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In an interview last December, violinist Stephen Hegg, speaking as a board member of Orchestra Seattle/Seattle Chamber Singers, described the organization’s lengthy search for a new music director and principal conductor.

“We’re looking for somebody with a vision for building audiences in a tough time and making the music we play come even more alive,” Hegg said.

OSSCS has found its leader.

Clinton Smith, artistic director and principal conductor of the St. Cloud Symphony in Minnesota, takes over as the community-based, Seattle nonprofit’s music director beginning this 2013-14 season.

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Smith will conduct five of seven concerts, beginning with the season opener Saturday at the First Free Methodist Church on Queen Anne.

“Everybody is fired up and looking forward to the repertoire,” says Smith between rehearsals. “The energy with this orchestra and chorus is just so refreshing. They’re there because they want to be.”

That solid commitment follows a period of unexpected transition after the death of founder George Shangrow in 2010. A beloved figure in Seattle’s music community, Shangrow created OSSCS in 1969 as a vocal ensemble.

He added an orchestra a decade later, and handled administrative and artistic matters personally until his death in a car accident.

“It was his baby,” says Smith. “He took care of all the issues, chose the repertoire and found the music. Once he was gone, OSSCS had to figure out how to function without him.”

It did. Regrouping and inviting a series of guest conductors to take the music reins on a concert-by-concert basis, OSSCS’ musicians and singers went through a phase of discovery, introduced to new possibilities in repertoire and approach. Several candidates auditioned to succeed Shangrow last season by leading individual concerts. Smith won the appointment, announced in June.

Besides his duties with the St. Cloud Symphony, Smith, 31, serves on the music staff of Santa Fe Opera, covering and preparing performances. He will also conduct at the University of Michigan Opera Theater this season, and was a chorus master and cover conductor for Minnesota Opera over four years.

Those experiences help make Smith an ideal choice for OSSCS, which is equally devoted to instruments and voices.

“They were looking for someone with experience working with an orchestra, chorus and soloists,” says Smith. “It’s a great fit all around. Conductors crave a place like OSSCS where we can form relationships with musicians, singers and composers. We want a place to grow.”

Offering such eye-catching program titles as “Passion + Enchantment” and “Reflection + Wonder,” Smith has thrown the doors wide open to a variety of repertoire exploring the human spirit.

Saturday’s concert, “Love + Adoration,” includes Wagner’s Prelude and Liebestod from “Tristan und Isolde,” Monteverdi’s Toccata from “L’Orfeo,” contemporary Welsh composer Paul Mealor’s “She Walks In Beauty,” and the world premiere of Seattleite Carol Sams’ Rhapsody for Viola and Orchestra.

“The idea was also to show off the organization through broad programming,” says Smith. “I wanted to show we have an orchestra and chorus on equal footing. At different times, the orchestra will essentially accompany the chorus, while at other times, the chorus will be an instrument within the orchestra. There are different ways the two function together.”

Tom Keogh:

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