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Britt music director, conductor Peter Bay to resign after 20 years

Peter Bay, music director and conductor of the Britt Festival's classical concerts since 1992, has announced he will leave his post after next year, a season that will also mark his 20th year and Britt's 50th.

Bay, who is full-time music director and conductor for the Austin Symphony Orchestra in Texas, will retain that post. The two-season notice gives Britt time for a search for its next conductor.

"My time here has been amongst the happiest times in my personal and professional life," said Bay. "The orchestra has grown immensely and its reputation has increased nationally. I'm sad to give it up but it felt this was the right time to go."

Bay, 54, who has a 3-year-old son, said he wants more family time and is leaving "on the best of terms ... strictly on my own accord and no one asked me to leave."

The Britt post is a plum in the profession, Bay said, noting he often is asked about the possibility of a vacancy.

"They'll get 300 applications," he said. "Lots of people are waiting for me to step aside. They'll have no trouble finding six conductors to audition, each doing a classical concert next season, which is what they did when they hired me."

Angela Warren, Britt's director of performing arts, agreed she will be "deluged" with applicants.

"It's kind of like summer camp, such a great place to come and work. It's a matter of finding the right person, someone who is a good fit for Britt and for whom Britt is a good fit."

Bay's two-decade stay in his post is lengthy for the classical festival world, said Warren.

"It's not uncommon for music directors to move around," she said. "It's time."

Bay's tenure is second only to Britt's first music director and conductor John Trudeau, who served 25 years. He died in 2008. James DePriest served five years after that, and was succeeded by Bay.

Britt plans many festivities and events for its golden anniversary, says Warren, including commissioning of an Overture for Orchestra by Dave Anderson, prime bass for Britt. There will be special guest artists and Britt is "always trying to get someone like Yo-Yo Ma," she says.

Britt will collect stories and memories from people who have been going to the festivals for decades, including some who attended the first year or met their spouse there, says Warren.

Looking back on Bay's years, Warren noted, "As a conductor, he has raised the level of artistry significantly and demanded the same excellence of the orchestra that he asked of himself. He made it one of the finest festival orchestras in the country."

Bay and the members of the Britt Festival Orchestra arrived in the valley Tuesday and will have their opening night gala Friday, with the works of Liszt and Tchaikovsky. The Classical Festival runs through Aug. 21. The lineup for the festival is at www.brittfest.org/classicalconcerts.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.