Tag Archives: Jean-Marie Zeitouni

Survey Results: Our Maestro

Last month I conducted an informal survey that concentrated on classical music events just so I could start learning some general info about what the public thinks of the arts scene here in Columbus.  In an effort to learn how much people knew about the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, I asked what I thought was a pretty basic question: Who’s our current music director (a.k.a. the conductor)?  Think about it – who’s the most visible person in an orchestra?  The music director.

Recordings and concerts are always introduced on the radio as “XYZ Orchestra under the direction of So and So” i.e. someone with a  cool-sounding name like Sir Neville Marriner or Serge Koussevitzky or Herbert von Karajan or even Alessandro Siciliani.  (Of course, I just like to say ‘Alessandro Siciliani’ since I’ve pretty much forgotten all the rest of my Italian.)

Ahem. Continue reading →

A la prochaine, Maestro JMZ!

C’est triste, mais notre chef d’orchestre ne va pas rester ici a Columbus.  :-(

Well, we can’t say it’s a surprise at all, but it’s still sad, nonetheless. Our music director, Jean-Marie Zeitouni, is not going to stay here in Columbus beyond the term of his current 4-year contract which ends after the 2013-2014 season.  Maestro Zeitouni is originally from Montreal.  He has another music director job in Montreal, lives in Montreal and has a new family up in Montreal which includes a little baby girl, Gabrielle.

The announcement was made in this morning’s edition of the Columbus Dispatch.

Taken from this morning’s Dispatch article:

“Would we have liked more of his time? Sure,” said Martin Inglis, board chairman.“Part of it is what he wants to do with his career beyond what we might be able to do for him in Columbus. . . . As we talked about him when he came on board, he’s a superstar.

“Clearly, it’s better if you have ongoing continuity. But the symphony is in a much better place than five years ago — musically improved and financially more stable.”

Zeitouni described the decision as “amicable.”

“To depart to pursue other opportunities is the right thing to do for everyone,” he said, “now that the orchestra is in a more stable place than three years ago.”

Previous to this announcement, I’d spoken to a couple of CSO musicians who spoke very highly of his talent on the podium, so it will indeed be missed.  As a patron in the audience, it’s also easy to tell the difference in quality between his conducting and that of other conductors as he draws out a tighter (i.e. even higher quality) performance from the orchestra itself.

The Dispatch article mentions how a search committee is currently being formed to start seeking a new music director for the CSO.  This time around, the CSO has had some time to improve its situation, what with CAPA’s help with the finances and a 30% increase in ticket sales this past year from the previous year.  The CSO, though still in need of long-term stability and improvement, is in a better place all around.  If they’re lucky, they can find a new music director in time for the 2014-2015 season.

Fingers crossed!

As for our outgoing maestro,  we fortunately still have seven more concerts to catch him at the helm of our Columbus Symphony Orchestra starting this October.

A la prochaine, maestro!

P.S. Oh, et Maestro!  I still really hope to interview you when you return in the fall!  :-) Merci beaucoup!

Opus 125

Cue Track 4: Presto, Allegro Assai.

Hit play.

Kick back. Relax. Smile.

According to an article I recently read, the first-ever CDs came out about 30 years ago last week.  I learned that these new forms of recorded music were originally going to be about one hour in length.  During development however, they were extended to 74 minutes in length to accommodate one specific piece of classical music: Beethoven’s Symphony #9 in D Minor, Opus 125, “Choral”, or as everyone knows it: simply, Beethoven’s 9th.  

The article went on to say that they wanted to cater at first to lovers of classical music because it would be they who would be the first ones willing to spend upwards of $700 for this new-fangled machine called a CD-player. 

As a result, the first CDs to market, Billy Joel excepted, were pretty much all classical music.

Personally I just think that more people wanted to be able to better hear the clarinet sections in the orchestras making the recording.  Anyone who knows anything at all about music knows that it’s the clarinet section that carries the whole orchestra.  

Of course, my having played the clarinet all the way through college may have contributed to a slightly biased opinion coming through in that last paragraph.

Cue reality: Columbus Symphony Orchestra Season Opener at the Ohio Theater, October 5, 2012


Last Friday, for the first time in what seemed like forever (3-4-5 years at least), I went to the Symphony.  In what was the special, season opening performance of the 2012-2013 season, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and the Columbus Symphony Chorus performed Handel’s Coronation Anthem No. 1; W.A. Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, K. 618; and, the best part of the night, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 (“Choral”) featuring 4 wonderfully-talented soloists.

In a nutshell: WOW!

This was also my first time seeing our new music director, Jean-Marie Zeitouni, perform and oh how he is so – much – fun – to watch!  I was definitely NOT disappointed in what I heard and saw on Friday. 

What. A. Performance!

As soon as I got home, I made it a point to write down some of the thoughts and impressions that went through my mind during the concert (as best as I could remember, anyway).  In no particular order…

  • Ave Verum Corpus (Mozart. Genius. Gorgeous. Peaceful.)
  • I think Maestro Z is singing along to Handel.
  • Simulcast to Columbus Commons – very cool!
  • Simulcast to Columbus Commons – very smart!
  • Camera jiggled a bit much a time or two
  • No word to the audience.
  • How the heck does he stay on that podium?
  • Chorus: Wonderful. Beautiful. Terrific.
  • Symphony: Incredible. Amazing. Fabulous.
  • Hey – I can see the bassoonist!
  • Um. I’m really high up.
  • So glad I bought season tickets, even if only a 4-pack!
  • Wish the guy about 7 rows in front of me would stop recording the whole concert on his iPhone. Glowing screen is right in my line of sight!
  • Maestro Z is an absolute blast to watch!
  • Trumpet. Oops.
  • I can’t believe I’m tearing up at this.
  • Yes, I can. Anybody have a Kleenex?
  • Totally needed more clarinets.  Just kidding.
  • I love extra curtain calls!
  • Phillip Addis. Whoa. Definitely want to see him perform again.  Road trip à Montréal?

Saturday morning, I went online to check the reviews.  Apparently one had been written at 5-something in the morning.  All the hours of rehearsals – individually, in sections, as individual ensembles, all together – and a fabulous performance Friday night were all summed up in a few paragraphs that amounted to a fairly decent review of the performance.  I like Jennifer Hambrick and enjoy listening to her (when I’m not at work!) on WOSU Classical 101, but I’m not sure she wasn’t writing a review for a final musical performance exam as opposed to a general concert review for the local population-at-large to enjoy.  I’m inclined to think the former. 

I’m not a professional music critic.  I’m just a fan, here, a lover of classical music.  I’m not a professional musician, either. Sure I’ve performed.  With the Marching Hundred, I’ve played in front of thousands of people on a football field (back when our team was good) or in Assembly Hall. Plus I’ve played in a few solo and ensemble contests.  Perhaps I’m just like the Salieri portrayed in the movie Amadeus: mediocrity with the ability to recognize genius.  Who knows?  What I do know, however, is a good performance when I hear one.  And that’s what I heard on Friday night.   

If I get excited at the sound of the brass entering about 5-6 minutes in, then it’s good.  If I get this  huge, uncontrollable, goofy grin on my face when the baritone starts singing away or if my eyes water up when all four soloists sing together for the first time in the 4th movement, then to me, it was a great performance.  Yeah – I did have an emotional moment up there.  I admit to my being a tad sappy, but I love forgetting about everything else in the world and just getting lost in the music and if you’re going to get lost, it might as well be with Beethoven. 

This will sound weird, but I’m a bit envious of the musicians themselves, and not because they’re good enough to play on stage, no. No – I loved playing the piano but I was never of that caliber nor did I ever have the desire to perform. Heck – I didn’t even want my parents in the same room.  The concert itself was simulcast, which meant it came with video – much like you’d see on PBS. While the camera jiggled a bit too much at times (not good considering how high up I was!), it did offer up views we in the audience couldn’t normally see, namely the front side of the conductor.  

Face it, by default, the conductor has no choice but to turn his back to the audience resulting in a 2-hour view of his tails.  The camera though, gave us a sneak peek of what the musicians see every day: his expressions.  What fun he is to watch, let me tell you! The man is amazing.  He sang along with the chorus during the Handel piece and made some super great expressions during the 9th.  Seriously.  You had to be there.  It was great!

Someday if a clarinetist calls in sick for rehearsal, the CSO can call me in to be a seat filler – just like at the Oscars.  Don’t worry.  I promise I won’t play, especially since it’s been since 1996 that even I picked up my old, resonite, Artley clarinet and actually blew through it.  Yes – it’s been that long since I’ve been to homecoming in B’town.  No, no – I just want to be able to watch and experience the whole fun of watching him conduct from that side of stage. Seriously – I won’t make a sound and I’ll even turn pages.  Call me! I’m equal to the task!

While the CSO may never take me up on that offer, (perhaps a guided tour of the Ohio instead?) I will say that Friday night was fabulous.  I am so thrilled that I was finally able to afford a trip to the symphony.  (Being out of work over a year a while back really put a damper on my ability to hear live music!) Since Friday though, I’ve listened to my recording of Beethoven’s 9th (Zubin Mehta NY Philharmonic Orchestra, 1983) a handful of times.  I could happily replace the male voices in that recording (something originally made possible a year earlier thanks to making the change from 60 to 74 minutes) with those of Adam Diegel (tenor) and Phillip Addis (baritone).  

Phillip Addis is performing with I Musici de Montréal, the Canadian Chamber Music Ensemble also conducted by Maestro Z, in May.  

Hmm.  Road trip anyone?

Freude, schöner Götterfunken, tochter aus Elysium, wir betreten feuertrunken, Himmlische dein Heiligtum!  ..Alle Menschen werden Brüder…

Columbus Symphony Orchestra

The last time I went to a concert, it was to the Columbus Symphony Orchestra with my dad.  It was at least 3-4 years back and I’m sure it had something by Mozart on the program.  (Or J.S. Bach, since that’s Dad’s favorite)

Since then, hard times have kept me from going to more.  C’est la vie, hein?  And while I love my favorite Grandview coffee shops, I occasionally want a little something more on the weekends, something not just work-related.

So, with good music in mind, I decided to forgo vanity for a while in exchange for season tickets.  Thanks to not entering a salon for what seemed like ages (yeah, yeah, yeah – I’m a girl, ok?!), I now get to hear some fabulous music by great composers like Rossini, Beethoven, Berlioz, Brahms, Mozart and by a bunch more I’ve not even heard of, such as Rébel, Glinka, Berg, and Paulus.

Thanks to becoming an official season ticket holder (and this is the really cool part!) I also get to go to the season opener at which Beethoven’s 9th Symphony will be performed. We’re talking a full symphony, a full chorus, you name it – a true performance.  And we thought the Som Sabadell flash mob was impressive!
This is going to be so incredibly awesome!!  I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am to see it LIVE!  October 5th – I cannot wait!!

In addition to these concerts, two friends and I are also going to a performance at the Southern Theatre to hear Rossini’s William Tell Overture and Beethoven’s 6th Pastoral symphony.  They just hope that I don’t yell out “I! U!” during the Lone Ranger section of the William Tell since that’s what I used to do when I played it with the Pep Band back at all the Indiana basketball games in Bloomington.  Yeah. Probably not a good idea.

The beautiful Ohio Theatre, across from the Statehouse in downtown Columbus, has been home to our symphony, or CSO, for over 40 years. The majority of the concerts I see this season will be there.  In fact, the CSO is credited with saving the Ohio Theatre itself from demolition because it had once run into such a bad state of disrepair.

Among the locals here in Columbus, it’s no secret that the hard times we’ve experienced the last few years, have been shared by the CSO, but for them, over the last decade.  Patronage dropped.  The musicians took pay cuts.  They had a different conductor for every single performance.   There were times that they were probably unsure as to whether or not the CSO would even survive!

In 2010, our symphony brought in a new Music Director, the up and coming Montreal native, Maestro Jean-Marie Zeitouni.  Not only was he a skilled and charismatic conductor, but he was hired with the hope that he would lead the CSO out of the abyss and back to more successful times.

What I’ve dug up and read about him online is pretty darned impressive.  Like many of us these days he, too, works more than one job.  In addition to starting his second full season as the Music Director of our orchestra here in Columbus, he’s also the  newly-appointed Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the world-renowned chamber music ensemble, I Musici de Montréal.

Someday the term “world-renowned” will be used to describe our symphony, too.

It is said that his conducting style is simply incredible, very energetic and animated. One person I spoke to used the word “amazing” to describe him.  While the bio page on the CSO website desperately needs to be updated, the I Musici biography page has some good info and calls him “expressive and convincing” among other positive terms. The Handel and Haydn Society calls his style “eloquent yet fiery.” The Seattle Times called his performance of Handel’s Messiah “…edgy and exciting…”.

Aside from conducting, he apparently travels – a lot.  As a fellow travel-addict, I can totally appreciate that.  Of course, he travels to and from all his numerous guest-conducting gigs, not to mention splitting his time working jobs in two different countries.  I’m sure he’s accumulated an absolute ton of airline miles by now!  Heck – I think he may have traveled to more US states than I have and I’ve lived in a lot of them!

In the U.S., he’s conducted anywhere from New York to Oregon to Texas to Hawaii (lucky dog!) as well as all over Canada, pretty much hitting every NHL city up there save, perhaps, Ottawa.  Smart man.  I wonder if he needs an assistant.  Let’s go Jackets!

He’s a young director, not yet 40, but it’s not as if he gained the title of Music Director on a whim.  Our Maestro is very well-educated. He has three masters degrees from the Montreal Conservatory in theory, conducting and, yes, percussion. In one of the preview videos he makes before each concert, he totally geeks out on all the various percussion instruments used in one of Mahler’s symphonies. In his defense, I know percussionists (my dad included). I’m not sure there’s a single one who wouldn’t also go nuts over a huge hammer.  Hmm.  Could just be a guy thing.

Via Twitter though, I happily learned that they plan on making these videos again before the concerts this year.  You can follow their sporadically-active twitter account here.

If you’re not yet impressed, check out this interesting tidbit: he has perfect pitch. Yeah.  Perfect pitch. You know, that talent that allows him to tell you that the horns of a Prius, Impala, F150 and Jetta combine to make a G-minor diminished 7th chord*.

All kidding aside though, even musicians within the orchestra have commented that his ear is a huge advantage because he can hear anything from any instrument at any time.  They cannot get away with anything which makes them play all the better. He can tell during a rehearsal when something is potentially off and can therefore make the necessary adjustments before the final performance.  That, in turn, makes the concert-goer’s experience that much more enjoyable.

While I’ve not yet seen him perform live, my expectations of our symphony now are extremely high. He is said to be able to draw the highest quality of music out of those he directs so I look forward to hearing that in person.

On a final note, no pun intended, I’m going to see the Columbus Symphony Orchestra three times in October and then not again until January.  If he’s as good as I’ve heard he is, then November and December are going to make for two very long months!

* No fact-checking done. I have no earthly idea if this is actually true or not! 

Sources: In addition to the articles linked above, here are two more from which I sourced some of the details included in this blog post.  Enjoy!  

Photo credits: Both pictures of Maestro Jean-Marie Zeitouni were from the Facebook pages of I Musici and CSO, respectively.  The Ohio Theater picture is my own.

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