Musicians in their Lairs IV: Elliot Moore

Reading, playing Bach, and looking to the future of the Longmont Symphony

By Peter Alexander May 9 at 10:03 a.m.

Elliot Moore is sitting in his home in Erie, where he is sheltering in place with his wife, his six-month-old daughter and four dogs, and he seems pretty happy there.

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Elliot Moore, at home in Erie

“It’s actually been very nice,” he says via Skype. “It was really nice to have two weeks at least where it was pretty much me and my wife at home with [our daughter].”

Moore is the music director of the Longmont Symphony. His wife is a physician who does rehabilitation medicine, so she is able to do some of her work online. “She’s been doing telemedicine, but she has one facility that she sees that has COVID patients,” Moore says.

When she does go to see patients in person, she has a routine to keep the rest of the family safe. “She has clothes that she keeps in the garage,” he explains. ”As soon as she gets home she gets into clean clothes, immediately takes a shower, and then she’ll put on other clothes.

“She doesn’t want to bring any clothes into the house that have been exposed to patients who may have COVID-19.”

Apart from that risk, he is relieved that the pandemic hit when it did. “When I think about our daughter’s age, I don’t think we could be more lucky,” he says. “I am grateful that she won’t remember any of this. She doesn’t want to hang out with her friends, she doesn’t think her parents are annoying and dumb—thank goodness that we are her world and she doesn’t feel stuck at home.”

Other than entertaining her daughter and changing the occasional diaper, Moore has plenty to do. “I’m writing much more,” he says. “I have blog that I write, and I’ve called many of our symphony supporters and checked in with them to make sure that they’re doing OK.

“’I’m happy to say that they were all happy and healthy—maybe a little lonely, a little stir crazy, but besides that everyone’s fine.”

Moore works to keep from going stir crazy himself. “Everything seems to be changing on a daily basis, so at first I was really focused on things that I could control, mental health type things” he says. “Making sure that I’m OK, that my wife is OK, that our daughter is OK, that her parents are OK—that was my focus for probably for three weeks or so.”

He found that one thing he could control was playing music. “At the beginning, one of my coping mechanisms was to play the cello, maybe 30 minutes a day,” he says. “It was mostly solo Bach. I thought it would be really nice to have music in the house, have my daughter hear me playing the cello. I found it very relaxing and good for the soul to be paying Bach.

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Elliot Moore in his study with one of his dogs

“Once I knew that everything was OK, I started thinking about what is next season [at the LSO] going to look like— programming, guest artists. I started getting more down to that kind of work. I’ve never had this much time to put together a season!”

The big challenge that Moore and the LSO are facing—along with every other orchestra and music presenter in the country—is uncertainty. “How will things be different when we go back?” Moore asks. “Our hall seats roughly 1300 people. Are we going to have to cap it at 500 people? At 750 people? How do we deal with all of that? Spacing between seats? And the musicians?

“These are all aspects that I think all orchestras are probably thinking about. But it changes so quickly that until we know more, we need to have this on our minds, to consider different options, and then when it comes closer to concert season, to be thinking much more seriously how we actually go about doing that.”

It appears increasingly likely that for many organizations around the world, sharing performances by video streaming is going to be part of the answer. Here Moore has valuable insight, having worked with the Detroit Symphony on live streaming concerts in the past.

There are many financial and contractual hurdles that have to be figured out, but there are also advantages that Moore sees coming from sharing concerts online, “For an orchestra like the Longmont Symphony, people may start developing an affinity for certain sections of the orchestra, and feel like they get to know [the players] through live streaming,” he says.

“One of the things I am happy that we have done in the last three years is to do videos. We have a YouTube channel, but it’s not enough to just stream the concerts. It’s like television, where there should be an interview with a musician behind the scenes during intermission.

“These are all critical aspects to making this successful, as I saw with the Detroit Symphony from the time that I was sitting in broom closet with two other people, to the state-of-the-art room that has been built. They bought, I think it’s 15 cameras and there’s a whole team. [Today] there’s close to 12 or 15 people making their live Webcasts happen.”

Another part of Moore’s routine under quarantine has been reading. “One of the things that I quickly started doing was reading books,” he says. He was particularly drawn to stories about conductors and other musicians who had gone through war, political oppression, and other struggles in their lives. “It was good for me to read about performing artists who had to weather the storm,” he says. “

There were plenty of other storms before we came along. So that did give me some perspective, I think.”

Central City summer season is “postponed to 2021”

Previously announced schedule for 2020 will be presented next summer

By Peter Alexander May 4 at 10:25 a.m.

In a release sent out this morning, Central City Opera announced that its planned summer 2020 season has been postponed to next year.

unnamedThis year’s schedule was to have featured Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel, Verdi’s Rigoletto and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. All  three will be presented in the summer of 2021.

In the message sent out this morning, Central City Opera general/artistic director Pelham “Pat” Pearce is quoted as saying “This news is extremely disappointing, but the decision is in the best interest of our audience, artists, staff and the community. The COVID-19 crisis is drastically impacting the livelihoods of hundreds of performers, musicians and technicians who bring stories to life on our historic Opera House stage.

“We are heartbroken audiences won’t experience their work this summer.”

Current ticket holders have the option to donate the cost of their ticket back to Central City Opera’s newly established COVID-19 Relief Fund, which will support the organization’s commitment to pay all of its 2020 Festival artists and staff a portion of their contracts and assist CCO during this unprecedented time.

Donations will be matched up to $100,000 by Carousel performance sponsors and long-time CCO supporters Pam and Dutch Bansbach. Additional matching support will be provided by the Central City Opera Board of Directors. Full refunds and transfer of tickets to 2021 are also available to patrons.

Ticket holder options are described here.  You can also call the box office for assistance at (303) 292-6700. You may read Pearce’s message to Central City Opera patrons here.

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Central City Opera House. Photo by Ashraf Sewailam.

 

 

 

Musicians in their Lairs III: Michael Butterman

Busier than ever, and figuring it all out as he goes

By Peter Alexander May 1 at 9:40 p.m.

“The biggest difference is that I’m not traveling,” says Michael Butterman, conductor of the Boulder Philharmonic.

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Michael Butterman, speaking by Zoom from his home office in Shreveport, La.

He is speaking from his home in Shreveport, La., where he is spending his time with his wife and daughter during the COVID-19 pandemic. During a normal year, the Shreveport Symphony, with the Boulder Phil, is one of three orchestras he leads. He is also conductor of the Pennsylvania Philharmonic, a regional orchestra that presents educational programs and concerts in central and southeastern Pennsylvania. When you add in guest conducting gigs, that creates a lot of travel.

“Typically about 10% of my time is spent performing and in rehearsals, and the other 90% is divided between administrative details, phone calls and emails,” Butterman says. “And studying scores, which I do at home. That’s what you do as a conductor, more than wave your arms around: look at dots on the page and try to figure out what they’re all about.”

When he first found himself at home full time, Butterman thought he would have lots of time for new musical projects. “When this first started, I thought, this is going to be a blessing in disguise,” he says.

“There’s so many scores that I haven’t cracked the code of yet, or things that are coming up that I want to get a jump on. And there’s all these other things, like practice piano—two hours a day even, which would be about 1 hour and 45 minute more than I had been doing for the past 10 years. All of that sounded like I could make good use of the time.”

The reality turned out differently, as all three orchestras had planning to do for the post-pandemic world. Since no one knows what to expect, or when, the planning had to encompass various scenarios. “I have found myself occupied with re-inventing what we do in these orchestras,” Butterman says.

“First dealing with the immediate fallout of all of this. How we’re going to re-budget for the rest of the season. Then there’ve been issues of how to reschedule next season, how many plan Bs and Cs and Ds do we need.”

The planning had to encompass several unknowns: when and under what conditions will they be able to invite people back into concert halls? Will there be a maximum occupancy imposed? And when will their audience be willing to gather in a full auditorium? Performing arts groups are grappling with those questions world-wide, the Boulder Phil as much as the Chicago Symphony or the Metropolitan Opera.

“More immediately, how can we continue to be a presence in our communities and in the lives of our patrons?” Butterman asks. The obvious answer is through the sharing of performances online, but most American orchestras were not well prepared for that possibility, both because of the lack of archival material in hand and because of union contracts that limit how electronic material can be shared.

“Most European orchestras were video recording all of their concerts, for archival purposes or for broadcast,” he explained. “But most American orchestras—no.”

The Boulder Phil has a few performances on video, and eventually those will be made available one way or another. And going forward, the possibility of streaming concerts is something that almost every orchestra and performer is thinking about. But it takes serious equipment for that to work above a very rudimentary level.

In the meantime, Butterman is doing what he can to keep the orchestras alive online. For all three he has already posted some combination of conversation and performance. You can see these posts for the Boulder Phil, Shreveport Symphony and the Pennsylvania Philharmonic online. Numerous posts are available on Butterman’s Youtube channel.

Negotiating this new world has taken more of Butterman’s time and energy than the familiar world of rehearsals and concerts. “I find myself busier now than I was before,” he says. “I knew how to do everything before. I knew how to study scores, I know how to plan rehearsals, I knew where to be at what time. And now we’re just figuring it out.”

Like everyone else these days, he is facing new tasks at home, too. “I do a lot more laundry than I ever did before,” he says, laughing. “Taking more walks, riding my bike—that’s all good.”

His daughter is in high school, so he does not find himself facing the homeschooling challenges that parents of younger children do. “I don’t think in some ways my role has changed much,” he says. “In fact, in many of the classes she’s studying now I’m not going to be much help, other than I’m a decent proofreader of English sentences.”

He and his wife, violinist Jennifer Carsillo, have already posted one performance on Youtube, and he hopes to post more performances. Making music is important for him.

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Michael Butterman and violinist Jennifer Carsillo, performing on Youtube from their home in Shreveport, La. 

“I really do hope to play more piano, because it allows me to create,” he says. “I’m never able to produce sound as a conductor, but at least I’m around sound that I have some influence over. But now nothing. So I have to get back to pressing keys and making sound myself. There is joy in that, of course, and that will make me a better musician the more I do “

The current crisis has led Butterman, like many musicians around the world, to think about the place of music in our culture, both in the current situation and beyond. “To put it bluntly, does it matter that we’re not able to get together and play a Beethoven symphony right now?” he asks.

“I think it does to some extent, but I also understand the larger context in which all of this is taking place.”

Musicians in their Lairs II: Cynthia Katsarelis

Online teaching leads to at-home learning for the teacher

By Peter Alexander April 26 at 5:40 p.m.

Cynthia Katsarelis is in her happy place.

The music director of the Colorado Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra is speaking by Facetime from the basement of the home she shares with her wife, musicologist Rebecca Maloy. This is her office, where she is surrounded by her violin and her music and her books and her Roland digital piano.

“It’s really true, that saying that musicians either are practicing or should be practicing,” Katsarelis says. “I reflect on that almost daily. I’ve been practicing a great deal and making some terrific discoveries on the violin.”

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Cynthia Katsarelis in her “happy place”

But she’s been doing much more than practicing her violin. She has been able to accelerate her work on a Doctor of Musica Arts degree, which she had expected to finish next December. “Perhaps I’ll finish in August or even July,” she says.

She is also “doing a lot of professional development stuff”—playing Bach chorales from open score, with each voice part in a different clef, and playing “figured bass,” Baroque-era keyboard parts where only the bass line is given with numbers to indicate the chords above the bass. “It’s like floss for the brain,” she says. “I figure if I’m not out and about and interacting with people, it keeps the brain lively, so that’s a good thing to do.”

Like a lot of musicians during the crisis, Katsarelis is teaching online. Since 2004 she has had a relationship with students in Haiti, through the Holy Trinity School of Music in Port-au-Prince, where she has regularly taught violin and guest conducted the Orchestre Philharmonique Sainte Trinité.

“One of the things that I took up was asking Haitian students if they wanted [online] lessons,” she says. “The next thing I know I’ve got 45 Haitians who want lessons! That became huge really fast.”

It also took on a new dimension when a Haitian violinist that Katsarelis knows, Victoria Joseph, launched an etude challenge. “In addition to the online lessons, I’ve been making videos of how to practice certain etudes,” she explains. (You may see one of her etudes—with her apologies for her halting Haitian French—here.)

“I’ve tried to pick the etudes very, very strategically, to pick the kind of things that will really further their technique,” she says. “I pick etudes that work on a particular aspect of technique so they can explore it in greater depth and ideally things that they can do mostly on their own, with a little guidance.”

Katsarelis says that this project has been a learning experience for her as well as the Haitian students. As she has gone through her extensive collection of violin etudes, including ones she played as far back as middle school, she is looking at her own training with new eyes.

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Katsarelis teaching online from her basement

“There’s something about revisiting that old stuff,” she says. “I went through all of my etudes from whenever, and I just see gobs of wisdom from these early etudes. I think, ‘Oh, that’s what my teacher was trying to teach me! I wish I had really absorbed the lesson,’ but also ‘How can I teach it to [my students]?’ That’s been really beneficial.

“And when I practice the advanced stuff, it reminds me how to teach the intermediate students so they can get to that advanced place. Sometimes you forget how you got there. So now I’ve been tracing the steps to success. So the next stage will be for me to work through how to get [my students] into the advanced stage.”

The result of going back through the etudes she has studied over so many years: “I’ll be a much better teacher. This could actually be helpful in [getting a job], but I’m doing it because it’s really beneficial right here and now, for the Haitian musicians and for my own playing.”

Katsarelis and Malloy have gotten their old turntable out and have been listening to some of the old vinyl recordings in their collection. This includes old Classical recordings, by artists including Zino Francescatti, Leon Fleischer and the Philadelphia Orchestra, but also 1960s and early ‘70s rock. Katsarelis says she favors the Beatles, while Maloy also has a collection of the Grateful Dead.

Even though there are no concerts, Katsarelis still has work to do as conductor of Pro Musica. She and the board have been hard at work already for the 2020-21 season. In addition to deciding the programs for next year, they have decided to drop the performances they have been giving in Denver, and to look into options for streaming their concerts.

“We worked things through and decided to focus our efforts in Boulder, and to put  more energy into outreach,” she says. “And once the virus hit, I’ve been working on creating a season that has a smaller budget. I’m having a lot of fun, but I’m busy on pretty fulfilling stuff.”

“I keep really busy, but when I’m not busy I tend to worry about people. I want people to be healthy and happy—and listen to lots of music, because it really does help the time pass beautifully.

“I just hope everybody’s doing well.”

Musicians in their Lairs I: Michael Christie

Creating wide-ranging playlists, learning while homeschooling

By Peter Alexander April 22 at 7:05 p.m.

NOTE: This is the first of a series of posts about musicians with Boulder connections, and what they are doing while they can’t rehearse or perform. You can expect a non-formal photo to accompany each story.

Michael Christie is listening to music. A lot of music.

Christie, who was music director of the Colorado Music Festival in Boulder 2001-13 is spending the COVID-19 quarantine at this home in Minneapolis. Because his wife is a physician, a large part of his time is taken with homeschooling their two children while she is on the front lines of the pandemic.

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Michael Christie, inside his home in Minneapolis, planning another playlist

When he’s not tied up with those duties, he’s creating online playlists, under the title “Michael Christie’s Jukebox.

So far he has posted 10 lists, nine that reflect his own thoughts, and one in collaboration with composer Kevin Puts, whose opera Silent Night Christie conducted at Minnesota Opera in 2011. The complete opera serves as the anchor piece of “Jukebox #8.”

It turns out there is a lot of listening involved in creating each playlist. He has to not only select the pieces, but also the individual performances of those pieces. “The process of selecting the pieces encourages me to listen to full albums,” he says. “So that I’ve enjoyed, but the tricky part is that I’ve tried to keep the bites fairly digestible, except for the showpiece of each list.”

The playlists are a way for Christie, who is now music director of the New West Symphony in Thousand Oaks, Calif., to stay in touch with audiences during the pandemic. “I observed as COVID was shutting things down that people were hunkering down—hunkering down in their homes but also hunkering down in their own areas of expertise, musically,” he says.

“I thought ’what a pity!’ These people listen to a lot of other things, and yet they’re only talking about the narrow window that they’re professionally working in. That was the genesis of the playlists, and then it was trying to make sure that I was being faithful to that by looking at 400 years of music then saying, ‘Alright, what’s interesting’?”

One feature of Christie’s playlists that will seem familiar to those who recall his years with CMF is the breadth of the music that he finds interesting. It includes portions of standard classical repertoire by Haydn, Beethoven, Rossini, Dvořák and others that you would expect. But there is also world music; jazz by Branford, Wynton and the late Ellis Marsalis; Bill Haley and the Comets, the Beatles and Radiohead; an excerpt from Hamilton; stunning Baroque selections by Jean-Philippe Rameau and Claudio Monteverdi; newer music from Benjamin Britten and Philip Glass; and even Dolly Parton’s Nine to Five.

From creating his own lists it was an easy step to start asking other musicians what they were listening to. “I thought people are going to get sick of hearing my thoughts, and also, I’ll run out of ideas eventually,” he says. “I’ve reached out to a lot of people, and no one has said no yet.

“The interesting thing is that all of the composers that I’ve been in contact with have said, we’re using this time to catch up. They’re so busy right now taking advantage of the time to not be traveling, and as a consequence they get to focus in a different way.”

Christie says he learns as much homeschooling his two children, ages five and 11,  as they do. “It’s a big learning process every day,” he says. “It definitely takes more patience and a different time scale. Time has to stretch out to flow with the day a bit more. Things that they do in 25 minutes in school take more time than that. But there are so many resources online, that’s amazing!

“Mercifully this is happening in springtime. If this was happening in November, I think—boy! Stuck in the cold and snow? I just can’t even imagine.”

But he definitely relishes the time spent at home. “The children are very different, but curious about the world, clever and sympathetic,” he says. “Being home steadily after years on the road is a great joy!”

Christie spends some of his time planning for his next season at the New West Symphony, particularly the new pieces that the orchestra will introduce. One feature of the concerts began at CMF as “Intermission Insights” interviews. The New West Symphony now has “Entr’acte Composers,” in which a composer is introduced at the beginning of intermission in a conversation with Christie, much as occured at CMF. Later, their piece is played first thing after intermission, giving the audience members the choice to linger in the lobby or hear the new work.

“So far, we’ve only had a handful of people willingly not listen to the new piece,” he says. “The vast majority stay for the interview, like they did in Boulder, and the vast majority come back for the new piece. I’m very careful about what that new piece is, and trying to get [it into a] five- to eight-minute time frame.

“But it’s great, because people have the opportunity to interact with the artist, and people have the opportunity to hear something they’ve never heard before at every concert.”

And in that respect, Christie is not doing anything new at all, quarantine or no quarantine. It’s what he did at CMF, and what he now does for audiences in Thousand Oaks.

You can access all of Christie’s playlists at Michael Christie’s Jukebox.