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The Californian

Maestro John Farrer leads the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra in a concert in 2012. This is the final year Farrer will lead the symphony, and the search is on for his replacement.

Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra conductor John Farrer will spend the entire 2013-14 season saying goodbye to the orchestra he has been leading for more than 38 years, and will do that accompanied by his favorite orchestral music.

The orchestra's programming for this season reads like a hand-picked sampler of the best music in the orchestral repertoire -- the Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor by Tchaikovsky; Mozart's opera "Don Giovanni," Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor; Giuseppe Verdi's "Requiem," the Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor by Max Bruch; and works by Strauss, Wagner and Dvorak.

"These are all my favorite pieces," Farrer said.

The opening concert includes the "Roman Carnival Overture" by Hector Berlioz; Debussy's tone poem "La Mer;" as well as the Tchaikovsky piano concerto, arguably the most famous piano concerto in the repertoire. Ukrainian-born pianist Vadym Kholodenko is the guest soloist. Kholodenko just won the gold medal at the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in June; his performance with the BSO is part of a tradition established by Farrer and his wife, pianist Bonnie Bogle Farrer.

"It was actually Bonnie who suggested we go to the competition to see what was going on," Farrer said.

"What we did was to commit to (book) the gold medal winner sight unseen for the next two competitions," Farrer said. Farrer said he and his wife also attended the finals this year to hear Kholodenko perform.

"The level was very, very high," Farrer said. "But this guy was exceptional."

Established by the American pianist Van Cliburn just a few years after his sensational win of the 1958 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow, the quadrennial competition awards a $50,000 cash prize, career management and three years of concert performances to the winner, with the BSO as one of the orchestras on the first year of the tours. It is a fitting tribute that Kholodenko performs the same concerto Van Cliburn performed for his historic win; Van Cliburn died in February at the age of 78.

Farrer said he couldn't predict whether the BSO will continue its association with the competition after he leaves.

"It's out of my hands," Farrer said.

Other season highlights includes the February program devoted to a concert version of Mozart's opera "Don Giovanni," considered by many to be the composer's greatest opera and still counted among the best in the entire opera repertoire.

The Verdi "Requiem" is scheduled for March. April's concert is dedicated to music from the Classical era --Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major; Weber's Overture to "Der Freischütz," and Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor. Farrer managed to add another world premiere -- this year it is Jon Appleton's "The Couperin Doubles."

The final concert in May has perhaps the most meaning to Farrer and the longest-serving members of the orchestra. That program includes the Overture to "Die Meistersinger" by Richard Wagner; the Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor by Max Bruch; and the Symphony No. 5 in E Minor by Tchaikovsky.

"This last concert in May is an exact duplication of the first concert I conducted with Bakersfield as a guest conductor in November 1970," Farrer said. "The Wagner was the first piece I conducted with them, and I thought it was fitting it would by the last piece I conducted here."