Thursday, October 21, 2004
Although he doesn’t actually start wielding the baton until January, Max Bragado-Darman, Monterey Symphony’s new music director, is already throwing his weight around the podium. The first order of business: attract a broader audience.
To that end, the symphony’s 59th season kicks off this Saturday, October 23, with a tribute to Mexican orchestral music led by guest conductor José Luis Castillo of Mexico’s Guanajuato Symphony, featuring soloist Elena Duran.
Saturday’s concert is at Sherwood Hall in Salinas, and the show moves to the Sunset Center for performances on Sunday and Monday.
While he inherited the opening night program, Bragado-Darman, as the Monterey Symphony’s 11th director, makes no secret that the concert is an attempt to appeal to all types of American audiences.
“We are just trying to prove that there’s beautiful music of all ethnic backgrounds,” he says.
Also on Bragado-Darman’s agenda is the goal of overcoming a youthful lack of exuberance for classical music—it’s something with which he has personal experience. As a young Spaniard, he showed little interest in music training—so little in fact that he failed the country’s compulsory music lessons (known as solfege) four times.
“I was a typical teenager that didn’t care,” he says. “I was totally ignorant of the art of the music.”
Then, at the invitation of a friend whose father happened to be a conductor, Bragado-Darman—after running out of excuses for why he couldn’t go—saw an orchestra perform and had an epiphany of sorts: he wanted to be a conductor. After rededicating himself to music, Bragado-Darman took first place in the solfege.
He hopes that by inviting groups of school-age children to the symphony’s rehearsals, they’ll pick up the same passion for music that he did.
“I was one of those children, when I saw an orchestra for the first time, living proof of what I’m talking about,” he says. “I really want to reproduce that in other children,” he says.
Bragado-Darman’s long journey to the Monterey Peninsula began in 1965 when he came to America to earn his BA in music from Oberlin College after studying at the Madrid Conservatory of Music. After post-graduate work at the University of Michigan, he settled into a series of music gigs in academia, but craved the bright lights. Returning to Spain in 1981, Bragado-Darman started working with professional musicians and eventually started the Symphony Orchestra of Castile and León—a group he continues to lead. In 1997, he was lured back to the US to briefly oversee an orchestra in Fort Worth, Texas, and soon took over the Louisville Symphony. It was during that time that he appeared with the Monterey Symphony on three occasions.
While his decidedly composed conducting style—no happy feet, straight face—isn’t going to make anyone forget Michael Tilson-Thomas, Bragado Darman says he’s not above glitzing things up by wearing, say, an orange tux, if it’ll serve his purposes.
“If I had to attract an audience I would,” he says. “I want those kids to come. I’m not stuffy.”
Of course, another way to attract a younger audience would be to program some music by composers who are still breathing. But, for Bragado-Darman, it’s not that simple. That’s because so much “new” classical music is dissonant and in order to appreciate it people have to understand the history of music—something kids aren’t getting in schools today.
For Bragado-Darman comparing music education to food is apt.
“A certain type of taste that has a little bit of vinegar in it,” he says, “you have to develop that. You have to nourish not only the stomach through food, but you have to nourish the spirit through the arts.”
The Monterey Symphony performs 8pm Saturday at Sherwood Hall, 3pm Sunday and 8pm Monday at Sunset Center. Sherwood Hall, 940 N. Main St., Salinas. Tickets start at $10. 758-7477. Sunset Cultural Center, 8th and San Carlos, Carmel-by-the-Sea. Tickets start at $33. 625-3637.