way about the Philharmonic the person we want to move forward with?' "

Crawford also did not appreciate Itkin's barbed comments, specifically the references to "artistic differences" and "institutional transparency."

"He has had complete artistic control up until last year, when we got to the Smith Center and we were going to re-brand the L.V. Philharmonic," Crawford said, referring to the marketing campaign that led to the slogan, "We Play in Vegas, We Stay in Vegas." The 2012-13 season has been themed "A Year In Pictures." An artistic consultant from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Martha Gilmer, conferred with Itkin throughout the development process.

"Our consultant worked with David exclusively. Everything we've done has been met with his 100-percent approval," she said. "There might have been some re-branding he originally didn't agree with, but his area is to be artistically in control of the music, and he has always been in control of the music. I am very confused about that statement."

As for the reference to institutional transparency, Crawford said, "I have no clue what that's about. We are as transparent as they come. You want to talk about transparency — we have a great partnership with the Smith Center, and we went over our budget with them, line item by line item. Everything they wanted to see, they got the report."

Some musicians and supporters in the community have criticized Itkin's status as a music director in absentia. He resides in Dallas and also serves as the director of the Abilene Philharmonic Orchestra in Texas. He typically arrives in Las Vegas a week before Masterworks shows and a couple of days before Pops performances. He usually flies out the morning after the concerts.

Parachuting into Las Vegas for nine performances a year is not an ideal way to become immersed in the community. When asked if the next music director, if hired from out of the area, will be required to move to Las Vegas, Crawford said, "We haven't even thought about that yet, realistically. We are a medium-sized orchestra. We're not Chicago or New York or L.A., where you play 35 concerts a year. For the 2013-2014 season, we hope to be playing 20 concerts. To do that, we have to be fiscally responsible. We would like someone to spend more time here, not necessarily live here."

At the end of an unexpectedly tumultuous week, Crawford was still seeking answers as to why Itkin initiated this process.

"If you find out, let me know," she said, chuckling. "I would love to know. My board would love to know. We all would love to know."

Update: At 10:43 p.m. Friday, an incoming call from David Itkin's cell phone was registered on my iPhone, but no voice-mail message was posted. A call to to him with a voice-mail message has not been returned.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWithTheDish.

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