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story.lead_photo.caption Philip Mann

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra's conductor for the past eight years will step down at the end of this season, the organization announced Thursday.

Philip Mann, who joined the symphony in 2010 as its maestro, will finish out the 2018-19 season and then pursue international conducting opportunities.

Christina Littlejohn, the symphony's chief executive officer, said Thursday that the organization and its board will not start looking for a replacement right away. Instead, they plan to evaluate their organizational options.

"We want to make sure we are truly serving Arkansas and want to take some time to see what an orchestra of the 21st century really needs. Would it make more sense to have a principal guest conductor? What's best to really serve our audience here and be innovative and provide us with the most flexibility? Maybe we have a number of artistic advisers? What's the right artistic model?" Littlejohn said.

The organization plans to look at different models across the world. Currently, Mann serves as music director and lead conductor. The orchestra will explore separating those roles.

Mann will stay on as the orchestra's first "music director laureate," to help advise the organization on future decisions and possibly return as a guest conductor for some performances.

"The ASO knew when we hired Philip that we would not be able to keep him here for long," board member and former board chairman Richard Wheeler said.

Mann was described by Kiril Laskarov, the orchestra's concertmaster, as "an inspiring leader, an extraordinary musician, and a devoted colleague."

"It is a bittersweet time for us -- he is irreplaceable, but we are happy for his success," Laskarov said.

Mann came to Little Rock from the San Diego Symphony in 2010 where he served as the assistant conductor. He was also an American Conducting Fellow at the time. He took over the helm of the orchestra from David Itkin, who had been the conductor for 17 years.

Mann was one of several finalists for the position and was said to be the top pick of concertgoers, the staff, the board and a selection committee.

During Mann's tenure, the orchestra has expanded its statewide presence, taken more shows on the road and added artistic programming, namely the Intimate Neighborhood Concert series that takes place in churches. Mann also led the Composer of the Year initiative that drew several world-renowned composers to the state.

This season, the orchestra started a program to stream concerts online. Next year there are plans to use new technology to simulcast concerts across the state.

The group has grown more financially stable during Mann's term as lead conductor, as well. When Mann arrived, the annual budget was about $2.9 million, and now it is about $3.4 million, Littlejohn said.

The 2018-19 season ends May 11-12 next year, with E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: In Concert at Robinson Hall.

Mann has kept a full schedule during his tenure, with conducting engagements in the U.S., Europe and Asia. He now plans to pursue more international work.

"I've been extremely fortunate to be the recipient of many honors in my life, but none compare to the honor of working with the musicians of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra," Mann said in a news release.

He said he was traveling Thursday and didn't have time to provide further comment.

Mann has left his mark on Arkansas, area organizations said.

In 2012, the Arkansas chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators named him Communicator of the Year.

And the state chapter of the Public Relations Society of America honored Mann with its Diamond Award for "enhancing the image of the entire state."

Susan Leon, the orchestra's principal bassoonist, said Mann has "consistently challenged the musicians to achieve new artistic heights."

"His brilliant musicianship and remarkable ability to elicit compelling musical performances has deeply moved musicians and audiences alike. We will miss him -- he is the best thing that has ever happened to the ASO."

Mann also is said to have played a significant role in the design and advocacy of the renovation and reopening of the Robinson Center in downtown Little Rock.

Before joining the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Mann was the winner of the Vienna Philharmonic's Karajan Fellowship at the Salzburg Festival and had served as cover conductor for the Cleveland Orchestra and as a conducting fellow of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

He also had been music director of the Oxford City opera and the Oxford Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra/Oxford Pops, the principal guest conductor of the Arizona Camerata, and an assistant conductor of the Indiana University Opera Theater.

He is a trained violinist. He has conducted world premieres of prominent composers, such as John Corigliano, and worked with leading artists like Joshua Bell.

He has taught at Oxford University, was named a Rhodes Scholar, and won the annual competition to become principal conductor of the Oxford University Philharmonia.

His 2017 recording of Johannes Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2 with the London Symphony Orchestra and pianist Norman Krieger was released on Decca records. Mann also led the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in its last season in a recording of the works of Michael Fine and performed engagements with European capital orchestras.

Arkansas Symphony Orchestra board chairman Jan Hundley said the board has been pleased with Mann.

"We know that Philip wants to broaden his musical influence internationally, and we wish him much success, as we know other people around the world will be as enriched and impressed by his talents as we have been," she said.

Littlejohn said the organization will seek input from the community and patrons on new ideas about how the orchestra will operate in the future.

Plans are underway for a farewell performance for Mann.

Metro on 05/25/2018

Print Headline: Conductor decides to put down ASO baton

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