Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

September 16, 2010


Host: Ted Simons

Phoenix Symphony


  • Michael Christie, The Phoenix Symphony’s Music Director, provides a preview of the new 2010-11 season.
Guests:
  • Michael Christie - Music Director,Phoenix Symphony
Category: The Arts

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
The Phoenix symphony launched a new season earlier this month, and tonight's performance of Brahms violin concerto marks the start of the symphony's classics series. In a moment, we'll hear from the symphony's music director, but first, here's part of a rehearsal we recorded earlier this week.

(Clip of symphony rehearsal)

Ted Simons:
Joining me now to talk about the Phoenix symphony is its music director, Michael Christie. Good to see you again.

Michael Christie:
Thanks for having me back.

Ted Simons:
What's on tap for the season?

Michael Christie:
Well, it's a big season. We've playing with what we have in our economic reality here. But in spite of that, we've been able to put on a great season. In October, we have Donna summer coming. Multi-Grammy award winning artist. She's part of our big annual fundraiser. And I try to make every week something interesting. I really do.

Ted Simons:
I was going to ask, when you schedule the season and get the performances in line and select what you're going to do, what do you look at? Do you try to put a blockbuster next to something obscure? How does that work?

Michael Christie:
We start with 16 classics weeks and 10 weeks of pops and think, well, variety has to be key and it's a mixture of what people know. Your Boleros and Tchaikovsky’s sixth symphony’s and those things. But I think the world of music is just too big to stay on such a narrow slice of the pie. And so for example, this year, we're including a series called rediscovered masters. Looking at eight composers that were somehow suppressed by the Nazis and they created intense music. German cabaret-style music based on folk traditions of eastern Europe. It's music when I hear it, it's incredible. In fact, this year, we're giving several premieres, pieces that have never been heard since they were written in the '30s and '40s.

Ted Simons:
How do you get people who like Boleros and the old workhorses to listen to something they may not have heard before?

Michael Christie:
I try when programming things that are new to people, to not push it too far. I'm a listener of classical music and I know when something is just a little too out there. I just try to use my own litmus test and say, will somebody get this the first time and in my gut, it says no, then I don't play that piece. I think in the five years I’ve been here I’ve built up a lot of trust and had a huge surge in sing tickets last year. Particularly in classics and this year, reversed a trend of steadily decline ticket its.

Ted Simons:
What's going on?

Michael Christie:
Well, classics seems to be the winner so far in terms of galvanizing the audience and I'm proud of that.

Ted Simons:
You should be. We have -- I want to get back to the Bolero.

Michael Christie:
Sure.

Ted Simons:
Everyone knows that. Because they’ve seen the movie and heard -- why is -- take that particular piece of music. Why is it so popular? You can take a Bartok string quartet and people flee the building. But you put a Bolero in there and- is it simplicity, what’s going on?

Michael Christie:
There’s something about just that moment when the single snare drum starts and one by one, each instrument enters with the same melody. There's something about the coming together and then that huge explosion at the end. There's something about that very simple process expect and that enormous satisfaction at the end.

Ted Simons:
You have a world premiere of a composer from Argentina? And that has sort of a Phoenix connection here, which is the title I guess. Talk to us about it.

Michael Christie:
Yeah, well Oswaldo Golijov is one of the preeminent composers in the year and he's married folk music to the symphonic tradition. We actually featured his music a couple of seasons ago, but London Symphony, Berlin Philharmonic, everybody’s playing his music because he's able to translate that folk culture into strings and brass and percussion. And so he’s writing a work for us that's celebrating the opening of the musical instrument museum up in North Phoenix and through the MIM and Target and the other people associated with the creation of the MIM, we've been able to commission him that's bringing musicians from Iran and the bay area in California and all over the place and bringing really unique instruments to play with the symphony.

Ted Simons:
I was going to ask you, you're used to dealing with this segment. And this segment, what happens when someone brings in an item, I've never seen it before, but something you're not dealing with in a symphonic structure.

Michael Christie:
There's always a meeting beforehand and get to know them a little bit but when you have a composer like Oswaldo Golijov, he knows exactly what he's writing for. And, you know Yo Yo Ma, people like that who’ve been exploring music of the silk road. They've been introducing a lot of those instruments to us like that. It's part of our musical understanding. I would be surprised there's a instrument we've never heard before. The world of youtube, it's amazing what we can be exposed to because of the internet.

Ted Simons:
It seemed like there was a time when it was very academic, very cerebral, took so many chances and folks go, I don't know what I'm listening to anymore. Are those days over? Or is there still a little bit of that going on.

Michael Christie:
I think by and large, symphony orchestras know they need to be more community focused and not trying to be the New York Philharmonic. I know my audience likes to know about the guest artists and I do intermission interviews and introduce them. And as soon as they get done playing, the audience get to communicate with them. Those kinds of things resonate particularly well with this community. And I think somehow, through the ticket sales, clearly, the mix of music we've picked has really struck a chord.

Ted Simons:
I noticed you mentioned folk influence and flavor in a number of artists and pieces you'll be presenting this season. Dvorak and all those guys did this back in the day. But, is there a movement back there?

Michael Christie:
I think, if I go back to what I was saying about youtube and just this awareness of the world's music, so much of that music influences composers and now people know much more about that and want to see it in the place where they go hear concerts and I think it's incumbent upon us to bring that to the patrons.

Ted Simons:
And maybe again, less academic than what folks experienced in years past.

Michael Christie:
I think, by and large, that's the case.

Ted Simons:
Sounds like things are going well. Hanging in there?

Michael Christie:
It's great. One of the things that I think is so remarkable is that even in these very tight times, everybody is still being creative and I hope our community keeps coming out to our sister arts organizations, because they’re doing great work.

Ted Simons:
Coming up on "Horizon" -- The journalist's roundtable. I'm Ted Simons. Thanks for joining us. You have a great weekend -- actually, a great evening. [Laughter]

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