Music director Adam Stern hopes to intrigue music fans with the Seattle Philharmonic's March 21 bill in Meany Hall.

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When the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra hired Adam Stern in 2003 as its sixth music director (since its founding in 1944), the company embraced his reputation for innovative music programming.

“Every concert I program is a combination of time-honored classics and music I have a passionate belief in,” says Stern, who has led Northwest premieres of Aaron Copland’s 1934 “Statements for Orchestras” and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ 1957 Symphony No. 9.

Stern hopes to intrigue music fans with the Philharmonic’s presentation Sunday afternoon in Meany Hall. The third of four shows in SPO’s current season, “A Cathedral In Sound,” takes its title from a contemporaneous admirer of 19th-century Austrian composer Anton Bruckner. The former described what Stern calls the “monumental vastness” of Bruckner’s compositions as “cathedrals in sound.”

Bruckner’s Symphony No. 2 is the anchor of the program, a 65-minute, “big, imposing piece,” says Stern. For music fans who don’t know much about Bruckner — a cutting-edge, Romantic-era artist full of contradictions — taking in his second symphony at Meany should be a powerful introduction.

Bruckner was an exceptionally self-doubting man whose mature work as a composer began, with wobbly confidence, in his 40s. He was regarded by many as a provincial bumpkin, yet once he hit his stride creatively, as influential music critic Ted Libbey puts it, “he renewed the symphony as an expression of transcendent emotion and a confession of personal faith.”

Stern sought a different tone to complement the Bruckner piece. He chose Emil von Reznicek’s smiling overture to his 1894 opera, “Donna Diana,” which, Stern says, “used to be performed a lot when overtures were a staple” of orchestral repertoire. Stern also asked Seattle composer Samuel Jones if he could include the latter’s “beautiful and optimistic ‘Janus’ ” — which had the distinction of inaugurating Benaroya Hall — and Jones agreed.

A Los Angeles native, Stern, 54, began his musical studies at age 5. He studied conducting at the California Institute of the Arts, graduating at 21 as the school’s youngest recipient of a master’s degree.

Stern spent years as a “bohemian freelance musician, conductor and composer,” and won a Grammy in 1990 as Classical Producer of the Year. He produced the majority of Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s recordings, eventually becoming SSO’s assistant, then later associate, conductor.

Despite invitations to guest-conduct all over the country, Stern set down Northwest roots, joining the faculty of Lakeside School, becoming music director of Northwest Chamber Orchestra and conductor of the Port Angeles Symphony.

“I’m a homebody,” Stern says, a father of two adolescents. “I prefer not to traipse about the world.”

Stern composes for the concert hall, but he has had particular success writing music for theater. His score for “Richard III” earned him a Los Angeles Dramalogue Award, and his four works for Seattle’s A Contemporary Theatre include music for “A Christmas Carol,” used every year since its 1996 premiere.

“The arts community is incredibly supportive of the things I do best,” says Stern.

Tom Keogh: