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Philharmonic contender drops out of race

Mei-Ann Chen, a popular contender to succeed George Zack as music director of the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, has withdrawn from the race.

Philharmonic Executive Director Peter Kucirko said Chen sent an e-mail to him and the search committee Tuesday saying she was taking her name out of consideration.

She is the second candidate to withdraw from the race. Alastair Willis, who conducted the orchestra in February, bowed out the week after his audition.

"Mei-Ann has withdrawn from the search on the advice of her manager, that she not take on the responsibility of this position in light of her rapidly growing career," Kucirko said.

He added that Chen said "the LPO has much potential and Lexington is a memorable and beautiful place to live."

Chen, who was unavailable for comment Wednesday evening, is currently the assistant conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and is a contender for music director posts in other cities, including Memphis, where she will conduct next season.

She conducted the Philharmonic on March 27 and zoomed to the tops of many observers' lists. In his review of the concert, Herald-Leader contributing music critic Loren Tice said she should be the Philharmonic's pick, and in an unscientific online poll at the Herald-Leader's Web site, more than half the voters said she should be the orchestra's next conductor.

The Philharmonic's search committee must now choose from eight remaining candidates, who guest conducted the orchestra from October 2007 to January 2009.

The committee met to begin considering candidates on Tuesday night. It was aware of Chen's withdrawal when it met, Kucirko said.

The committee's choice will be the Philharmonic's first new music director since Zack took the baton in 1972. He conducted his last concert with the orchestra Sept. 12 and will officially retire when his successor takes over the job.

The orchestra has one concert left on its current season: an April 17 performance with the Lexington Singers, which will be co-conducted by the Singers' director, Jefferson Johnson, and the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra's music director, John Nardolillo.

The announcement of the new music director is expected at or before that performance.