Jean-Marie Zeitouni to step down as CMF Music Director after 2017 season

Peter Oundjian will be artistic advisor for 2018

By Peter Alexander

Renowned conductor Peter Oundjian will be artistic advisor to the Colorado Music Festival for 2018. Photo by Jaime Hogge.

The Colorado Music Festival (CMF) has announced that this summer’s 40th-anniversary season will be Jean-Marie‘s Zeitouni’s last as music director.

Zeitouni took the position for the 2015 season with a three-year contract. He has decided not to seek renewal of the contract, and instead will have a three-year engagement as principal guest conductor, starting with the 2018 season.

Peter Oundjian, music director of the Toronto Symphony and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, has been engaged by CMF as artistic advisor for the 2018 season. He will be responsible for programming the season and selecting the guest artists, and he will conduct two concerts during the summer.

He will visit Boulder this summer to meet with the musicians and others in the CMF organization.

A highly respected musician around the world, Oundjian rose to fame as a violinist, winning first prize at the International Violin Competition at Viña del Mar, Chile, in 1980, He was first violinist of the Tokyo String Quartet for 14 years, and since then he has conducted orchestras from the BBC Proms to New York, Berlin, Tel Aviv and Sydney.


Jean-Marie Zeitouni

Zeitouni says that while the decision to step back from the position of music director was his alone, the fact that Oundjian was available in 2018 played a part in the timing. “When (CMF) was able to get Peter Oundjian I became more confident about (leaving the position of music director),” he says. “Peter is in a very select league of major conductors around the world. It’s a great coup for the organization.”

Elizabeth McGuire, executive director of CMF, says that the search the next music director “will be a private search. We want to utilize tactics that are employed by the top-tier orchestras, so we can attract the very highest quality applicants.”

There will be no announcement of an opening or solicitation of applications. Instead, McGuire says that CMF will work through a network of consultants to find the right person. Having someone in place for 2019 is a possibility, she says, but “what we want is to find the right fit, and if it’s going to take more than one season, that’s what it will do. In the meantime having someone like (Oundjian) is a terrific solution for us. He has agreed to advise us on the search, and we have other artistic consultants working on it.”

There will be none of the public audition concerts that were such a prominent part of the 2014 season, when Zeitouni was selected as music director, and none of the candidates or finalists will be announced. At this point, she said, no one has been either ruled in or out for the position, including Oundjian.

“Our contract with him purely is a one-year contract,” she says. “We’re not going to leave any stone unturned when it comes to the possibilities, but we have not had that conversation with him now.”

Peter Oundjian 2017-18 - 3 - credit Malcolm Cook

Peter Oundjian conducting the Toronto Symphony. Photo by Malcolm Cook.

Oundjian seems genuinely excited about his appointment at CMF. “I went online and looked at the incredible Chautauqua Hall,” he says. “And then I listened to some recordings of the orchestra, and they sounded wonderful, and I thought, well, this is fantastic! This is a place that has it’s own particular magic. I’ve been really impressed by how well it is run.”

While Boulder is not recognized as one of the world’s musical capitals, that’s not an issue. “Not everything has to be Berlin or New York,” Oundjian says. “You come to a certain point and you’re looking for things to engage you in a slightly different way. I think life should be a mosaic, and I love the mountains. I think Boulder is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to.”

He says it is too early to say what his programming might be, but that is part of the excitement. “I’m open to pretty much anything and I can get enthusiastic about an awful lot of things,” he says. “There seems to be a tremendous amount of flexibility and interest in music of all periods (at CMF).

“I have a canvas that’s fairly open and I have a large palette of colors that I could apply to it. And that’s an exciting situation to be in.”

In the meantime, Zeitouni wants audiences to remember that the CMF has its 40th anniversary celebration this summer. “It’s a great celebration,” he says. “I want to welcome people and invite them for this summer. I worked very hard to put this season together, and I’m excited to perform it.

“I’m very happy with what we did the past two years at CMF. I grew to love the community and the openness of the people of Boulder. I really felt accepted and respected. It’s always been for me, and I have to say for my daughter, a very welcoming place.”

In spite of several recent major administrative changes at CMF, McGuire says emphatically that the departure of Zeitouni as music director does not present a problem for the ongoing success of the festival and the affiliated Center for Musical Arts. “We’re really excited about the future right now,” she says. “We’re financially in excellent shape, so we can say that it’s looking up.

“I think we’re dealing with this change beautifully. I’m happy to be part of it.”

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