Conductor candidates drop by, while delayed works find a home

The Charlotte Symphony's “So You Think You Can Conduct” contest is headed for its climax. In the wake of four candidates who stepped onto the podium last season, vying to become the orchestra's next music director, four more will join the contest.

The next quartet is an international group. One is American: Andrew Grams, whose concerts as a last-minute substitute in April 2007 made some people want to hire him on the spot. Grams' rivals, after last season's three Americans and one German, include a Briton, Christopher Warren-Green; ; a Swiss native who lived in Africa until he was 10, Thierry Fischer; and a Bulgarian trained partly in the United States, Rossen Milanov.

The orchestra expects to pick the winner in the spring. But he – all the candidates are men, by the way – won't take over for another year. So Christof Perick, the orchestra's leader since September 2001, is still in charge.

He'll start the season with a bang. The opening concerts will hold Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1, which culminates in one of the most powerful bursts of musical optimism since Beethoven. It's a piece that the orchestra scheduled for 2006 but dropped in a round of budget-cutting. The orchestra's No. 2 conductor, Alan Yamamoto, will lead another work sacrificed to the budget gods: John Adams' sonorous “Harmonielehre,” a 1985 opus that's on its way to classic status.

The orchestra will have other notable guests as soloists. The opener will bring back German soprano Heidi Meier, whose ability to sound either virginal or sultry was just right for Carl Orff's “Carmina Burana” last spring. The instrumentalists include two dynamic pianists: Andre Watts, who has been exuding enthusiasm ever since he was a teenager in the 1960s, and Ingrid Fliter, a young Argentine full of pizazz and spontaneity.

While the orchestra prepares to match up with a conductor, Opera Carolina will tell its own tales of suitors and liaisons. In Gounod's “Faust,” romance blossoms with a boost from the devil. Rossini's “The Barber of Seville” depends on the quick-thinking title character to help two young people become lovebirds. In Mozart's “The Marriage of Figaro,” based on the play that was the sequel to the one that inspired “Barber of Seville,” the barber needs all his wits to keep his own nuptials on track. Puccini's “Turandot” features the ultimate Miss Hard to Get: a princess whose first official act on appearing onstage is to send a suitor to his death.

But her next gentleman caller fares better. That should be an encouraging thought for the conductors who court the Charlotte Symphony. Yes, their tryout weeks may be taxing, what with rehearsals, meetings and concerts. But no one will be beheaded.