25 things you might not know about Austin Symphony conductor Peter Bay
On Dec. 5, 1997, Peter Bay conducted his first concert with the Austin Symphony.
Along with other music at Bass Concert Hall, he and the orchestra partnered with eccentric soloist Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg for the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.
That, and the following night's concert, counted as his Austin audition.
Spoiler alert: Bay won, beating out 10 other candidates who guest-conducted the orchestra over the course of a season and a half of auditions.
This year, a full house met on March 24 at the spanking new Junior League Community Impact Center just off Loop 360 and spent the evening lionizing Bay's 25th anniversary with the Austin Symphony. A small version of the orchestra performed, as did students from McCallum High School String Orchestra.
On April 8-9, Bay and 86 instrumentalists played the entire ballet score to Stravinsky's "The Firebird," an intense and tricky piece. This came right after performing a salute to the Ukrainian people, as well as Tchaikovsky's fast and fiercely difficult Piano Concerto No. 1, featuring soloist and fan fave Olga Kern.
I lost count of the number of curtain calls and encores.
This orchestra in 2022 sounds nothing like the one I heard in December 1997. Overcoming some bumps along the way, Bay, with the help of more suitable digs at the Long Center for the Performing Arts and some fresh talent, has given us an ensemble capable of tackling just about anything in the classical repertoire.
To celebrate, I sat down over salads at Vinaigrette with Bay and Rachel Santorelli, PR and guest artist relations manager for the orchestra, to brainstorm some trivia about the conductor.
25 things you might not know about Austin Symphony conductor Peter Bay, in no particular order
1. He adores jazz, especially post-bop pianist Bill Evans: "His is a combo of imagination and technique. I own all his recordings, except for a couple of bootlegs, including an Italian recording that goes for $600 on eBay."
2. Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo," with a classic (and almost Wagnerian) score by Bernard Hermann, is among his favorite movies. "One project I'm praying that I can accomplish here is a screening with the orchestra playing the score live. I want Kim Novak (the star), who happens to be a friend, to come, and we'd exhibit some of her paintings."
3. Bay is a huge sports fan. The Washington, D.C., native has suffered lately for his hometown teams, but he zealously follows pro and college football, as well as baseball. He says, "I don't play golf, but I watch a few tournaments each year, just recently the Masters."
4. Speaking of being a sports fan, last summer he threw out the first pitch for the Round Rock Express: "I've seen tons of of videos of celebrities throwing the ball all over the map. I practiced. You especially don't want to throw short of the plate."
5. Bay played flute in the band at the University of Maryland: "In the marching band, however, I played the sax. The fingering on both instruments is the same. There's no point to marching with a flute. You'd never hear it. I love watching a marching band, but not marching."
6. He's into all Broadway musicals, but he nurtures a special fondness for the half-forgotten ones. (At this point, the animated chat swerved to the subject of obscure musicals, which I also cherish, for about half an hour.)
7. His father was a Filipino diplomat, his mother a Swiss au pair: "She'll be 90 in August. Dad died in 1986 at the age of 83. He was from a different era."
8. He attended his first symphonic concert at Constitution Hall. The National Symphony Orchestra played, among other things, a movement from Debussy's "La Mer."
9. Leonard Bernstein was his conducting hero: "I saw him first at age 9 and met him at age 17 at National Symphony Orchestra rehearsals. He had endless amounts of energy and passion. That's what attracted me."
10. In 1989, he was accepted at the Aspen Music School: "I attended almost all rehearsals for all five of their orchestras. I made mental notes on what to say and what not to say to musicians. Don't say: 'Make this sound like the string section of the Philadelphia Orchestra' or 'This is not together again.' What's not together again? Be specific."
11. Bay was an add-on to the list of auditioning conductors during 1996 and 1997: "Board member Jane Parker saw me at a concert in Vail, Colorado. She asked if I'd heard about the opening in Austin. I hadn't. They bumped another conductor — he was already the orchestra's assistant conductor and UT's conductor — to let me audition."
12. The toughest piece he's ever conducted was Bernstein's "Mass" at the Long Center: "It involved more than 300 people onstage at the same time, some of them moving."
13. Before the recent concert, he had wanted to do the full version of Stravinsky's "The Firebird" onstage for a long time. He conducted in the pit with a smaller orchestra for Ballet Austin's version: "The tempos and textures change very frequently. And hey, we had three harps onstage this time! I don't think we ever had that before."
14. He owns more than 10,000 CDs and more than 10,000 vinyl records. That's what is left after he gave about 4,000 recordings to the University of Texas music archives.
15. Bay met his wife, Sarajane Dailey — known as singer Mela Dailey onstage — at Tower Records on the Drag: "She knew who I was and was impressed that I bought some Sting and Bill Evans CDs. Years later, she auditioned for me as a master's student at UT."
16. While currently music director of the Austin Symphony, he simultaneously holds parallel positions with the Big Sky Classical Music Festival Orchestra and Arizona Philharmonic.
17. Bay has guest-conducted with dozens of other ensembles, including the National Symphony Orchestra, Houston Symphony Orchestra and Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
18. He has conducted or served as music director at 10 summer music festivals, among them Oregon's Britt Music Festivals, Chicago's Ravinia Festival and the Festival-Institute at Round Top in Texas.
19. He has conducted 10 operas, including "A Streetcar Named Desire," "The Ballad of Baby Doe" and "Every Good Boy Deserves Favour," all three by recent or living composers.
20. His and Sarajane's son wants to be a basketball player: "He's very good at it. He was drafted to run track and won the 300-meter hurdles at his first meet. Dude is athletic."
21. Bay doesn't cook: "I love to eat out. I just don't have any interest in cooking."
22. He has no middle name: "My father was Pedro. So I was named Peter. I did choose Paul as a (Catholic) confirmation name. After guess who? It was the early '60s. Right, Paul McCartney."
23. As a boy soprano, he sang Latin high Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, D.C., where President John F. Kennedy's funeral took place. As a youth, he sang baritone.
24. He conducted for a time in Klagenfurt, Austria. A half-hour drive from the concert hall was one of Mahler's composition houses in the forest: "It had a double metal door so he could be completely alone. We're doing Mahler's Seventh next season. It has cow bells. You know what? That composition house — more like a hut — is right next to a cow pasture."
25. Bay is still overwhelmed by the anniversary celebration thrown for him last month: "Not only by everything that happened, but by the months of preparation that went into it, all the details. And it ran on time. When does that happen?"
Michael Barnes writes about the people, places, culture and history of Austin and Texas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.