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.

Prieto programs favorites for festival

Concerts include Diaghelev Ballets and music by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven

Carlos Miguel Prieto. Photo by Peter Schaaf

Carlos Miguel Prieto. Photo by Peter Schaaf

Carlos Miguel Prieto brings two very different programs to the Colorado Music Festival.

The Mexican conductor, the second of three candidates for the position of music director of the festival, will lead the full Festival Orchestra in a program of early 20th-century ballets on July 17 and 18, and the Chamber Orchestra in a program of 18th/19th-century classics on July 20.

“I wanted to do two very contrasting programs,” Prieto says, “one with a very colorful orchestra of early 20th-century dimensions, and [one] with a completely classical-period program.”

Read more at Boulder Weekly.