Longtime maestro to take final bow

The Sentinel-Record/Grace Brown STRIKING UP: Peter Bay leads a rehearsal of the Saint Saens Symphony No. 3 in C Minor at Oaklawn Visual and Performing Arts Magnet School auditorium on Wednesday.
The Sentinel-Record/Grace Brown STRIKING UP: Peter Bay leads a rehearsal of the Saint Saens Symphony No. 3 in C Minor at Oaklawn Visual and Performing Arts Magnet School auditorium on Wednesday.

Peter Bay, the Hot Springs Music Festival's music director of nine years, will no longer serve in his position following the June 15 orchestra performance.

The Washington, D.C., native has spent the past 21 years in Austin. He has served as the Austin Symphony Orchestra music director and conductor since 1998 and is conductor of the Big Sky Festival Orchestra in Montana.

Bay has loved music his entire life and credits this to his father, as well as famed American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein.

"There's no one in my immediate or distant family who were musicians. But my father, back in the day, was a big fan of stereo equipment. So he played music in the house all the time, and I think I must've picked it up by osmosis. When I was 9 years of age, I saw Leonard Bernstein on TV, and for whatever reason that TV show spoke to me. And that's what I've wanted to do ever since. That's 53 years ago," he said.

Since having that love of music instilled in him, Bay has graduated from the University of Maryland and the Peabody Institute of Music. In 1994, he was one of two conductors selected to participate in the Leonard Bernstein American Conductors Program.

He was also the first prize winner of the 1980 Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Young Conductors Competition and a prize winner of the 1987 Leopold Stokowski Competition sponsored by the American Symphony Orchestra in New York. In July 2012 he appeared in Solo Symphony, a choreographic work created for him by Allison Orr of Forklift Danceworks. He is the conductor of Hanan Townshend's score to the 2016 motion picture "The Vessel," according to his biographical information on the Hot Springs Music Festival's website.

Over his career, Bay appeared with 70 different orchestras, the site said.

Despite being involved with numerous musical programs, he considers the Hot Springs Music Festival among his favorites.

"The spirit of the mentors, the camaraderie that the mentors have socially, and also as far as the way they work together -- just the relationship between the mentors and apprentices. The relationship between those two groups is really phenomenal. There's just a great spirit here. Everybody works extremely hard, but they have time to have fun and enjoy themselves. It's a very unique spirit here in Hot Springs," he said.

The orchestra practices two and a half hours a day for two weeks, with morning hours and late afternoon hours spent rehearsing other, non-orchestral pieces. This regimen started June 2 and will continue until June 15.

The approximately 80 collegiate orchestral musicians are selected by the faculty based on submitted recorded auditions. Those chosen attend tuition free, paying just for housing and meals, Bay said.

Bay became involved with the festival after being asked to direct by one of the festival's co-founders and a personal friend, Laura Rosenberg.

"When they were looking for a new conductor, Laura somehow thought of me, because I'd known them for a long time. She invited me to come out and conduct, and I said of course, that I'd be happy to. Then the following summer I was offered the job and was very happy to take it," he said.

During his time with the festival, Bay has had many responsibilities and duties.

"My primary function is to conduct the symphony orchestra, which is comprised of students and faculty. The students come from all over the country, and they work extremely hard. Every day we have a rehearsal. When we're not rehearsing as an orchestra, they're practicing chamber music and play chamber music concerts the rest of the time in the evenings."

Bay has also been responsible for selecting the pieces of music that the orchestra performs. He selects the festival music based on several factors.

"There are pieces that I know in the repertoire that are good for training an orchestra, learning how to play better in an ensemble. But that list is miles long. So I have to sort of carefully pick and choose things that haven't been done at the festival before. I consult with the mentors to see what pieces they think we ought to play. Then I also fit in pieces to also showcase individual mentors," he said.

Though Bay is reluctant to leave the Hot Springs Music Festival, his obligations in Austin require it.

"This is my last summer here. There's a good and bad side to it. The good is that my main job as music director of the Austin Symphony in Texas, our season normally ends on the first Saturday in June, which freed me up to come here for the following two weeks. But, fortunately for the symphony, it's expanding into June. But unfortunately, that now means that there are conflicts with the festival here," he said.

The fact this is his last year as music director at the festival has not quite sunk in for Bay yet.

"Right now I'm in the thick of rehearsing and thinking about how to make each rehearsal better, so it hasn't really hit me yet. Maybe next week, as we get near the end. But I've had such a wonderful time working with gosh, I have no idea how many students there have been over those nine years. Maybe close to 900," he said.

Following the festival, Bay's schedule is brimming with other events and performances.

"I have more concerts in Austin. The Fourth of July is a big event there, and we have upwards of 80,000-90,000 people that come to this outdoor concert with fireworks. I have a concert in Montana and Arizona in the month of August. The rest of the summer is spent learning scores for this coming season. So I'm just trying to stay a few months ahead of myself."

Though he will no longer have professional obligations that will bring him to Hot Springs, Bay told The Sentinel-Record that the city has not seen the last of him.

"No doubt, 100 percent I'll miss it. I'll have to figure out some way to come and visit in between concerts in Austin. I will definitely miss coming here. I have so many friends. I'll miss not seeing them on a regular basis," he said.

"It's such a charming town. The history behind the place. The topography is really wonderful. You've got this road that's nestled in the valley here. The new restaurants that are opening up left and right are really first rate. There's a real charm to this city, and it seems to be in the process of renovation. There's fresh building going on, renovations. It's a fun place to be."

The music director for the 2020 Hot Springs Music Festival will be current assistant conductor of the San Diego Symphony Orchestra, and Hot Springs Music Festival alum, Sameer Patel.

Local on 06/09/2019

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