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Veteran British maestro Simon Streatfeild -- not Martin Fischer-Dieskau -- appears to be headed for the principal conductorship of the troubled Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra in its 2004-2005 season.

It's an astonishing turnaround, not least because until this week it appeared as if the Berlin-based Fischer-Dieskau would be returning to lead the orchestra from which he was fired last Nov. 27, six months before the completion of the contract he signed in 2001.

Fischer-Dieskau's controversial dismissal prompted a fierce debate in the Southern Ontario city of 450,000, a debate that ran up legal bills estimated at more than $150,000 and eventually resulted in the election in March of a new, 18-person board seemingly keen to see the deposed maestro restored to the podium.

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However, after Fischer-Dieskau went to Kitchener-Waterloo last Saturday for a three-hour meeting with a subcommittee of the board, the KWSO announced late Tuesday that it would be adhering to a decision made by the previous, anti-Fischer-Dieskau board in January that named Streatfeild as "artistic leader" for the orchestra, and the conductor of 19 of its performances in 2004-2005.

In a release circulated yesterday, the KWSO said it took this action because it had to confirm its upcoming season no later than the end of this week and "move forward with subscription and fundraising campaigns." Furthermore, Fischer-Dieskau had adopted an unproductive "hard-line approach" in his weekend discussions with the subcommittee, the release said. That didn't fit with the mandate the subcommittee had been given by the board, and scuttled Fischer-Dieskau's hopes for restoration.

"The bottom line is we're out of room and out of time," John Spearn, the KWSO chairman, said in an interview yesterday. "April 30 is not an arbitrary date. We are already four to six months late in our preparations for the season ahead. This is a critical time for the orchestra's immediate future."

Spearn was part of the four-member subcommittee that met with Fischer-Dieskau and his lawyer on the weekend.

However, Fischer-Dieskau, speaking yesterday from his home in Berlin, said the KWSO is "wrong in citing me as inflexible and taking a hard position." His basic position is that he wishes to be restored to the KWSO conductorship on the terms of the contract he signed in June, 2001 -- "nothing more," because "I haven't heard any reason for my firing last year."

He also requested that his demand for reinstatement be considered by the board as a whole, not part of it.

This is because "the new board is divided," Fischer-Dieskau said. About half of it is aligned with the old board that resigned en masse in mid-February, and "it is trying to make me look bad."

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While the entire board was to have met Tuesday, one member ordered that the consent and waiver form he signed be "torn up," according to Spearn, which meant that the 13 members on hand "could not properly conduct business." (The forms are signed by board members who don't anticipate they can attend a scheduled meeting but who agree the meeting can go ahead as a legitimate undertaking without them.)

As a result, the 13 members were obliged to stick to the terms of a board decision taken April 20. That decision instructed that a search committee immediately begin negotiations with Fischer-Dieskau for a "mutually acceptable agreement" for the 2004-2005 season and that it start to look for a maestro to helm the 2005-2006 season.

But with the apparent collapse of negotiations, the KWSO now appears committed to moving ahead with the season previously developed by Simon Streatfeild in association with an artistic advisory committee.

Calls to Tony Martinek, vice-chairman of the new board and one of the leaders of the movement to reinstate Fischer-Dieskau, were not returned by press time yesterday. When asked if Martinek was the board member who had his consent and waiver form torn up, Spearn refused to identify the member.

Meanwhile, Fischer-Dieskau indicated yesterday that "of course, [he was]prepared to co-operate with Mr. Streatfeild" in assembling the 2004-2005 season.

He also said a decision by the new board in late March not to support a KWSO tour of Germany in 2004-2005 was not an impediment to talks. The tour, expected to cost close to $700,000, had been heavily touted by Fischer-Dieskau during his tenure, but resisted by the old board, and subsequently became a key element in the 14-week battle over his reinstatement.

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The new board felt there wasn't enough time to pull the tour together in the next six to eight months but agreed to review its feasibility for later in 2005.

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