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Kansas City Symphony music director Michael Stern to step down in 2023

The Kansas City Symphony’s music director, Micheal Stern, will step away from his position after 18 years, at the end of the 2022-23 season, the symphony announced Monday.

Stern’s current contract with the symphony was to expire at the end of the 2019-20 season and he has renewed it for an additional three years.

Even after his contract ends, he will remain connected with the Symphony as Music Director Laureate, he said.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Stern said. “Even if I don’t conduct concerts for a season or more, my heart is in Kansas City.”

Candidates for new music director will guest conduct during the 2021-22 season at the Symphony, according to a news release.

Kansas City Symphony Executive Director Daniel Beckley said a search committee for those candidates will be formed in the coming months.

“Michael set the bar pretty high especially in terms of how you relate from the podium, how you speak about music,” Beckley said. “I think personally what I would be looking for is someone who can continue to relate to the audience in that way and make music more accessible, more approachable.”

Stern and Beckley said they are looking for a seamless transition that helps the symphony continue to grow in what Beckley called a foundational period for the orchestra.

“We have a history in our culture at the Kansas City Symphony of making these transitions in the best possible way,” Stern said. “It’s a very, not complicated, but it’s a very nuanced thing to find the right person at the right time for the right moment in an organization’s history, and that takes time.”

Stern started at the Kansas City Symphony in 2005. When he arrived at the orchestra, Stern said, he had to fight off a sense that Kansas City would always have the orchestra it could afford, rather than the one it deserved.

“We worked very hard to change the perception of what the orchestra meant to the city and also how we felt on stage as musicians,” Stern said. “And that transformation is one of the most satisfying things for me because really to make the case for music means understanding not only transformative power of music but also what it means where you are.”

In the time since Stern started he has seen the Kauffman Center for Performing Arts built and led the Symphony to national acclaim.

“There is so much energy coming out of this man and there is so much passion for the music for the art form and for relating it to this community,” Beckley said.

The work that Stern has done, Beckley said, will continue in new projects over Stern’s last four seasons.

Stern said he is “as enthusiastic now as (he) was on day one,” and hopes to spend the next four years building deeper roots to set the symphony up for the future.

BEHIND OUR REPORTING

How we did this story

A Star reporter spoke with Michael Stern and Daniel Beckley about the orchestra’s transition ahead of the official announcement Monday.

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Katie Bernard covers Kansas crime, cops and courts for the Kansas City Star. She joined the Star in May of 2019. Katie studied journalism and political science at the University of Kansas.
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