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Topeka Symphony hires Kyle Pickett as conductor

Five candidates for job led tryout concerts during 2012-13 season

Posted: April 20, 2013 - 7:56pm  |  Updated: April 22, 2013 - 12:02am
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Director Kyle Wiley Pickett leads the Juneau Symphony and Chorus through rehearsal of Beethoven's 9th Symphony at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium on Tuesday.   Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Director Kyle Wiley Pickett leads the Juneau Symphony and Chorus through rehearsal of Beethoven's 9th Symphony at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium on Tuesday.

The Topeka Symphony Orchestra has appointed Kyle Wiley Pickett as its conductor and music director.

The hiring, which was announced Saturday night at the conclusion of the symphony’s 2012-13 season finale, ended a months-long national search that began when John W. Strickler, director for 23 years, resigned at the end of the 2011-12 season.

Pickett was one of five finalists for the post who a search committee selected from 125 applicants from the United States, as well as other countries. Each finalist prepared and conducted a concert this season as an audition for the orchestra and its patrons.

Their evaluations were analyzed and tabulated, with Michael Lennen, president of the symphony’s board, saying, “All of the finalists were talented, well-qualified musicians, and I believe would have served the Topeka Symphony well.”

“In this instance, however, the orchestra rankings and the overall audience evaluations were aligned,” Lennen continued. “Maestro Pickett was the choice, and we are extremely pleased to welcome him as the Topeka Symphony’s new music and director.”

Speaking by telephone Saturday from his home in California, Pickett said he was delighted to be selected.

“I had such a good time out in Topeka and felt like I had a really good connection with the musicians and the orchestra,” Pickett said. “I think this is going to be a really exciting opportunity.”

A native of Los Gatos, Calif., Pickett, who has a bachelor’s degree in music from Stanford University, a master’s degree in choral conducting from California State University, Chico, and a doctorate of musical arts degree in orchestral conducting from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, has developed a reputation as a flutist, conductor, concert programmer and orchestra builder.

Hired as the music director of the Chico and Redding symphony orchestras, Pickett oversaw the consolidation of the two ensembles into the North State Symphony, which he has led since 2001. He has helped grow the orchestra’s budget fivefold from $100,000 to half a million dollars.

Since 2000, he also has served as music director of the Juneau Symphony Orchestra in the Alaska capital, where in 2003 he helped found the Juneau Symphony Chorus, which he also directs. Under his leadership, these ensembles also have grown artistically and programmatically.

Such growth is also Pickett’s goal in Topeka, he said, calling the Kansas capital “a terrific place to make music, to bring my family and to contribute to an exciting time for the arts in northeast Kansas.”

Pickett’s wife, Alice, was a commercial actress who continues to act on stage and direct children’s theater. The Picketts have two young sons, Ned, 6, and Grant, 3.

Pickett said he and his family will be visiting this summer to get to know the community even better. The first Topeka Symphony concert under his leadership will be Oct. 5, with other programs set for Oct. 26 and Dec. 4 and Jan. 18, Feb. 22, March 29 and May 3, 2014.

Pickett said he has been “urgently putting together next season.” Perhaps as early as next week, if guest artist contracts are signed, he will announce the programs. The season, he said, will include at least “a couple of really exciting soloists” and “pieces that really showcase the orchestra.”

To learn more about Pickett go to www.kylewileypickett.com.

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