For the last 11 years, a tall, powerful and charming Brit has conducted the New Haven Symphony Orchestra. It’s possible his replacement will have the same characteristics.

An award-winning conductor and musical director, Cambridge-educated Alasdair Neale MUS ’85 performed as a guest conductor at the New Haven Symphony Orchestra on Thursday night at Woolsey Hall. Neale is the first of three conductors who have been invited to audition to replace New Haven Symphony Orchestra musical director William Boughton, who has served in the position since July 2007. The two other candidates for the 11th New Haven Symphony Orchestra musical director position are Associate Conductor of the Southbank Sinfonia Rebecca Miller and Music Director of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra David Amado. The board of directors will decide which of the three candidates will fill the role of New Haven Symphony Orchestra musical director this summer.

Burton Alter, who serves on the orchestra’s board of directors, final decision will involve feedback on the auditions from both New Haven Symphony Orchestra musicians and members of the board.

“The musicians are looking for someone … who can take them to the next level,” Alter said. “Board members are looking for someone who can lead the educational programs, who can work with the staff and board, and can work with the community. Between the two groups, you cover all the bases … They go through a remarkable amount of vetting.”

Neale is auditioning with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra after serving as music director of the Idaho-based Sun Valley Symphony Orchestra for 23 years. He has simultaneously held the position of music director at the Marin Symphony in San Rafael, California, since 2001. Neale also has a close connection to Yale: He is both a graduate of the School of Music and served as the musical director of the Yale Symphony Orchestra after his graduation in 1986 until 1989.

As part of the audition process, Neale has been visiting and meeting with local schools, donors, Yale staff members, City Hall and New Haven Symphony Orchestra staff and board members. According to Katie Bonner-Russo, NSHO’s marketing director, it is crucial that whoever becomes the new musical director is a prominent member of the New Haven community.

“This is an opportunity to hire a new head of an organization in a publically positive way,” Bonner-Russo said. “We want to see how the conductor interacts with both the orchestra and the community … We want people to feel like they know these candidates and [for candidates to] share their experiences with them.”

Neale, who lives and has worked in San Francisco, immediately opened the concert with “Mothership” by Mason Bates, a piece that he described as having “a certain West Coast vibe.” The piece was technologically futuristic; there was a laptop in the symphony, which mixed with the orchestra in such a way that the piece seemed beautifully extraterrestrial.

Audience member Lisa Bamburner said she appreciated the use of technology in the “Mothership” piece, adding that she found the piece “very interesting” and a “well done piece of music.”

Charles Warner, a North Haven resident who was also in the audience, noted that the “Mothership” piece highlighted a contrast between Neale and the retiring musical director.

“I think with [Boughton], the music was more refined in a sense,” Warner said. “With Neale tonight, you can see a more energetic approach, especially with the mothership piece.”

Following “Mothership” was Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 20,” which provided an appropriate and tasteful counterpoint to the modernity of “Mothership.” Michael Brown, the New Haven Symphony Orchestra’s composer-in-residence and a renowned pianist, starred in the piano concerto.

The performance concluded with Kevin Puts’s “ … this noble company” and Edward Elgar’s “Variations on Enigma.” These two pieces share an odd connection: Elgar also composed “Pomp and Circumstance,” the piece on which Puts loosely based “ … this noble company.”

Overall, Neale seemed charming and jovial throughout the performance, insisting that Michael Brown bow five separate times after his solo performance during the concerto before bowing even once himself. And at the start of the performance, Neale spoke fondly about his years in New Haven.

“I was lucky enough to call New Haven my home for six years,” Neale said. “I am honored to be back.”

Before choosing the top three candidates, the New Haven Symphony Orchestra received more than 150 applications for the role of musical director.

Nick Tabio |