On December 5, 1997, Peter Bay conducted his first concert with the Austin Symphony.
Along with other music at the Bass Concert Hall, he and the orchestra teamed up with eccentric soloist Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg for Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.
That, and the concert the following night, counted as his audition in Austin.
Spoiler alert: Bay won, beating 10 other contestants who led the orchestra over a season and a half of auditions.
This year, a packed house gathered on March 24 at the new Junior League Community Impact Center just off Loop 360 and spent the evening celebrating Bay’s 25th anniversary with the Austin Symphony. A small version of the orchestra performed, as did students from the McCallum High School String Orchestra.
On April 8 and 9, Bay and 86 instrumentalists performed the entire ballet score of Stravinsky’s “The Firebird,” an intense and delicate piece. This came hot on the heels of paying a tribute to the people of Ukraine, as well as Tchaikovsky’s fast and extremely difficult Piano Concerto No. 1, featuring soloist and fan favorite Olga Kern.
I lost count of the number of reminders and reminders.
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This orchestra in 2022 is nothing like the one I heard in December 1997. Overcoming a few bumps along the way, Bay, with the help of more appropriate digs at the Long Center for the Performing Arts and new talent, we yielded an ensemble capable of tackling just about anything in the classical repertoire.
To celebrate, I sat down over Vinaigrette salads with Bay and Rachel Santorelli, public relations and guest artist manager for the orchestra, to ponder a few anecdotes about the conductor.
25 things you might not know Conductor of the Austin Symphony Orchestra Peter Bay, in no particular order
1. He loves jazz, especially post-bop pianist Bill Evans: “It’s a mixture of imagination and technique. I own all of his recordings except for a few bootlegs, including an Italian recording that goes for $600 on eBay.
2. “Vertigo” by Alfred Hitchcock, with a classic (and almost Wagnerian) score by Bernard Hermann, is one of his favorite films. “One project that I pray I can accomplish here is a screening with the orchestra playing the score live. I want Kim Novak (the star), who happens to be a friend, to come, and we would exhibit some of her paintings.”
3. Bay is a huge sports fan. The Washington, DC native has suffered for his hometown teams lately, but he zealously follows professional and college football, as well as baseball. He says: “I don’t play golf, but I watch a few tournaments every year, most recently the Masters.
4. Speaking of being a sports fan, last summer he threw the first pitch for the Round Rock Express: “I saw tons of videos of celebrities throwing the ball all over the map. I practiced .You definitely don’t want to throw below the plate.”
5. Bay played flute in the band at the University of Maryland: “In the marching band, however, I played sax. The fingerings of both instruments are the same. There’s no point in marching with a flute. You don’t ‘ll ever hear. I love watching a marching band, but not marching.”
6. He loves all Broadway musicals, but he has a special fondness for the half-forgotten ones. (At this point, the animated chat veered off to the subject of obscure musicals, which I also cherish, for about half an hour.)
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7. Her father was a Filipino diplomat, her mother a Swiss au pair: “She will be 90 in August. Dad died in 1986 at the age of 83. He was from another era.
8. He attended his first symphony concert at Constitution Hall. The National Symphony Orchestra played, among other things, a movement from “La Mer” by Debussy.
9. Leonard Bernstein was his conductor: “I saw him for the first time when I was 9 and I met him when I was 17 during rehearsals for the National Symphony Orchestra. He had endless energy and passion. . That’s what attracted me.”
ten. In 1989, he was accepted into the Aspen School of Music: “I attended almost all the rehearsals of the five orchestras. I took mental notes on what to say and what not to say to the musicians Don’t say, ‘Make that sound’ like the string section of the Philadelphia Orchestra’ or ‘It’s not together anymore.’ What isn’t together yet? Be specific.
11. Bay was an addition to the roster of bandleaders in 1996 and 1997: “Board member Jane Parker saw me at a concert in Vail, Colorado. She asked me if I I had heard about the opening in Austin. I hadn’t. They hustled another conductor—he was already assistant conductor of the orchestra and conductor at UT—to get me lets audition.”
12. The most difficult piece he ever conducted was Bernstein’s “Mass” at the Long Center: “It involved over 300 people on stage at once, some of them moving.”
13. Prior to the recent concert, he had long wanted to perform the complete version of Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” on stage. He conducted in the pit with a smaller orchestra for Ballet Austin’s version: “The tempos and textures change very frequently. And hey, we had three harps on stage this time! I don’t think we’ve ever had that previously.”
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14. He has over 10,000 CDs and over 10,000 vinyl records. This is what remains after he donated approximately 4,000 recordings to the University of Texas Music Archive.
15. Bay met his wife, Sarajane Dailey – known as singer Mela Dailey on stage – at Tower Records on the Drag: “She knew who I was and was impressed that I bought CDs of Sting and Bill Evans Years later, she auditioned for me as a master’s student at UT.”
16. While currently Music Director of the Austin Symphony, he simultaneously holds parallel positions with the Big Sky Classical Music Festival Orchestra and the Arizona Philharmonic.
17. Bay has conducted dozens of other ensembles, including the National Symphony Orchestra, Houston Symphony Orchestra, and Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
18. He has conducted or served as musical director at 10 summer music festivals, including the Britt Music Festivals in Oregon, the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, and the Festival-Institute at Round Top in Texas.
19. He has conducted 10 operas, including “A Streetcar Named Desire”, “The Ballad of Baby Doe” and “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour”, all three by recent or living composers.
20. His son and that of Sarajane want to be a basketball player: “He is very good in this area. He was drafted to run on the track and won the 300 meter hurdles during his first meeting. The guy is athletic.”
21. Bay Doesn’t Cook: “I love eating out. I just have no interest in cooking.”
22. He doesn’t have a middle name: “My father was Pedro. So my name was Peter. I chose Paul as my (Catholic) confirmation name. After guess who? It was in the early 60s. Okay, Paul McCartney.”
23. As a boy soprano, he sang High Mass in Latin at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, DC, where President John F. Kennedy’s funeral was held. In his youth, he sang baritone.
24. He conducted for a time in Klagenfurt, Austria. Half an hour’s drive from the concert hall was one of Mahler’s composition houses in the forest: “It had a double metal door so he could be completely alone. We are going to play Mahler’s Seventh next season. There are cowbells. ? This composition house – more like a hut – is right next to a cow pasture.”
25. Bay is still overwhelmed by his birthday celebration last month: “Not only by everything that happened, but by the months of preparation that went into it, all the details. And it happened on time. . When does this happen?”
Michael Barnes writes about the people, places, culture, and history of Austin and Texas. He can be contacted at [email protected]