1. Archive

West Coast symphony has new director

Published Oct. 1, 2005

After a search that went on for two seasons, the Florida West Coast Symphony has chosen a new artistic director, Leif Bjaland, it was announced Monday at the symphony's headquarters in Sarasota.

"We were looking for someone with the artistic maturity to lead the orchestra to the next level," said Gretchen Serrie, executive director. "Leif combines that with commitment to the community and to our educational programs."

Bjaland, 41, is in his third season as music director of the Waterbury Symphony in Connecticut. Previously, he was assistant conductor with the San Francisco Symphony and resident conductor of the New World Symphony in Miami. He has conducted for Florida Grand Opera and in Waterbury premiered a concert performance of George Chadwick's unproduced opera The Padrone. Bjaland has a master's degree in music from the University of Michigan.

Bjaland will succeed conductor laureate Paul Wolfe, who led the orchestra for 35 years. A year ago, the symphony had to restart its search process for an artistic director when Richard Westerfield, the conductor chosen by a search committee and offered the post, withdrew as a candidate.

"It has been a very long haul," Serrie said. "We're ecstatic to be done with the search. It was worth the wait."

The new artistic director signed a three-year contract and is committed to 22 weeks a year in Sarasota, where he plans to establish a residence, according to Serrie. He will conduct five of the six masterworks programs. Compensation was not disclosed.

The Florida West Coast Symphony was founded in 1949 and has a $2.3-million budget and $5-million endowment. It plays six masterworks programs a season in Bradenton and Sarasota as well as pops concerts, chamber music and educational performances. In June, the symphony presents the Sarasota Music Festival, whose artistic director continues to be Wolfe.