Four or more for Music Director

By Peter Alexander

Rumors have been swirling around Chautauqua all summer.

When the Colorado Music Festival announced its summer season, it was stated that three of the guest conductors were candidates to replace Michael Christie as music director of the festival. Those three were William Boughton, Carlos Miguel Prieto and Jean-Marie Zeitouni. Of the three, Boughton and Prieto have already appeared at the festival, and Zeitouni will conduct in the festival’s final week, Aug. 3 and 7-8.

But other conductors were well liked by the orchestra and had expressed an interest in the job. Were they candidates or not?

That depended on who you talked to. Members of the orchestra said they were. Or some of them were. But officially, they weren’t. Or probably weren’t.

Officially there were three candidates, and the CMF Board and search committee admitted they had no contingency plan if none of the three worked out or accepted the position. That seemed a perilous situation, considering the festival’s past record of hiring an executive director, when it took a year and one failed hire to get Andrew Bradford into the job. But that was the official position.

Until now.

 

Andrés Cárdenes, another potential candidate for music director of the CMF

Andrés Cárdenes, another potential candidate for music director of the CMF

Today the search committee issued a statement acknowledging that more than just the three official candidates were finalists for the job. Andrés Cárdenes, who taught violin for two years in CU Boulder and is co-director of Strings Music Festival in Steamboat Springs, is also a candidate, even though he was not able to conduct this summer. And apparently the committee is open to other possibilities as well.

Here is the statement from the search committee:

 “We have three candidates for the music director position, and these are Maestros Boughton, Prieto, and Zeitouni. A fourth finalist, Andrés Cárdenes, was unable to conduct in Boulder this summer, but members of our team observed him in Steamboat and he did meet with the committee. These wonderful men emerged from a search that produced scores of applicants, and they have been thoroughly vetted and examined, and we have been fortunate to attract them this summer. They are all highly accomplished musicians who would be of interest to any great orchestra. We’ve also been fortunate in finding and engaging other guest conductors this summer, including Michael Butterman, Joshua Gersen, Andrew Grams, and Lawrence Rachleff. At the end of the summer, we will meet and discuss the matter and make an approach to the person whom we think is best suited for the job, and we will be looking at everyone we have seen.”

For anyone who has been following the festival over the summer, this is a fascinating statement. Until now, Cárdenes has not figured in the discussion of potential candidates. The rumors have all been about other guest conductors on the summer schedule, particularly Rachelff and Grams.

None of this is about qualifications, by the way. Cárdenes has extensive experience as a violinist, teacher and conductor that would make him an interesting fit for the job leading both the CMF summer festival and the Center for Musical Arts. (Disclosure: I knew him slightly when we were both graduate students at Indiana University.) And some of the guest conductors have made impressions as strong as, or stronger than, some of the official candidates—which makes the very last phrase of the statement particularly fascinating.

The committee says “we will be looking at everyone we have seen.” But they do not specify just who is included in “everyone.”

In any case, it is now official that the search committee is considering other possibilities than the three “official” candidates. And by saying so, the festival has helped settle the rumors.

 

The quality of the music making is most important

Introducing Jean-Marie Zeitouni, third and final official candidate to lead the Colorado Music Festival

By Peter Alexander

Jean-Marie Zeitouni

Jean-Marie Zeitouni

Each of the three official candidates to take Michael Christie’s position as music director of Boulder’s Colorado Music Festival has conducted concerts this summer at Chautauqua. When each candidate has visited Boulder, I have taken the opportunity to introduce him (and yes, they are all male). I asked each candidate about his interest and ideas for the festival, and give him a chance to introduce himself to the public. I hope this gives a clearer picture of the strengths of each candidate.

Jean-Marie Zeitouni is the third official candidate to visit CMF this summer, with concerts August 3 and 7–8. (Read about the concerts in Boulder Weekly. To learn more about Zeitouni, you can read his full press biography here.)

Here are his answers to the questions I asked:

 

PA: Here are my more general questions for you. What interests you most about the Colorado Music Festival?

 JMZ: You know, I don’t know much about it yet, but the first thing that attracted me  is the quality of the music. I know of the festival, not from the outside world, not from the usual conductor searching. I actually know about the festival from many friends that I have made over the years who play in many different orchestras who go there in the summer, to play with this group. They all told me it’s fantastic, the orchestra is on a very high level, people are there because they want to keep (playing) music in the summer because some orchestras don’t have a big summer season. So it’s really from the musicians’ perspective. I have friends from the St. Louis Symphony, San Antonio Symphony, Montreal Symphony, Hawaii, and I’m forgetting a few but I have many friends who have played or who are still playing in the orchestra—friends from the Oregon Symphony, Omaha Symphony and all across the board who play there—and  they said, ‘Oh, it’s a great place, we go there, I mean the mountains and everything, but the orchestra is good, people want to play, they want to sound good.’ So, when I got the phone call to ask me if I was interested to go to this festival and to maybe be considered I said, yes, of course, I’d love to go and to have the experience at least. As for the future we’ll see.

You have partly answered the next question. What do you think are the strengths of the festival?

 I’ve seen the variety of the programming. I sat down and I read what was done the first year, and then the second year, and then this series was introduced, and then they tried to have a musical mashup, and then they did—so I’m aware of kind of the buoyancy of the variety of programming and the search for something that’s a little bit different, that will attract the audience. The philosophy seems to be very active, and—I’m sorry, English is not my first language so I’m trying to translate what I‘m saying. The creativity of the programming is basically something that attracts me and of course the quality of the music making for me is the most important.

zeitouni.3You said you’ve looked over the past programming going back 15 years. What ideas would you want to bring to programming?

 To me it’s really too early to talk about this right now. I do have some ideas and I’ve tried things over the years on my own, but you have to really to understand a style of festival, a style of community, the mentality of concert goers, even to breathe the air of the place before you can dare say I know what’s good for you and we should do this and we should try this. So it’s not because it’s a non-committal thing, it’s really from the humble place that I’m going to say I need to go there and see it for myself and be listening carefully and be sensitive to that kind of of energy and of people who are there and then I’ll create and adapt if the fit is right, something that will take into consideration the heritage of this festival and its participants, and audience of course.

We hear a lot about the crisis in classical music, with audiences declining and so forth. Andrew Bradford, the new executive director of the festival said he doesn’t believe that classical music is dying. What do you think? Is there a crisis, and how should institutions address it, if there is one?

I agree. I don’t think that classical music is dying at all. There are some places that are actually blooming more than ever. It’s just that there is a model shift in musical institutions and what they do and how they present what they do. The challenge is to be appealing without watering down the content, because the content is ultimately what is important. And so the challenge lies there. There are so many different initiatives that I see all across the United States, but also in Canada and in Europe to bridge the gap between younger generations, or even now middle-age people that were never in contact with this art from early on. There are very successful endeavors, but the mentality of everybody is changing. People don’t commit to buy subscription the way they did 20 years ago; it’s a different model. And I myself am a consumer of entertainment and art, and I don’t shop the way I used to do 20 years ago. I’m not going to buy a whole 12 subscriptions to symphonic concerts, because I want the freedom to go to an event that I want to see—I’m no exception, everybody is like that right now. There’s much more choice out there, and so the challenge lies in making this appealing to people and trying to create an event in which each of the concerts will have some appeal, and at the same time being very careful not to alienate the folks who have been supporting the art form for many, many years. I would say these older people are the, we say in French the “pure-in-heart” followers and they are really there because they love their music and they love their concerts and I think that just as respect for them and the art form the contents should not be watered down. It’s a matter of packaging and it’s a matter of communicating. I’m convinced more than anybody else that the music of Strauss, Mozart and Bernstein or Shchedrin or whoever is the best thing out there and it should be heard by the biggest number of people possible, but I need to get their ear sensitive about this. But it’s a long term. I work in an orchestra in Montreal, and we do different concert formats for different age groups and different levels of sophistication. There are so many different strategies that we can do with good marketing. I’m totally aware of the shift but I’m not discouraged by it at all.

And now I have three less serious questions. Boulder is known as a great city for food. Do you have a favorite cuisine?

 Oh boy. I’m a big foodie! I grew up in a family of cooks, and actually my dad’s family were professional pastry chefs. I do have, we’ll say quite an open mind for food. Everyplace I go in the world I read beforehand and try to find the best place to eat, and I go and I also collect wines, so I like pairing food and wine. There’s no end to this so I don’t have any favorite type of food—I’m ready to try everything.

Outdoor activities are important in Colorado. Do you have a favorite outdoor activity?

 I’m a golfer. I used to go to Banff every summer in the Rockies, and of course I don’t want to say that it’s the same as Boulder, but there’s this kind of mountain landscape, and we used to go hiking and sightseeing and going to the natural hot springs and all of this, so I enjoyed the hiking and everything. But I’m dead crazy, I’m completely gaga over golf. (Zeitouni explains that would be “complètement gaga” in French.) I’ve golfed in the Rockies before in Canada and it’s an exceptional experience, and I assume that there must be some golfing in Boulder.

 

Jean-Marie Zeitouni. Photo by Hugo-Sébastien Aubert, La Presse

Jean-Marie Zeitouni. Photo by Hugo-Sébastien Aubert, La Presse

This year’s festival overlapped earlier with the soccer World Cup. Are you a a soccer fan, and who do you support?

 Of course, yes. I was always growing up a supporter of the Italian team, but they didn’t do so well this year. But they had a better run in the past.

Why is a French Canadian a supporter of the Italian team?

 Well, my dad is from Egypt—he’s from Alexandria actually, so (there it is) more Mediterranean and the culture is even more Greek than Arabic if you will. That’s why I know all the pastries and the food form the Mediterranean that I grew up with. This year I think that my favorite team was Argentina. They had a heartbreaking final match, but this was a very special team.

Final week at CMF features aspects of love

Carmen, Bernstein and Strauss, but no Andrew Lloyd Weber

By Peter Alexander

It’s all about love.

Zeitouni

Conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni

That’s how conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni describes the concert he will lead with the Colorado Music Festival Chamber Orchestra Sunday evening, Aug. 3.

One of three official candidates to succeed Michael Christie as music director of the festival, Zeitouni will conduct just two works on the program: the Carmen Suite by Rodion Shchedrin; and Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium) for solo violin, strings, harp and percussion, with violinist Adele Anthony.

[NOTE: Anthony is a replacement for the previously announced Jennifer Koh, who had to withdraw after suffering a concussion.]

Like the other candidates who have visited CMF this summer, Zeitouni will also conduct a pair of concerts with the full orchestra. He will lead this year’s finale concerts Thursday and Friday, Aug. 7 and 8. The program will be anchored by Don Juan and Ein Heldenleben (A hero’s life), two tone poems by Richard Strauss, whose 150th birthday is being celebrated this year. The concert will open with the overture to the opera Don Giovanni by Mozart.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

Last-minute change of Soloist at CMF

Jennifer Koh will be replaced by Adele Anthony for Aug. 3 concert

Violinist Adele Anthony. Photo by Marcia Ciriello

Violinist Adele Anthony. Photo by Marcia Ciriello

By Peter Alexander

Violinist Jennifer Koh, who was scheduled to perform Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium) for solo violin, strings, harp and percussion at the Colorado Music Festival on Sunday, Aug. 3, has had to cancel her appearance.

She will be replaced by Adele Anthony, a native of Tasmania who studied at the Juilliard School and won the 1996 Carl Nielsen International Violin Competition in Denmark. She has since collaborated with leading artists in concerts and festivals around the world.

Sunday’s performance with the CMF Chamber Orchestra will be led by guest conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni, one of three official candidates for music director of the festival. In addition to Bernstein’s Serenade, the program will feature Carmen Suite by Rodion Shchedrin.

Koh has suffered a concussion in an accident that forced her to cancel her appearance in Boulder. While she is the kind of young and engaging soloist that Boulder audiences would enjoy hearing, the opportunity to hear Anthony, who has a truly outstanding pedigree in the violin world, is also something to relish.

Upon learning of the news and securing Anthony to take over as soloist, CMF released the following statement on its Web page:

Important Update: Due to health issues, Jennifer Koh has had to cancel her appearance for the August 3 concert.  We are thrilled that Adele Anthony has stepped in to replace her. Adele began playing the violin at the age of 2 1/2 in Tasmania. She studied with Beryl Kimber as an Elder Conservatorium Scholar at the University of Adelaide until 1987, and has attended the Aspen Music Festival several times as a Staling Fellow. At New York’s famed Juilliard School, Miss Anthony worked with three eminent teachers: Dorothy DeLay, Felix Galimir and Hyo Kang. She has collaborated with Gil Shaham (to whom she is married, with 3 children) in the United States and Spain in concerts and recordings marking the centenary of the death of legendary Spanish violinist and composer Pablo Sarasate. An active recording artist, Ms. Anthony’s work includes two releases with Sejong Soloists: Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (Naxos), and Sejong Plays Ewazen. 

NOTE: This post was updated 7/31/14 when it was confirmed that Koh had a concussion. Her condition is not believed to be serious.

It’s about to get even nastier at the Metropolitan Opera

General Manager Peter Gelb threatens a lockout

By Peter Alexander

Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, New York

Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, New York

The New York Times reports today that Metropolitan Opera General Manager Peter Gelb is threatening to lock out workers from the Met within a week:

The labor strife at the Metropolitan Opera took on a new urgency Wednesday when its general manager, Peter Gelb, sent the company’s orchestra, chorus, stagehands and other workers letters warning them to prepare for a lockout if no contract deal is reached by next week.

This is a continuation of the struggles at the Met that I reported earlier. This is in part a New York labor dispute, in which every side will act tough up to the last minute. But in the case of the Met, it is more than that.

In fact, a lot of the fight is about Gelb himself. There has been criticism of his leadership almost from the day he took over as the Met’s general manager in August 2006, particularly over the lavish productions he has mounted. These have included Robert Lepage’s mechanically lavish but visually dull staging of Wagner’s Ring Cycle—a production so immense that the Met had to spend something between $1.5 and $5 million just to reinforce the floor. The production as a whole cost something around $16–20 million.

A scene from Wagner's "Das Rheingold" in Robert Lepage's production. Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Criticism of the production has been harsh, with the New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini calling it “the most frustrating opera production I have ever had to grapple with” and The New Yorker’s Alex Ross declaring that “Pound for pound, ton for ton, it is the most witless and wasteful production in modern operatic history.” And those were among the kinder assessments.

As a result, many critics and others have called for a return to the Met’s more traditional Ring staging by Otto Schenk—a move that would concede that the Lepage staging was a a $16-million gamble that failed.

Rigoletto, production by Michael Mayer at the Metropolitan Opera. Piotr Beczala at the Duke of Mantua. Photo: Sara Krulwich, New York Times.

Rigoletto, production by Michael Mayer at the Metropolitan Opera. Piotr Beczala as the Duke of Mantua. Photo: Sara Krulwich, New York Times.

Another controversial production was of Verdi’s Rigoletto, placed in Las Vegas. Featuring a Sinatra-like lounge singer for the Duke, a Don Rickles-like insult comic for Rigoletto, and even a gratuitous pole dancer in the final scene, it became known as the “Rat-Pack Rigoletto.” 

Gelb justified his approach as a way of attracting new, younger, affluent and more hip audiences to the Met. But the history seems to be that these splashy productions attracted a lot of attention when they opened, but audiences fell off significantly when they were revived a year or more later. And that represents a situation that a major opera house like the Met cannot sustain. Productions of the standard operas have to remain profitable, year in and year out.

So there are legitimate questions about the direction of the Met under Gelb’s direction. And all of that controversy is coming to a head as the union contract deadline approaches. Gelb is not one to back down, especially with his own reputation part of the battle, and New York unions are not known for their compliance.

It’s hard to foresee an easy settlement. But it would be a great shame if Gelb’s tenure as director, which was supposed to “save” the Met as it faced changing demographics and an uncertain future, were to end up damaging one of the country’s most esteemed cultural and musical institutions. And while none of this has direct impact on Colorado’s musical culture, any longterm troubles at the Met will assuredly affect the entire operatic world, both nationally and internationally.

Stay tuned.

The Crisis in Classical Music: Latest thoughts and developments

The future of classical musicians and institutions and why we should all think about it

By Peter Alexander

In 2014, almost all stories about classical music have a subtext: crisis.

The crisis boils down to two trends: the increasing cost of doing business—salaries, facility and production costs—combined with decreasing income—aging and shrinking audiences, loss of revenue from tickets and recordings, declining contributions. Just about all of our classical music institutions have to address both trends.

Sometimes the crisis is the actual subject of media stories, as in my earlier post about financial issues at the Metropolitan and other opera companies around the country. But whether previewing concerts at the Colorado Music Festival, discussing candidates for CMF music director, or previewing the 2015 season at Central City Opera, that crisis is always part of the story.

Several recent articles I have seen touched directly on the crisis and the future of classical music:

Controversy continues to rage about the claim by Metropolitan Opera general director Peter Gelb that the Met has to retrench because opera attendance is falling everywhere. While Gelb’s remarks are partly a negotiating tactic aimed at the powerful musicians’ and stage hands’ unions, they touched issues that many people have been thinking about.

Peter Gelb, general manager of the Met

Peter Gelb, general manager of the Met

They also aroused a whole hornet’s nest of responders. One commentator known for his gossipy style, Norman Lebrecht, even accused Gelb of lying. Arts blogger Greg Sandow, who writes explicitly on the “the future of classical music,” gave a measured response to the furor that—having actual facts and figures about classical audiences—is definitely worth a read.

Elsewhere, the Wall Street Journal had its own appraisal of Gelb’s remarks, and several other bloggers joined the fray, here and here. There’s more, if you are willing to search the internet.

co_symphony

Colorado Symphony in Boettcher Concert Hall

Closer to home, Colorado Public Radio reports that the Colorado Symphony has found a creative way to cover some of their overhead costs: paying the rent for Denver’s Boettcher Concert Hall in part with tickets that the city’s arts agency, Denver Arts and Ventures, can distribute to people who would otherwise not be able to attend symphony performances.

On the basis of CPR’s story, this appears to be a classic win-win. The orchestra saves on their costs, they likely don’t lose any ticket sales, and the city has the opportunity to increase the reach of one of its flagship cultural institutions.

This is a promising idea. We should all watch how it plays out for both the orchestra—which faces a new challenge in 2015 when Boettcher Hall is closed for renovations—and the City of Denver.

UPDATE: Read this story by Ray Mark Rinaldi in the Denver Post on the future of the Denver Perfroming Arts Complex and  Boettcher Concert Hall.

Apart form these two organizations, the question remains just how much of a crisis classical music faces in 2014. First some perspective on the question. As long as I have been working in classical music, there has been talk about crisis. The audiences have been getting older for so long that, Lazarus-like, the thread of their lives must have been retied by someone.

Nevertheless, there can be little doubt that audiences have been shrinking for some time—shrinking more in some places, less in others, and in a few happy outliers, growing. (The figures graphed by Greg Sandow are particularly illuminating.)

The shrinkage has reached the point that directors of classical music institutions are talking openly about it—whether it’s Peter Gelb saying the Metropolitan Opera is facing bankruptcy, or Central City Opera’s Pat Pearce seeking ways to find new audiences, or Andrew Bradford, the new executive director of the Colorado Music Festival, saying “I don’t buy at all this argument that . . . classical music is dying.”

Time for Three at Colorado Music Festival

Time for Three at Colorado Music Festival

The critical word here is institutions. Young musicians are finding exciting and creative ways to reach audiences. Of the many examples I could cite, look at Time for Three: This young alternative trio of classically-trained musicians who mix anything and everything into their repertoire without compromising their standards has been very successful in Boulder and around the world.

Composer Michael Daugherty

Michael Daugherty

Or Steve Hackman, the director of CMF’s “Musical Mash-up” series, who combined his conservatory training with a love of popular music to build a whole career around various ways of crossing musical boundaries. (Or in a similar vein, think of the many composers who have successfully incorporated popular idioms into their work, including George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein in earlier times, or Michael Daugherty and David Lang today.)

But the large institutions—symphony orchestras, opera companies, music festivals—with their extensive costs for personnel, facilities, and logistical support, are struggling to maintain their financial viability. Part of the problem is that most of those institutions do only one thing well: present performances of a very specific repertoire. That one thing is what their founders wanted, so that’s what they were meant to do. But now that we are in more eclectic times, with all of us sampling from a wider pool of entertainment choices, musical styles and cultural trends, the large institutions can come across as Johnny One-Notes, and that is no longer enough.

We know that large institutions are rarely nimble. And nimbleness is required to respond to changing times. Obviously, individual artists and small, self-contained groups, can be more nimble. That is why Time for Three and Steve Hackman and Michael Daugherty can more easily build their own individual careers.

What all of these success stories have in common is the blurring of the line between classical and pop styles. I have written about this before, and it is the whole basis of CMF’s popular “Musical Mash-up” concerts.

If the one mashup performance I have attended at CMF is any indication, it is a very successful venture for the festival and may be a harbinger of things to come. I was impressed by three things: Chautauqua Auditorium was sold out; the audience included all ages, with people that looked like the typical symphony audience alongside much younger listeners; and the audience had an almost rock-concert vibe, with cheering and applause throughout.

Apart from the artistic validity of the mashup enterprise, that was an audience that any orchestra would love to have. So much so that at some point, artistic validity becomes, not irrelevant, but something that has to be addressed within the mashup genre, not from outside of it.

I believe that point has now been reached: the mashup (or crossover, or whatever you want to call it) horse is out of the barn, and it’s not going back. CMF is not alone in this enterprise—look at the program of symphonies around the country, playing film music, sometimes live with films, bringing in pop artists, commissioning new works that cross boundaries.

Like it or not, mashups of one form or another will be part of the future of our musical life. And not only for orchestras and festivals: opera has embraced a similar aesthetic by presenting Broadway musicals. The use of popular idioms in opera is as old as Porgy and Bess and as new as Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking presented this summer at Central City. (And that is overlooking the fact that for most of its life, opera was a popular idiom!)

The more you consider these trends, the more you realize that any decision made by our classical music institutions—programming, hiring, choice of soloists, venues, the pricing of tickets, outreach programs, and so forth—is, or should be, made with eyes on the future. If the directors of those institutions are thinking that way, shouldn’t we, the audience, think that way, too? After all, they are asking for our financial support, not the other way around.

# # # # #

To explore the subject a little further, here are two excellent articles by Sandow again: “Pop Fiction” and “Why Classical Music Needs Rock & Roll.” I think both are important reading for anyone thinking about the future of classical music.

REACTING TO CLASSICAL MUSIC IN A NATURAL AND VISCERAL WAY

Introducing Carlos Miguel Prieto, second candidate to lead the Colorado Music Festival

By Peter Alexander

Carlos Miguel Prieto. Photo by Peter Schaaf.

Carlos Miguel Prieto. Photo by Peter Schaaf.

Each of the three candidates to take Michael Christie’s position as music director of Boulder’s Colorado Music Festival will conduct concerts this summer at Chautauqua. When each candidate visits Boulder, I will take the opportunity to introduce him (and yes, they are all male). I will ask each candidate about his interest and ideas for the festival, and give him a chance to introduce himself to the public. I hope this will give a clearer picture of the strengths of each candidate.

Carlos Miguel Prieto is the second candidate to visit CMF this summer, with concerts July 17–18 and 20. (Read about the concerts in Boulder Weekly. To learn more about Prieto, you can read his full press biography here.)

Here are his answers to the questions I asked:

 PA: Now I have some questions that I’m going to ask all of the music director candidates this summer. First: What interests you or attracted you to the Colorado Music Festival?

 CMP: The quality of the orchestra. I know musicians from the orchestra and their energy and their enthusiasm.

Colorado itself: I’m very close to Colorado all my life, I’m a huge Colorado fan, and even part resident of Colorado.

And in the conversations with the board I was surprised at the fact that they didn’t balk at some of my suggestions of odd repertoire, so the combination of all those three.

What are the strengths of the festival?

 Anything that I would answer would be an assumption because I do not know the festival. What I have heard from musicians, and what I have heard form the board, it seems to be a festival where the audience is very close to the orchestra, which is what I think classical music should completely be about. Also, once again, the kind of adventurous programming that has been done is a good thing. So a combination of these things: the programming, the quality and energy of the orchestra, and the fact that the audiences seem to be close to the orchestra and close to what’s happening in the music.

 

Carlos Miguel Prieto with one of his orchestras.

Carlos Miguel Prieto with an orchestra.

What ideas for programming would you have for a festival like this?

 Well, I’m music director of another festival in Mexico, which is also around the orchestra. This is a 35-year-old festival. It may be longer (than CMF)—it’s 10 weeks—but I like to explore topics and then pick the music around those topics. Sometimes there are topics that don’t have to do with music itself, but with history or things that everyone can relate to.

For example, I’ve done years in my festival in Mexico City that center around the idea of military music. There is so much (music) about military or war. That year we played the five or six Mozart piano concertos that start with the idea of military, you know this (march) rhythm that is in I think six different piano concertos. So little things that allow you to build comprehensive and yet very varied programs—and that you can also illustrate with painting, photographs, poetry, with culture, with ideas, with conferences. I’ve learned that for festivals of limited length variety is good.

I’ve also built programs around the idea of borders, especially borders between the United States and Mexico. And also borders of countries that have a lot of back and forth: Austria and Hungary, Germany and Austria, and so forth. I like ideas because I think they catch people’s thoughts—similar to the programs that I’m doing (at CMF), that center around a story. Actually the three ballets that I’m doing are around the same story, the story about the girl being wanted by two characters.

But once again I’m kind of speaking in a void, because I don’t know too much about the history and what’s been done here and what people like. I like conversations about programming and I like people to criticize or say, you know, we’re tired of this piece, we don’t want to hear it again. I’m actually blessed that I conduct so many concerts in the year that if one place doesn’t like one piece, then another one will. I think there’s a lot to be said in hearing what some people in the audience may be interested in and what the orchestra musicians may be interested in.

We hear a lot about the crisis in classical music, but CMF’s new executive director, Andrew Bradford, says he doesn’t buy that argument Do you think there is a crisis, and if so what should an organization like CMF do about it?

 I don’t buy it in the least. Attendance in New Orleans of the Louisiana Philharmonic has been getting larger and larger over the last 10 years. And where I live most of the time, Mexico City, we have one of the youngest audiences in the world. We sold out the Palace of Fine Arts during Mexico v. Netherlands (in the World Cup). And the percentage of audience that was watching soccer was 97%! Of course it helps that Mexico City is 24 million, but this idea that classical music doesn’t have an audience, this is a mentality of just looking at your own back yard, because there are orchestras and festivals that sell out the first day they start selling. Experiences like that just tell you that we need to be imaginative.

Carlos Miguel Prieto

Carlos Miguel Prieto

Of course, there is a problem of lack of music education, no doubt about it, but people react to classical music in such a natural and visceral way that I think when we accept things like that (that classical music is in trouble), we’re accepting a self-fulfilling prophecy. One should not program, or think about what we do in a defensive way, but rather than in a very positive and enthusiastic way, because when you start selling what you do in a way that assumes that nobody is going to buy it, then nobody really does buy it.

There’s a way to react to that, that for me is like the worst, which is safe programming, or just programming of the blockbuster pieces, which are great in themselves, but when you do a whole season of blockbusters because you want to sell a lot of tickets, this is the beginning of your demise. What will you do the next years? There’s only so much that people want to hear if you only think about blockbusters. So I think that we have to be imaginative, we have to be positive. Of course, the way we sell it has to be intelligent, it has to be new, it has to be diverse, but I don’t accept explanations like that because I’ve experienced first-hand the opposite.

You’ve given me a lead into one of my more informal questions: Since this is the world cup year, I’m asking if you are a soccer fan, and if so what team do you support? You must be disappointed that the two countries of your heritage, Mexico and Spain, went out before the quarterfinals.

 Yeah, yeah! Well, especially because of how Mexico was beaten, because Mexico was four minutes away from beating Netherlands and lost in a kind of disappointing way.

I’ll tell you a story. In this concert in Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts), this beautiful marble palace in Mexico City, one minute before we started the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto, with a fine Venezuelan pianist by the name of Gabriela Montero, one minute before she comes out we were watching the game backstage and Mexico scored. So you could hear everyone backstage celebrating, and then we played the Rachmaninoff concerto in this kind of state of exhilaration. And then when we went backstage and heard that Netherlands scored two goals—that was like the worst backstage thing that I could ever imagine!

You should see what I’m seeing right now. I am in Hannover, Germany, and in three hours Germany is playing Brazil. Germans are not like Americans with football teams and like that, but every single car has the German flag, everyone has their faces painted with German colors. There’s something about the World Cup that I think is just absolutely marvelous, which is that it makes people rally around their team, and it also makes people forget about other things and think soccer for about a month.

For me sports and music are actually very similar, in the sense that you have to work at it every day and with this kind of combination of discipline, love, yet with like this all-out enthusiasm.

NOTE: Due to an interrupted cell phone connection to Germany, I did not get to ask Maestro Prieto the other questions I have asked the others candidates, but I can add that one of his favorite outdoor activities is skiing, which, as he has mentioned in other interviews, has brought him to Colorado for many years.