Sunday, January 23, 2000

CCO finalist takes stand for fun

Gittleman talks on art of programming

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Neal Gittleman fell in love with conducting when he was a Yale University student playing violin in the Yale Symphony.

        “John Mauceri, who was conducting the orchestra, obviously had a lot of fun on the podium,” he says. “Until that experience, I had never thought of conducting as something to do. But when I saw what a good time he was having, it opened my eyes.”

  • Name and age: Neal Gittleman, 44
  • Occupation: Music director, Dayton Philhamonic and former resident conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. His work in Dayton includes the popular “Classical Conversations” series, which he developed.
  • Marital status: Married to Lisa Fry.
  • Lives: Oakwood, suburb of Dayton.
  • Hobbies: Golf, squash, tai chi and moviegoing. “My wife and I run down to Cincinnati to see movies. The art film menu here in Dayton is pretty small, and in an hour we can be sitting in the Esquire or the Mariemont.”
  • Music listened to in free time: “I don't listen to any classical music. I like to listen to some of the newer folkies, like Dar Williams. When I came to Dayton I found myself listening to WYSO (91.3 FM) a lot, and they played bluegrass and acoustic music. I acquired a taste for that.”
  • Favorite movies: “I'm a big Star Wars and Star Trek fiend. The last movie I saw that I really loved was Galaxy Quest, a very funny Star Trek spoof.
  • Little known fact: “If you read my bio, it says I'm a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., which is where I was raised. But I was actually born in the Panama Canal Zone. My father was stationed there in the Navy. We came back to the States before I was a year old.”
        Mr. Gittleman, who is music director of the Dayton Philharmonic, is a finalist in the search for a music director of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra. He returns to the CCO for concerts today and Monday.

        His two most important musical influences were Nadia Boulanger, the important French teacher, composer and conductor, and the conductor Charles Bruck, his teacher at the Monteux School in Maine and the Hartt School of Music (Conn.)

        The Enquirer is asking each music director candidate the same questions. Mr. Gittleman spoke by phone between rehearsals in Dayton.

        QUESTION: What is the most exciting thing to happen to you recently?

        ANSWER: (Laughs). Over Christmas vacation I got to play golf in Cypress Point (Pebble Beach) on the Monterey Peninsula (Calif.) I did not do so badly, considering how difficult a course it was. I shot 100 in Cypress, and it was the best 100 I ever shot in my life!

        Q: In a city with a major orchestra like the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, how does the Chamber Orchestra fit into the musical scene?

        A: The big symphony orchestra is really a creature of the 19th and 20th centuries, and that's the music it's meant to play. The chamber orchestra's role is one to complement the offerings of the big orchestra, and to give people the opportunity to hear things they wouldn't hear — or to hear it done in a different way, with a small ensemble in a small hall.

        Q: What programming ideas do you have for the chamber orchestra?

        A: The chamber orchestra has rich repertoire, both in the old (17th and 18th centuries) and the new. In the 20th century, you've got everything from early Stravinsky to the music of Steve Reich and John Adams. One of things I like to do is find pieces from the different periods that will link together well, either thematically or just because they happen to sit well together.

        Q: How do you see the whole art of programming?

        A: If you just think about putting pieces together, you find connections. For instance, Dumbarton Oaks goes well with Mozart and Haydn because (Stravinsky) was thinking about all those classical guys when he wrote the piece.

        You have to find a happy medium. You don't want every program to be so thematic, that you have the feeling that every program is shoving some sort of philosophy down your throat. There's an art to coming up with something as mundane as an overture, concerto and symphony that work together. That's hard to do.

        Q: What is the most important role of the music director?

        A: It's to inspire the musicians, to represent the music and get good performances. But it's also to get people in the audience excited about the orchestra.

        Q: You seem to be a hands-on music director, living in the Dayton community and performing a great deal of outreach. What is your philosophy on participation in the community where you work?

        A: It's very important. Audiences need to have a feeling of identification with the organization. A music director who has a good relationship with the community can provide that in a way that others can't do as effectively.

        There has to be some sort of buzz or excitement in the audience to keep them aware of what the orchestra is doing.

        Q: How do you impress your interpretation of the music on 32 fine musicians?

        A: You're not imposing your will on their will, but you're all finding a place where you can agree together. Each of the musicians has a feeling that their sensibilities as an artist and a musician are being appreciated.

        Bruck used to say the real art of conducting was to get people to play the music in the way you think it should go — but to do it in such a way that each of them feels they are playing exactly the way they want it to go.

        Q: Who are some of your favorite composers?

        A: Brahms, Debussy, Steve Reich, Bartok, Bach, Mozart, Haydn — it's all over the map. There are very few composers I don't like.

  • What: The Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, Neal Gittleman, conductor; Edward Arron, cellist.
  • When: 3 p.m. today; 7:30 p.m. Monday.
  • Where: Memorial Hall (today) and Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, Sycamore Township (Monday).
  • Tickets: $2 (students)-$18 Sunday; $2-$15 Monday.
  • The program: Stravinsky, Concerto in E-flat, Dumbarton Oaks; Haydn, Cello Concerto No. 2 in D Major; Mozart, Symphony No. 1 in E-flat Major, K. 16; Bizet, Symphony No. 1 in C Major. 723-1182.
        Q: How do you view Cincinnati and the Cincinnati arts audience?

        A: I really don't know. I've done one concert with the CCO, and I got a very nice impression of what the chamber orchestra's audience is like. It was big, excited, seemed very involved, and there were lots of folks at the preconcert talk who seemed interested in the music.

        It is a learning experience to learn what the audience is, and what the problems and challenges of each organization are.

        Q: Should the chamber orchestra have a responsibility to educate the public about classical music?

        A: I think every performing arts organization has a responsibility toward educating the audience. The trick is to find what your proper place in the community is, in terms of education. There's no question that a small organization like the Chamber Orchestra can't have the same kind of big education program that the CSO can.

        Q: What would you like to see in the orchestra's future?

        A: As good a place as Memorial Hall is, it has its problems, especially in terms of space. It would be wonderful if the orchestra had a place to play that didn't have that limitation.

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