After two years of searching for a new music director, the Tacoma Symphony Orchestra board will announce Friday that it has appointed Sarah Ioannides to succeed Harvey Felder, who will leave the orchestra next June after 20 years as director.
Ioannides, a British conductor currently based in South Carolina, was the first of four candidates who auditioned this year for the position, conducting the symphony in February. Her five-year contract with the orchestra will begin in July, but she already is collaborating with Felder on the 2014-15 season.
"We're very excited, very enthusiastic, " TSO board President Dick Ammerman said. "We had four very strong candidates, and now we're very fortunate to have someone with such magic come to Tacoma. She'll bring a real vibrancy and passion to the symphony, which will be appreciated not only by the board and musicians but by the community."
"I'm so bubbly inside, I'm thrilled, " said Ioannides over the phone. "I knew it was a competitive field of candidates, and it was an honor to have been selected to . . . serve the orchestra for the next five years. I want to do my best to provide the orchestra and community with everything they wish for."
Named in 2009 by The Los Angeles Times as one of six younger female conductors breaking the "glass podium, " the 41-year-old Ioannides was born in Australia to a Scottish mother and Cypriot conductor father. Her career has included assistant conductorships under Paarvo Jarvi and Tan Dun, guest-conducting internationally in concert and opera halls and premiering many new compositions.
Her conducting chops were partly what won Ioannides the Tacoma position, say members of the selection committee that whittled about 120 applicants to the final four candidates.
"Sarah had a wonderful chemistry with the orchestra, " said Greg Youtz, a music professor at Pacific Lutheran University and a member of the selection committee. "We were all impressed by her inspired craftsmanship working with them. I think they realized . . . they'd done something really special."
"She's a very fine musician, really passionate, " said concertmaster Svend Ronning, another committee member. "We felt it, and the audience felt it."
Another factor that earned Ioannides the position is her desire to bring the orchestra into the community.
"She's a fabulous fit with the TSO in terms of where she is with her career and the exciting ideas she brings, " Youtz said. "She seems at first to exhibit the classic British reserve, but then you notice the mischievous twinkle in her eye. She was asking about alternative venues . . . like the (Museum of Glass) hot shop or the Armory, and she's worked a lot with composers so we'll see some new music."
The board also hopes Ioannides will bring to Tacoma the passion for working with kids that has seen her launch efforts such as symphony art competitions and work with school orchestras.
That Ioannides is the symphony's first female director is a bonus, he added.
"The role of music director has been male-dominated in Europe, " Ammerman noted. "In the States there are more (opportunities), but there's a long way to go. I'm excited that we can be at the forefront of that in Tacoma. She'll bring a different type of vitality. It'll also give us bragging rights."
Ioannides follows in the footsteps of Felder, Tacoma's first African-American symphony conductor. Felder, who was not involved in the selection process, will step down from the post after 20 years with the orchestra to continue teaching and guest-conducting.
Ioannides' contract with the symphony includes concert and community work, requiring her to be in Tacoma for about a quarter of the year. This is standard for a midsize city orchestra, and allows the conductor to keep her current directorship in Spartanburg.
Ioannides hasn't decided whether she and her family will move to Tacoma.
"I am completely committed to the amount of time the orchestra needs me, and more, " she said. "I'd like to get to know Tacoma, to see how it could be a possible home for us in the future. In the meantime, we have commitments in South Carolina."
Regardless of where she lives, Ioannides will be key in leading the symphony into a new era that the board hopes - after a restructured mission statement and new programming ideas - will be a more connected and vibrant one.
"It's been a big year for us, " Ammerman said, "and this is the biggest thing."
Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568