Colorado Symphony conductor Andrew Litton

(Courtesy Colorado Symphony)

Nine months after extending Andrew Litton’s contract as music director, the Colorado Symphony announced Tuesday that the world-renowned conductor will step down from the post after this season.

Litton will serve as principal guest conductor and artistic adviser starting in the 2016/17 season. He will remain in that role with the symphony through the end of his contract, which concludes in 2018.

"This decision was a mutual one," Litton told CPR News. "I think the orchestra really wants a resident here, and I can’t do that. Not for eight weeks of work."

This fall brings a big shift to Litton’s career with his appointment as music director of the New York City Ballet (NYCB). The role is particularly significant for Litton, who grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan near where the NYCB performs. He now lives in New York with his family.

"Certainly the learning curve that’s involved with musically running a ballet company and all the repertoire that’s completely new to me, it’s going to take up a lot of my time," Litton said.

In October, he will conduct his final concert as music director of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in Norway after 12 years – a change that Litton initially thought might make more time for him to spend in Denver.

Instead, Litton will scale back his time on the podium starting next season. He will go from performing eight weeks of masterworks to four weeks during each of his final two years with the symphony.

"I hope I will always be here to conduct this orchestra in some capacity," Litton said. "It’s all about the relationship with the players, and that’s golden. I love working with them."

Litton will take a small pay cut, but he said that the role change is not a cost-saving measure.

"They’ll save a little bit, but that wouldn’t be the reason," Litton said. 

The move brings Litton full circle in his career with the Colorado Symphony. He first took over as the artistic adviser in 2012. A year later he became music director, a post that was vacant for three years.

Under his guidance, the organization has sought more recordings. And while the symphony awaits the arrival of its second album -- to be released soon on Sweden’s BIS records -- Neu said that programmatic concerns did not play a factor in Litton’s decision.

“We’ve got quite a bit of recording with Andrew,” Colorado Symphony senior vice president of artistic planning Bob Neu said. “So this wasn’t a matter of Andrew saying 'I’m not getting what I want.' It was him saying 'I’m going to need more time for other opportunities.' ”

Neu said that Litton will still be very involved while he’s under contract, overseeing the artistic direction of the orchestra and sitting in on auditions. He’ll also help lead the effort to find his successor. And symphony officials have started to discuss what they’ll look for in a new music director.  

One important factor will be if a candidate is willing to live in Denver, Neu said.

“Orchestras rise and fall by how active they are within their own communities, and I think that’s going to be key in our search,” he said.

The symphony hopes to find a new music director by the end of Litton’s tenure in 2018.

“First and foremost, we’ll look for somebody that wants to maintain a high level of musicianship within the organization,” Neu said. “And so much of it depends on that person’s chemistry with the orchestra.”

The symphony begins its 2015/16 season this weekend with a performance of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1.