Zeitouni chosen as music director of Colorado Music Festival

French-Canadian maestro was “consensus choice” of the search committee

By Peter Alexander

Jean-Marie Zeitouni

Jean-Marie Zeitouni

The board of the Colorado Music Festival and Center for Musical Arts has announced the selection of Jean-Marie Zeitouni as music director for the festival, succeeding Michael Christie. He is the third music director in the festival’s history.

During an initial three-year term, Zeitouni will oversee all artistic planning for the festival, lead five weeks of Festival Orchestra concerts each summer, and be involved in the center’s music education program.

The board’s announcement states that Zeitouni emerged as a consensus choice of the search committee. He was one of three official finalists for the position, along with William Boughton and Carlos Miguel Prieto. Each of the three conducted two programs during the 2014 festival—one with chamber orchestra and one with the full symphony orchestra. These three finalists were selected from a roster of dozens of conductors who were interested in the position.

The decision comes just weeks after the CMF’s new executive director, Andrew Bradford, officially began work. The festival had been without a permanent appointee for either position since August 2013.

zeitouni.3“It is a real honor to join CMF and CMA as music director,” ZeitouniZeitouni said. “In both programs I conducted, the orchestra played sensationally and was a true pleasure to work with. It was the kind of collaboration that every conductor dreams of. With an orchestra of this caliber, an important music school in the center, and a delightful community like Boulder, I could not be more excited for the opportunity to lead this marvelous organization into the future.”

Ted Lupberger, search committee co-chair and a CMA and CMA board member said, “From the very first time the search committee spoke with Jean-Marie during the early stages of the search process, we were thoroughly impressed with his dynamic personality, his understanding of the many roles of the 21st-century music director, his passion for music and music education, and his excitement about the Boulder community.”

Jeffrey Work, CMF principal trumpet who was involved in the search process, added, “With the appointment of Maestro Jean-Marie Zeitouni, the CMF & CMA gains not only a leader of high artistic ideals, but one with a vision for the future of this treasured institution.”

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hsJean-MarieZeitouniOf the three candidates, Zeitouni probably has the lowest profile. Outside of his two concerts at Chautauqua this summer, he remains largely an unknown quantity in Boulder. That is not necessarily a bad thing—Michael Christie was largely unknown when he took the helm at CMF, too. But we have very little to go by in judging Zeitouni’s likely qualities as a festival director.

The two concerts he led this summer offered very solid performances of demanding orchestral works, and he certainly gets high marks for those. I was not entirely convinced by the nuances of the two great Strauss tone poems that he led, Don Juan and Ein Heldenleben (A hero’s life), but two concerts are hardly enough to have an idea of his vision as the director of a major festival. Programming for all conductors this summer was circumscribed by the situation and the requests of the CMF.

Zeitouni’s conversations with the CMF board and search committee may have been extensive and revealing, and we may hope that the board learned about his long-term vision and leadership skills. But those conversations were of course confidential.

Nor does he have a past professional record that reveals much. He was conductor of the Columbus (Ohio) Symphony, a position he relinquished as of Aug. 14 of this year. It is not clear why he left Columbus, except that it was, Zeitouni said, an “amicable” parting. He remains artistic director of I Musici de Montréal and maintains an active schedule as a guest conductor, but these are not professional activities that have yet built a record of achievement.

Still, there should be no doubt about his musical qualifications. In addition to the two first-rate concerts here, Zeitouni has gotten high praise from musicians and critics alike. When he moved to Columbus, he had several strong endorsements.

Laurent Patenaude was head of artistic administration for Les Violons du Roy, a chamber orchestra in Quebec that Zeitouni has conducted. Patenaude was quoted in the Columbus Dispatch saying that Zeitouni “has a real clear idea of the sound he wants, and he’s able to create it. . . . Because he’s such a great leader and listener, he can build something with what he has in front of him and at the same time bring the musicians someplace else.”

In 2012, the Boston Globe critic wrote of Zeitouni’s performance with the Handel & Haydn Society that the conductor’s “punk-tinged ‘Eroica’ was . . . the best live performance of this symphony I’ve heard.” And in 2011 the Seattle Times praised “one of the most memorable ‘Messiahs’ this city has seen.”

So we can be comfortable with his musical skills. But the music director has to do far more than conduct the orchestra. He has to maintain relations with the executive director, the board, major contributors, and other cultural leaders in the community, and of course he has to help raise funds. He has to bring in the audience on the strength of his perceived personality.

Zeitouni.2Zeitouni has a reputation—what maestro doesn’t?—for being prickly, which might not play well in Boulder. When I interviewed him, I did not sense the same level of eagerness to engage Boulder on its own terms that I have found in the other candidates and in musicians who have been successful here. But now that he has been here and met the board, he may well have a better understanding of the town and the audience. He appears to have the kind of quick intelligence that would be up to the task.

Another critical part of the music director’s job is programming for the festival. If the programs do not consistently capture the audience’s interest, the festival cannot remain viable. And here we have very little idea what Zeitouni might bring to the task. He has no record with an event comparable to the CMF.

Concentrated in a short period of time, festivals have different programming needs than an orchestra season that is spread over eight or nine months, so Zeitouni’s tenure with the Columbus symphony is not pertinent. Nor does his record as a guest, conducting individual concerts around the world, tell us what we would like to know: what can we expect from a Zeitouni-led festival?

We will know far more when we see the program for 2015. If Zeitouni and Bradford share a common vision for the festival and work harmoniously to achieve that vision, there is reason to be hopeful. But until they get to work, we will all have to reserve judgment.

The next chapter starts now.

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My previous interview with Jean-Marie Zeitouni can be found here. A further interview will follow when Maestro Zeitouni returns from traveling in France.

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.


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.

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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.

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.


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.

The voyage of discovery of great music

Introducing William Boughton, a candidate to lead the Colorado Music Festival

By Peter Alexander

William Boughton; photo by Harold Shapiro

William Boughton; photo by Harold Shapiro

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.

William Boughton is the first of the three to visit Boulder, with performances July 6, 10 and 11. (Read about the concerts in Boulder Weekly.) To learn more about him, you can read his full press biography here.

Here are his answers to the questions I asked:

PA: What attracted you to the Colorado Music Festival?

 WB: Its history, its involvement with the community, and the quality of the orchestra. And I think most important is the fairly recent connection between the Rocky Mountain Center for the Arts and Colorado Music Festival. And I think that is a really exciting development for the board and the people of the community because it embeds the festival much more closely into the community.

What do you think are the strengths of the festival?

 It’s the orchestra, certainly, and from what I can see—I haven’t witnessed it yet—is the close connection with the community. Another thing is the concert hall, because it’s not your typical concert hall. It’s not a hallowed space where artists congregate backstage. There is no backstage, and it breaks down all sorts of barriers. We’re all there for one purpose: our love and the experience of great music, whatever the genre is.


William Boughton conducting; photo by Harold Shapiro

William Boughton conducting; photo by Harold Shapiro

Are there any things that you would change, or build up, or de-emphasize in the festival?

My two great loves are education, and that from cradle to the grave, for all people, the voyage of discovery of great music; and the community. We all constantly learn about new things. And American music is becoming very important to my life. The fostering of composers is terribly important for the future of the art form. And it’s important or all of us to know what’s happening around us. We don’t live in a bubble.

Do you have any specific ideas for programming at the festival?

 The programming has to relate to its audience—without knowing what that audience is yet. And I think that that a festival is a vehicle for bringing visitors into the town. So it helps with economic generation as well.

We hear a lot about a crisis facing classical music, with audiences declining and getting older. Andrew Bradford, the new executive director of the CMF, says he doesn’t buy that argument. Do you think there is a crisis, and if so, what should we do about it?

 No, I completely agree with him, I don’t think there is a crisis. I think that it goes back to the idea that musicians live in a bubble. You listen to what audiences have to say, and respond to audiences, while also taking them on a journey of discovery, and you have to combine those two things. Orchestral music and classical music is as important today, and as relevant today as it always was. These great works of art, whether it’s Shakespeare or Beethoven, they will never die. They inform us about who we are as people, as individuals. It’s music that speaks to us across ages, and, I don’t buy that it’s dead music and there are no audiences.

And now a few less serious questions. Boulder is known as a great city for foodies. Do you have a favorite cuisine? And don’t say English! I’ve had English cuisine.

 I’m even flattered that you put “English cuisine” into that! A lot of people would say the English don’t have a cuisine. My favorite is French cuisine.

Colorado is known for its outdoor life. Do you have a favorite outdoor recreation?

 I love hiking. We’ve just come back from Acadia National Park in Maine. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. Hiking and gardening are my pastimes.

This year’s festival is taking place during the soccer World Cup. Are you a soccer fan, and if so, who do you support?

 I’m a soccer fan and I support the US! And Chelsea [in England], but I’m becoming really exasperated and annoyed with the English soccer team. It was almost as if they had no passion, or ambition, but the U.S. team is an absolute revelation. The Portugal match was incredible. It was one of the best games I’ve watched in years.