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When the Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s new season commences Sept. 15 with a gala concert conducted by music director Ludovic Morlot, the maestro will actually sit out one selection on a bill that includes music by Brahms, Borodin and Prokofiev.

The man who will lead the orchestra on Pancho Vladigerov’s Toccata Op. 23, No. 5, will be Stilian Kirov, SSO’s newly appointed associate conductor.

New to the job, that is, but not to Seattle audiences. Kirov, 29, served as the organization’s assistant conductor last season, a visible presence on stage and active behind the scenes in artistic and operational planning, community relations and education programming.

A rising star in the conducting world, Kirov has been promoted for the 2013-14 season and will lead concerts in several series, including Mainly Mozart, Beyond the Score, Discover Music and Community Concerts.

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He will also continue his primary responsibility from last season: preparing to step in at any moment for Morlot or a guest conductor who has to cancel an appearance. That scenario occurred last January when Morlot called Kirov the night before a concert and asked him to fill in for two performances.

“You always have to be ready to step in,” says Kirov. “Everything that the symphony does, every single program, I need to know, just in case.

“I go to every rehearsal and concert. It’s a wonderful position because you get to learn all kinds of repertoire, and if the occasion comes, you get to perform it.”

Kirov previously served as associate conductor for the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and music director for the Memphis Youth Symphony Program. He has been a guest conductor at many orchestras and festivals in Europe and across the U.S., including the Juilliard Orchestra and Musical Olympus International Festival in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Taken together, these immersive opportunities are ideal training, as they were for Morlot, to become a music director of a major orchestra.

“There is no one set path,” Kirov says. “But most likely you’ll start with an assistant position, then become an associate. Eventually I will be looking to become music director of an orchestra. But for the moment, I’m here and very lucky because this is an orchestra that wants to make a difference.”

Very often, Kirov says, an associate conductor-turned-music director will continue the legacy of one orchestra via the artistic development of another.

“What is happening right now in Seattle Symphony is unique. The repertoire, the contemporary music, the thinking outside the box is something we’re very proud of. With the new series [untitled], it’s a fantastic place to learn. You get ideas how classical music can progress, what you can bring to another orchestra. That’s indispensable.” (The [untitled] series are late-night concerts in which SSO musicians perform contemporary works.)

Kirov studied piano and oboe in his native Bulgaria and France. He turned to conducting, he says, because he was “excited about working with people and all the different colors you can get from an orchestra.”

Kirov earned a degree in conducting from the Juilliard School, and holds a master’s from the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris. He has worked with such distinguished conductors as Kurt Masur, Robert Spano and Michael Tilson Thomas.

“You do everything you can to keep making music,” he says. “That’s how you get inspired, how you progress, discover more things about yourself and about music.”

Tom Keogh:

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