By Peter Alexander
Each of the four candidates for music director of the Longmont Symphony will conduct a concert during the 2016–17 season. When each candidate visits Longmont, I will take the opportunity to introduce him (and yes, they are all male). The questions will include serious questions about the job of a music director, but also questions that help introduce each of them to the reader. I hope this will give a clearer picture of the strengths of each candidate.
The final candidate, Zachary Carrettin, will conduct the LSO on Saturday, April 8. The following works are on the program: A Longmont Overture by Kyle Kindred (world premiere); Violin Concerto Op. 61 by Beethoven, with Charles Wetherbee, violin soloist; and Symphony No. 8 in G major by Antonín Dvořák.
Here are his answers to the questions I asked:
What attracted you to the Longmont Symphony?
The orchestra has a rich history in its city, 50 years, and a great potential for the future. In recent years, I’ve developed friendships in Longmont, initially through collaboration with the OUR Center and through attending events for A Woman’s Work, Arts Longmont and other organizations. Additionally, the Boulder Bach Festival and I started Bach in Longmont, a series at the Longmont Museum and Stewart Auditorium. Through all of these events I’ve met some of music enthusiasts in Longmont, and I really value these associations and relationships.
How do you think about programming for a community orchestra? What would a season of the LSO with Zachary Carrettin look like?
One should program the music the orchestra loves to play, and the music the audience will find interesting: moving, epic, poetic, fun and powerful. European composers from the 1700 to 1945 make up the bulk of our symphonic repertory, but there’s also amazing music by American composers. Spanish and Latin American orchestral music offers exotic colors, as does the music of French Impressionists. The Russian symphonists from Tchaikovsky to Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich are as important in orchestral literature a the music of Beethoven and Brahms. When I program a concert, I always try to include something unique, something special. For example, on April 8 the Longmont Symphony and I will perform the world premiere of a new work celebrating the Longmont Symphony by composer Kyle Kindred.
There have recently been alarm bells for classical music and orchestras, especially the larger orchestras that have had serious labor disputes. Do you think that these problems will affect community orchestras as well? And if not, what do you think are the challenges for the smaller orchestras?
The financial challenges of an orchestra depend on several factors, and one of those is he orchestra’s desire for growth. Any kind of growth in the budget, in the visibility in the community, in the programming costs money, and this balancing of revenue and expense is the challenge of any non-profit arts organization. I don’t think the challenges are quite as steep for the community orchestras as they are for the full time professional orchestras.
Developing new audiences while captivating the loyal core ticket subscribes is the challenge of our times. Marketing and public relations can help with this by focusing on the exotic nature of the orchestral concert experience. When we travel to foreign countries we eat the food, we hear the language, we experience the sights and sounds. Similarly, we might begin to think of advocating a concert tourism approach in marketing, where we seek to attract audiences of all ages to be a part of the depth and the wonder and the splendor of the symphonic art form, an art “ever-changing as a river flowing.” (That’s a quote from Borges.)
How do you balance and prepare for the various aspects of the conductor’s job: the musical requirements, the social demands with the public, and the diplomatic demands with contributors, the board and musicians?
The schedule of study, administrative efforts and performance is not for the faint of heart! Yet it is a life journey and a constant workout for the body and the mind. All these disciplines intersect, and the success of an ensemble is dependent on these intersections. I can only say that I try my best, and I learn as much as I can in my many professional engagements. All of these different endeavors require slightly different tweaking of the skill sets.
When the organization is progressing, everyone is inspired and everyone has the energy to do the work at hand. When the conductor is in the community, working with the chamber of commerce, in the public schools and working with donors and seeking advertisement and underwriting, all of this involves multiple people who facilitate these relationships, and it can be quite fulfilling. Balancing all of these disciplines contributes to a conductor’s ability on the podium and relationship with the orchestra.
For example, one donor might want to hear 20th-century unknown works, another one to hear the war horses of the literature. One musician of the orchestra might want to play more Haydn, another one might not want to play anything before 1800. So I think listening to the voices of everyone is step one. Processing that information is step two. But a music director also has to have a strong sense of his or her skill set and vision, because if one only listens to everybody else, one is sacrificing his or her own talents and experience.
About you now: Where did you grow up?
I grew up primarily in Houston, Texas. I also lived in California, Illinois, Romania, Norway and Italy.
Did you come from a musical family?
Both my parents studied fine art, which is how they met—my mother was a recipient of a Fulbright study grant and lived in Venice, Italy, for a year, where my father was born and raised. My mom has been an English teacher for her career, and my father has spent most of his life working for restaurants. Both of them supported my musical endeavors wholeheartedly and with great sacrifice.
Who are your musical mentors?
I admire conductor Carol Smith immensely. She ran the orchestral program at Sam Houston State University for 30 years. Her work ethic and strong commitment to nurturing young adult musicians have left a profound legacy.
My mentors also include Romanian conductor Dumitru Goia, who was assistant to Mravinsky in Lenningrad, decades ago. Another one of my mentors is the American conductor Donald Schleicher. But also the formidably exploratory violinists Kenneth Goldsmith and Sergiu Luca.
I also owe a debt of gratitude to the music magnet programs in the Houston Public Schools. My elementary school had 80 violin students, my middle school orchestra toured the state of Texas, my high school orchestra performed in Carnegie Hall—Dvorak Symphony No. 8, by the way!—and then I went on to pursue two degrees at Rice University, with additional studies in Illinois, Norway, Germany and Italy.
That said, I grew up playing fiddle contests at Texas rodeos, and played Tango Nuevo and have a love of Portuguese fado songs.
Are there any conductors today whose work you especially admire?
One of the conductors who made the greatest impact on me was Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, who never micro managed. He had an extraordinary sense of beauty of tone and expansiveness of line, and the greatest musicians responded to him attentively and completely. Fresh out of graduate school I was in the Bergen Philharmonic and we toured Switzerland under the baton of de Burgos. I later learned that my teacher Ken Goldsmith had performed with de Burgos conducting, and Goldsmith’s teacher Nathan Milstein made recordings and performances with de Burgos, so I’m a third-generation violinist to perform symphonic literature with Maestro de Burgos.
Moving on the sillier questions: Do you have a favorite food or cuisine?
I don’t have a favorite cuisine. It depends on the weather and the season and all of that. My wife and I share a passion for exploring food together, from taco trucks to fish markets, to cheese shops to barbeque. In fact, once in Houston we ate three consecutive lunches on a quest to find the best barbeque restaurant in Houston. It turns out it’s in Longmont! It would be unfair to single one out—there are several that I have yet to enjoy. I will say that I’m particularly fond of the Rib House.
As you know, Colorado is an outdoor recreation state. Do you have a favorite activity outdoors? Or are you too busy shut up in your studio studying scores?
I enjoy water skiing in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter, but admittedly only a few days a year. More frequently I walk on mountain trails with my dog, and especially in the summer months here on the front range we really enjoy that. He’s a 5-pound Chihuahua named Apple with loads of personality and he never seems to get tired of walking. As regards score study, it never ends, but life seems to. One must study and live.
Do you follow any sport or team?
The symphony orchestra is the supreme example of a team sport. It is extremely athletic, from controlling the breath to controlling the muscles, and requires endurance. The team members have an uncanny awareness of one another, and their collective sense of timing is extraordinary. And they have to be flexible in their role, as the nature of the music requires them to change their position or their role on a dime. This is thrilling to observe, especially in a live concert. Sometimes audiences respond with the kind of enthusiasm we see at football games. And finally the conductor might be considered a coach, but ultimately the instrumentalists in the orchestra are the ones who execute the plays.