Winners and Losers

One last assessment of the Metropolitan Opera’s labor agreements

By Peter Alexander

Who won and who lost at the Met? It depends.

THe Metropolitan Opera House (interior)

The Metropolitan Opera House (interior)

On Wednesday (Aug. 20), the New York Times reported on the agreement that was reached with the third of the Metropolitan Opera’s three major unions, Local 1 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, representing stagehands, carpenters and electricians.

The other two major unions, representing the orchestra and the chorus members, had reached agreement with the Met early on Monday. (See my post on that agreement here.) And an agreement with the remaining unions at the Met was reached on Thursday night, as reported again by the New York Times. These include unions representing scenic artists and designers, the costume department, and others.

These agreements end the conflict between management that has raged for several months and resulted in Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, withdrawing the threat of a lockout. He has confirmed that the Met will open its fall season as scheduled on Sept. 22, with a performance of The Marriage of Figaro conducted by James Levine.

Lincoln Center Plaza and the Metropolitan Opera House

Lincoln Center Plaza and the Metropolitan Opera House

The deal with the musicians’ unions called for an immediate 3.5 percent pay cut, followed by another 3.5 percent six months later, and no raise until the fourth year of the contract. The agreement with the stagehands has been reported to provide comparable cuts in labor costs, although the deal had to be written differently because of the different work rules and benefits packages in the contract with that union’s workers, and because their agreement is for six years instead of four.

But if it sounds like the concessions from the unions—the first pay cut accepted by the Met’s union workers in many years—represent a win by the management, that would be a hasty conclusion, for three reasons. In the first place, Peter Gelb had demanded a 17 percent pay cut from labor, and said that the Metropolitan would have to close otherwise. So the much smaller size of the pay cut than what Gelb was demanding makes his “win” look much less significant.

In the second place, the unions won some battles as well, in that the settlement calls for management to make its own, comparable cuts in the budget. The unions had argued that extravagant production expenses were part of the problem, and while there simply were not enough savings to be made in production costs to solve the Met’s budget woes, the fact that the final agreement took the form it did implies that the federal mediator for the negotiations with the musicians found merit in the union’s complaints. (The stagehands had separate negotiations that did not involve a mediator.)

Finally—and this speaks directly to the union’s complaints about Gelb’s leadership—the deal calls for an independent

Peter Gelb, general manager of the Met

Peter Gelb, general manager of the Met

monitor to keep an eye on the Met’s budget and expenses. This must be a particularly galling concession for Gelb, whose rather freewheeling, pop culture approach to opera was supposed to bring in larger, younger audiences and save the Met.

Apparently he has not accomplished either of those goals.

The question remains what effect this will have on regional opera throughout the country and here in Colorado. Will this settlement make it possible for other companies to ask for pay cuts from their employees, and to reign in costs in other ways? Will it put pressure on other companies to trim their production costs, or to make their finances more transparent, as the Met was forced to do in the course of negotiations?

For now, leaders of opera companies in this area have declined to comment on the Met’s settlement, although they do say they are keeping an eye on the situation.

 # # # # # 

For other perspectives of the Metropolitan Opera and it’s labor settlement, read these articles:

Jennifer Maloney’s highly complementary evaluation of Peter Gelb’s leadership of the Met can be read here.

Her previous, more balanced, assessment of the deal is here.

Blogger Greg Sandow’s more critical take on Gelb can be found in three installments linked from here.

The cheeky opera-fanatic blog “Parterre Box” has posted a copy of the agreement between the Met and the American Guild of Musical Artists, representing the Met Chorus, here.

The gossipy blogger Norman Lebrecht’s take on the settlement, which he sees as a “surrender” and a “humiliation for Peter Gelb,” can be found here

It’s a Deal at the Metropolitan Opera

Tentative agreement with two unions forestalls lockout at the Met

By Peter Alexander

Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, New York

Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, New York

The New York Times reports this morning, Monday, Aug. 18, that “the Metropolitan opera reached tentative agreements with the unions representing its orchestra and chorus.”

This agreement, which was announced about 6:15 a.m. today, forestalls the possibility of a lockout and means that the Met could still open on its scheduled date of Sept. 22. Opening night is to be a new production of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro and a Met debut by the young American soprano Amanda Majeski, who is cast in the major role of the Countess.

Negotiations went all night Sunday night and extended several hours past the previously announced deadline of midnight. The deal was announced by Allison Beck, a federal mediator who was brought in just before the previous deadline for an agreement.

The agreement does not include the stagehands’ union, which is the third major union at the Met, nor any of the smaller unions that have contracts due for negotiation this year. However, the agreement with unions representing the orchestra and chorus likely paves the way for the other unions to reach an agreement.

Because details of the agreement have not yet been released, it is impossible to declare “winners” or “losers,” or to know how much each side gave in order to save the season. The one thing that is certain, though, is that not only opera lovers, but the American arts world wins from the resolution of a long and bitter battle between unions and Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Met.

Prince Igor poppies

The famous poppies in Price Igor. © Jonathan Tichler/Metropolitan Opera

In the runup to negotiations, Gelb, who was asking for 17-percent pay cuts from workers at the Met, traded accusations with the unions. Attention was placed on the highly expensive and critically unsuccessful productions Gelb has mounted since becoming general manager in 2006. But as extravagant as some productions have been—a $169,000 poppy field in Prince Igor has become particularly notorious—independent analyses of the Met’s budget suggested that production cuts alone could not solve the Met’s financial problems, and that the unions would have to give some ground as well.

While the Metropolitan Opera seems like it is a long way from Colorado, this resolution is important here and around the country. For one thing, the Met “Live in HD” broadcasts to movie theaters are popular all across the country. So there is a local audience for the Met in Boulder, Denver, and anywhere else movie theaters carry the broadcasts. It has been reported that the theaters were very reluctant to lose the income they receive from the broadcasts.

Beyond that, the Met is the most prominent advocate for opera in the country, and the loss of such a high-profile company, performing on the highest artistic level, would be a blow to the art form, to singers and opera lovers and musicians everywhere. The successes and failures of the Met influence the success and failure of opera companies everywhere, including Central City and Opera Colorado.

Until details are released and all the unions reach agreements with management we cannot consider the labor disputes totally resolved. But today there is room to breathe and reason for hope.

 # # # # # 

Update: 2:40 p.m. 18 Aug. This story from the Wall St. Journal adds some details about the agreement. If these are accurate, they certainly sound reasonable, with cuts in both salaries and production costs. Not all the details are yet clear on how the cuts are to be accomplished, but presumably that will be worked out in the coming weeks.

One thing to keep in mind is that one reason labor costs that have been so high has to do with rules about overtime pay. Because the Met has mounted so many large productions of operas that are long, or have complex scenery changes, or both, it is difficult to separate production costs and labor costs. In other words, an overly complex production will cost a lot to mount, and part of that cost comes from extended hours from the stagehands and other production staff.

 # # # # # 

Tuesday, 19 August: Today’s story from the New York Times adds more details. You should read the whole article, but here are the most critical parts:

The workers agreed to a 3.5 percent cut in wages upon ratification, and another 3.5 percent reduction six months later — either in the form of another wage cut or, if they agree in further negotiations, as a change in benefits. Part of those cuts would be restored with a 3 percent raise in the second half of the fourth year.

. . .

[T]he Met’s management agreed not only to match the value of the labor cuts on the administrative side, but also to cut $11.25 million worth of other expenses — which may include cutting costs, scheduling more carefully, or reducing rehearsals — in each of the four years of the contract. And in an unusual provision eagerly sought by the unions, the Met’s management agreed to have an independent analyst monitor its finances.

It appears everyone realized that a prolonged lockout or work stoppage would be disastrous for the Met, for opera in general, and also for them individually. Happily for everyone, rehearsals for the coming season can now continue uninterrupted.

Decision time is at hand for Colorado Music Festival

CMF Music Director search now in the hands of festival officials

By Peter Alexander

And then there were none.

Chautauqua Auditorium home of the Colorado Music Festival

Chautauqua Auditorium, home of the Colorado Music Festival

All of the conductors have come and gone: the three official candidates to succeed Michael Christie as music director of the Colorado Music Festival, the unofficial candidates, the popular favorites, and the other guest conductors.

It has been an interesting few weeks, with rumors swirling and unexpected statements from the search committee—in one case, from the stage before a concert. As a professional violinist who has played worldwide and participated in several conductor searches wrote to me recently, “Nothing brings the blood to a full boil as a conductor search can!”

Now it’s up to the CMF board, the search committee, and the new executive director, Andrew Bradford. The decision will be entirely in their hands: there will be no musicians from the orchestra and no CMF staff members other than the newly-arrived Bradford at the table. Deliberations will begin this coming week, with a decision to be announced after all the details fall into place. Let’s hope everyone’s blood has gone off the boil as the decision gets made.

Here is what we know: the committee originally selected five finalists. These were culled from recommendations to the board as well as applicants who contacted the CMF. Of those five, three were able to schedule a full week of concerts here at Chautauqua during the summer, with two different programs each—one for the full symphony and one for chamber orchestra.

These were the summer’s official music director candidates. I have posted interviews with all three: William Boughton, Carlos Miguel Prieto, and Jean-Marie Zeitouni.

Over the summer, the festival was in the hands of several other guest conductors—a fact that gave the season a rather colorless quality compared to the vivid festivals Michael Christie put together, and probably contributed to the lower attendance this year. (This does not reflect on the quality of the guests, official candidates and others, some of whom gave excellent and exciting concerts.)

Many of the guest conductors were clearly not in the running for music director. Michael Butterman, the director of the Boulder Philharmonic who conducted the opening night concert, has stated he did not want to take on the festival. Cynthia Katsarellis, director of the Colorado Pro Music Chamber Orchestra in Boulder who conducted children’s concerts, was not in contention.

With some of the other guests, the status is more murky. With word getting around that some of the guests were popular with musicians and others in the community, the search committee released a statement Aug. 1 that concluded “we will be looking at everyone we have seen,” a splendidly ambiguous sentence that might refer to the other guest conductors. Or might not.

The most surprising announcement from the search committee was that violinist/conductor Andrés Cardenes, who taught at CU-Boulder for two years and is co-director of String Music Festival in Steamboat Springs, was “a fourth finalist” who was “unable to conduct in Boulder this summer.”

In reality, however, Cardenes can be ruled out as a serious candidate. The board would be unlikely (and unwise) to hire someone who has never conducted the CMF orchestra and is unknown to the public, after so much time and energy has been invested in the other candidates.

The music director’s job is far more than what the orchestra and the public see on the podium. He has to maintain relations with the executive director, the board, major contributors, and other cultural leaders in the community. He has to help raise funds for the festival. And he has to be able to plan a six-week festival that engages successfully with all of these constituencies. Much of this work is done behind closed doors and is invisible to public and critics alike.

But of course he must also excite musicians and audiences with his performances. In other words, the public part of his job has to be exciting, if not spectacular.

With that in mind, here are my impressions of the conductors who have a shot at the job of music director:

William Boughton; photo by Harold Shapiro

William Boughton; photo by Harold Shapiro

The first to appear this summer, William Boughton has a British charm that Americans love. He would be excellent in the social aspects of the job—working with boards and contributors. He is also a decent conductor who did a good job with the concerts he led. But it was no more than that. The performances were solid but not exciting, and I fear that the festival under his direction would not have the cutting edge it needs to keep growing. As much as I enjoyed Boughton’s presence at the festival, he would be my third choice of the three official candidates.

Zeitouni

Jean-Marie Zeitouni

Jean-Marie Zeitouni, the most recent of the candidates, would be second choice. He led an impressive performance of a couple of virtuoso orchestra show pieces, the Richard Strauss tone poems Don Juan and Ein Heldenleben (A hero’s life). The performances showed off the orchestra’s skill and Zeituoni’s ability to manage the orchestral forces. But the interpretation was too one-dimensional, with too much reliance on the orchestra’s ability to deliver a impressive sound. A more nuanced interpretation would show a more consistent balance within the orchestra, create a contour over the entire span of a large work, and deliver a greater impact at the end.

In other ways Zeitouni does not seem a good fit for Boulder. He is more of a maestro than the others, which implies a kind of distance that could create barriers. I do not believe he would work effectively with the public, the board and the donors.

Carlos Miguel Prieto. Photo by Peter Schaaf

Carlos Miguel Prieto. Photo by Peter Schaaf

My first choice of the official candidates is Carlos Miguel Prieto. I loved his program of Diaghilev ballets, and it was especially exciting to hear the full, original version of Stravinsky’s Petrushka, which is exactly the kind of programming that a summer festival can exploit. In that one concert he showed the knack for creating a program that is both musically exciting and intellectually engaging.

His rapport with the musicians and the genuine enthusiasm with which he recognized the players was evident. Because the Colorado Music Festival depends to a larger extent than standing symphonies on the personal relationships among conductor, players and public, that is an especially important quality for the next musical director.

His past record of leading a festival in Mexico City and creating programs based around interesting ideas is very appealing for the CMF. He was very approachable, he seems gracious and personally charming, and shows a great enthusiasm for the music he is conducting. I believe he has the ability to take the festival into the future.

One other conductor needs to be mentioned. I have never seen a greater show of enthusiasm for a conductor from an orchestra than the CMF players showed to Andrew Grams at the end of his very exciting concert of Russian masterworks. The entire program was electrifying, and his work with piano soloist William Wolfram was magical.

Grams is not an official candidate, but he has a very interesting perspective on his time here this summer. He considers every guest

Andrew Grams

Andrew Grams

conducting engagement an opportunity to build relationships for the future.

“I approach every engagement that I have as a potential time to forge new and hopefully lasting relationships,” Grams said. “To me, it’s not that important to get a job. It’s much more important to find those connections that can make good quality work possible. When you find it, you want to nurture it and keep it going.”

Whether as guest or in a more permanent relationship, there is no doubt that Grams is interested in the Colorado Music Festival. “The time that I’ve had here, just with the musicians alone, has made this whole festival seem incredibly attractive,” he said.

Grams confirmed that he met with at least some members of the search committee while he was in Boulder. “They would ask me questions and I answered them, and I asked them questions,“ is the way he put it. “It was productive in that I think it really helped clarify where everybody stands.”

It should be noted that neither Grams, nor anyone from the festival, used the word “interview” to describe the contacts. But the concert he conducted, and the rapport he established with the musicians, were such that we should all hope that the connectivity he found here will continue into the future in one form or another.

Michael Christie. So-Min Kang Photography

Michael Christie. So-Min Kang Photography

The final word about the search should go to Michael Christie, a music director so beloved to Boulder audiences that I heard several festival patrons discussing the newest addition to his family on the Hop2 Chautauqua bus after a concert. He truly became like family to many in Boulder.

Earlier this summer, I asked him if he had any thoughts about the future of the festival he had led so successfully. “Naturally, I wish them and their future leaders well,” he said.

“A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into the success of that festival over my time and certainly many years before then. There’s a solid artistic foundation a music director can build upon and I can’t imagine anyone would put anything less than 100% into it.”

The stakes are high. Let us all hope that the board has found the director who can build on Christie’s foundation, and that he will rebuild the festival’s impressive momentum from past years.

 # # # # # 

NOTE: Corrections have been made to this post on 8/10/14. I inadvertently typed “Colorado Springs” instead of Steamboat Springs as the location of the String Music Festival, and I originally typed “about six” candidates when in fact my notes show that I was told there were five.

CMF’s “Music Mash-up” series earns mixed review

Beethoven/Coldplay and other blurred lines at Colorado Music Festival

By Peter Alexander

Let’s get one thing out of the way: mashups are nothing new.

Today the term usually means the blending together of music by different pop artists, by overlaying tracks from separate recordings into a new piece. This concept is the basis of the “Music Mash-up” series at the Colorado Music Festival, which just finished its second year.

Steve Hackman, music director of CMF's "Music Mash=up" series

Steve Hackman, music director of CMF’s “Music Mash-up” series

But it is also just about as old as written music. Remixes and what were called “break-in” songs go back just about as far as recordings. The history of recorded mashups is complex and fascinating, from “Stairway to Gilligan’s Island” (a mashup of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and the theme from the “Gilligan’s Island” TV show) to the world of hip-hop DJs and “turntablism.”

But composers were borrowing from each other long before recordings. In the 16th century the “parody mass” was music written for performance in the Catholic mass using music from secular songs and other sources, with new music interposed into the original song. This became so popular that in 1562 the church’s Council of Trent banned the use of secular music in services.

At the CMF the mashups have taken two forms. One is the creation of a new score by combining a classical piece with music by a contemporary popular group or artist. In 2013, it was Brahms’s First Symphony and Radiohead’s album “OK Computer” that were blended together in a score written and conducted by Steve Hackman. That performance featured the CMF orchestra performing Brahms and material written or arranged by Hackman, and three vocalists singing music and lyrics by Radiohead.

This year, it was Beethoven’s Third Symphony and music by the British rock band Coldplay that were blended, again in a score created and conducted by Hackman. The performance again featured the orchestra and the same three singers. (Hackman, a conservatory-trained musician with an equal love for popular and classical music, was named Music Director for the 2014 Mash-up series.)

These are genuine mashups, putting together music from two different sources. I will have more to say about them, but first I want to turn to the second form of event in CMF’s “Music Mash-up” series. Two performances on this year’s festival fall into this second category, and they are in fact little more than traditional pops concerts, featuring an orchestra and a guest artist from the popular music world—something Arthur Fielder was doing with the Boston Pops in the 1940s and ‘50s.

San Fermin

San Fermin

One of the two pops/mashups (as I will call these concerts to distinguish them from the Music Mash-up series as a whole) this year featured three female vocalists, singing their own material in arrangements for orchestra. The second featured the Brooklyn-based San Fermin—sometime called a Baroque-pop band—performing material from their self-titled first album and some newer pieces.

I only heard the second of these, with San Fermin, and on that concert the orchestra contributed very little. It was essentially a San Fermin concert with backup—something that makes sense for a popular concert series, but seems out of place in the Colorado Music Festival.

San Fermin itself is an interesting band with a unique sound. The songs from their original album were a little too much alike, but the new material was inventive and intriguing. I remain unconvinced by the claim that the band is focused on “life’s top-shelf issues,” which are enumerated in the program notes as “youth, nostalgia, anxiety, unrequited love.” These are not really life’s top-shelf issues—but maybe that’s just the over-30 (admittedly way over 30) curmudgeon in me.

It’s clear to anyone who attended this summer’s Music Mash-up concerts that while Beethoven/Coldplay had a sold-out and enthusiastic audience, the house was much smaller for the two pops/mashup events. There were some fans in the audience—San Fermin got some loud cheers from the back of the house—but not enough of them to meet what I assume were the expectations. Perhaps San Fermin is not well known in Boulder; perhaps other, better known artists would have attracted an equally enthusiastic and larger audience.

In any case, I question whether pops concerts of this type are the best use of the CMF’s resources. This year the three Music Mash-up concerts took all three Tuesday nights that previously had been devoted to the World Music series. That series featured some of the most creative and intriguing performances of the festival, and had the potential to energize new audiences. (Need I mention that the inclusion of various ethnicities in the World Music categories could reach portions of Colorado’s population that are conspicuously absent most nights at Chautauqua?)

Brahms/Radiohead at the 2013 Colorado Music Festival

Brahms/Radiohead at the 2013 Colorado Music Festival

Turning to the concerts that I consider to be genuine mashups, the perspective is more positive. The 2013 Brahms/Radiohead combo was very successful. Hackman said specifically that he chose those two sources because of stylistic compatibility, and the score flows seamlessly in and out of the Brahms symphony. It is not entirely to my taste—I prefer Brahms neat, thank you—but I still consider it a worthy and successful mashup of two creative and interesting artists. With the increasingly eclectic tastes of younger listeners (and not so young, for that matter), this is a project worthy of the festival.

That said, I found this year’s mashup to be less successful. Hackman says he chose Coldplay to go with Beethoven not for its musical or stylistic similarity, but because of “a feeling and a universality that they have in common, because of the simplicity of their music and yet the beauty of it, and the themes that are prevalent in the music.”

He is talking about the way that Beethoven tackles, even without words, major humanistic issues through his music. That is part of the profundity we feel in Beethoven’s music, which Hackman aligns with Coldplay lyrics such as “nobody said it was easy” and “when you try so hard but you don’t succeed.”

“How Beethoven are those lines?” Hackman asks.

To answer him honestly, not very. Simplicity and universality are not the same as profundity.

Comparing those quotes to what Beethoven is expressing is like comparing greeting card sentiments to Shakespeare. And as Hackman suggested, the stylistic combination was awkward at best, so the mashup of Beethoven with Coldplay was not nearly as seamless or successful as Brahms/Radiohead. In short, while I admire Hackman’s ambition and his work as an arranger, the two mashup scores are not equally successful.

Another point is worth mentioning. In fascination over the pop-music part of his arrangements, it is easy to overlook the fact that Hackman is conducting a symphony orchestra in major portions of symphonies by Brahms and Beethoven. His conducting is clear and efficient, and the performances of Brahms and Beethoven that he elicited from CMF’s excellent orchestra were eloquent.

On the basis of two years of Music Mash-up concerts at the Colorado Music Festival, I think the genuine mashups are worth pursuing. Hackman’s arrangements are never less than skillful and intriguing. He should search out new and more far-ranging sources and combinations. I look forward to his next mashup score.

On the other hand, something better than pops concerts are needed to fill out a series. And none of this is worth giving up the World Music concerts from past years. CMF has to go forward, and it needs to do so with insight into both audience building and first-rate musical values.

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.