OK Mozart to be variations on a theme, artistic director says
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Sunday, January 20, 2013
1/20/13 at 4:33 AM
Constantine Kitsopoulos first became aware of the OK Mozart International Festival in Bartlesville when he noticed a number of his New York City colleagues vanishing from the Big Apple every June.
"I've worked with many of the musicians (in the Amici New York Orchestra) for years," Kitsopoulos said, "and all of a sudden, they weren't available for gigs in June, because they were out here in Oklahoma."
Kitsopoulos himself made the journey to Bartlesville in recent years, serving as a guest conductor for the orchestra for the 2011 and 2012 festivals.
Now, as the recently named artistic director of OK Mozart, Kitsopoulos' visits to Bartlesville will become a regular occurrence as he works to become more familiar with the community that has spawned and nurtured this music festival for the past 28 years.
"Whenever you have a position such as this," Kitsopoulos said during a conversation Thursday at the OK Mozart offices in Bartlesville, "it's imperative that you spend as much time as you can getting to know the community. You have to be a part of the community to know what you need to do, that will be best for that community."
One thing that Kitsopoulos believes OK Mozart needs is something that will give the nine days and hundreds of events that make up the festival a sense of cohesion.
"The kinds of programming I hope to bring will be thematic - something that ties all the presentations throughout the festival together," he said. "The challenge is to pick a theme that will allow you to work the programming around so that it reaches out into many different areas."
The lineup for the 2013 season will not be announced until April, but Kitsopoulos said the theme will be "America, the Beautiful."
"Of the music I've planned, only one piece will not be by an American composer," he said. "And that one piece will be Dvorak's 'New World' Symphony, which will still be appropriate, as it was written primarily in the United States and portions of it are based on American Indian and African-American melodies."
Kitsopoulos said he would like to work on expanding the festival's educational programming in a way that "goes beyond a school's music department," in ways that show how interrelated music and society are.
He added that the main thrust of OK Mozart will remain orchestral music, with four orchestral concerts planned for the 2013 season.
"I stress 'orchestral,' rather than 'classical,' " Kitsopoulos said. "I like to paraphrase what Duke Ellington said, when he was asked what was his favorite music. He said, 'There are two kinds of music - good and bad, and I like good music.'
"I feel very much the same way," he said. "In the context of the American theme for the coming year, you have a figure like George Gershwin, who worked in musical theater and in the concert world, as well as in the 'popular music' field.
"I like the fact that certain lines that used to be very distinct between types of music are getting blurred," he said. "I want at OK Mozart to focus on music that is great and needs to be heard."
Kitsopoulos' career has been equally wide-ranging. He is the music director of the Queens Symphony in New York, founded and continues as general director of the Chatham Opera in New Jersey, and recently was named the music director of Festival of the Arts BOCA in Boca Raton, Fla.
As a guest conductor, he has worked with orchestras throughout North America and has conducted opera productions as far afield as Hong Kong and Beijing.
Kitsopoulos has also had an extensive career as a conductor on Broadway. He was the music director for Baz Luhrmann's version of "La Boheme," as well as for Matthew Bourne's re-imagining of "Swan Lake." He also conducted the musicals "Les Miserables" and Frank Wildhorn's "Dracula."
Kitsopoulos' most recent Broadway gig was as music director of the Tony Award-winning revival of "Porgy & Bess." The cast album for that show is up for a Grammy Award in February.
"Conducting musical theater and opera are very much alike, because so many things are happening all at once, everything is always on the edge of falling apart, and it's the conductor's job to keep it all together," he said. "Fortunately, I thrive at multi-tasking.
"On the other hand, symphonic conducting is technically easier, but that apparent easiness can be its own difficulty. You look at the score of a symphony by Haydn, for example, and on the surface it looks very simple. But because it is so simple, so transparent, it's much more of a challenge to bring that music to life."
OK Mozart, like most arts organizations in the region, has gone through its financial ups and downs in recent years, but Kitsopoulos said he is confident of the future of the organization.
"The festival has started a strategic planning process to deal with the internal and external challenges it faces," he said. "One thing that we need to do is broaden our base of support. We have a very generous pool of donors, but it's not good to rely on them exclusively. We need to expand our community.
"One statistic I've seen is that, in the nonprofit arts world, 65 percent of an organization's earned income comes from donors who give less than $100. So every donation is important, because it shows that a whole lot of people believe in supporting a given arts organization."
Kitsopoulos is already planning out OK Mozart's artistic future. He has the theme chosen for the festival's 30th anniversary season in 2014 - that year's events will be based around the concept of Vienna and the world of music that city has produced and inspired. He's also planned out the programming for the festival's next five years.
As for his personal future, that includes making his debut as a guest conductor with the New York City Philharmonic in September.
"I'll be doing a program of music from Alfred Hitchcock films, with clips from those movies projected over the stage," he said. "I've done this program before, but this is the New York Philharmonic. And it's going to be a little more nerve-wracking than usual, because my sister is a cellist in the orchestra."
Kitsopoulos laughed, then added, "That could make things a little...interesting."
Original Print Headline: OK Mozart's artistic director plans ahead
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478
Constantine Kitsopoulos is the new artistic director for the OK Mozart Festival in Bartlesville. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World