Max Bragado-Darman, guest Asier Polo look to further energize Monterey Symphony audiences.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Max Bragado-Darman wasn’t heading toward a celebrated career in music – he wasn’t interested. “But during my youth, I went to a rehearsal and was bewitched by the sounds and the spectacle of the orchestra,” he says. “They were so overpowering – that very moment I decided that’s what I wanted to be.”
The Spaniard trained as a classical pianist, studied at the Royal Conservatory of Madrid and led the Symphony Orchestra of Castile and León before coming to the States. He was unanimously voted to head the Monterey Symphony in 2004 after three guest conducting stints. Since then, the company has provided season after season of world-class classical; this week, noted cellist Asier Polo is joining them.
So why don’t the concerts sell out?
“The arts have become elitist and antiquated,” says Bragado-Darman. “We can’t look at music through the prism of the 19th century – we have to move on.”
The 64-year-old musical director is committed to demystifying the symphony experience by launching education programs in local schools, offering students discounted tickets and letting them view Saturday rehearsals.
“The music is like a work by Shakespeare: It isn’t obsolete because it is old – it just needs to be made relevant. My aim is to reach the 21st century with the quality of the orchestra and the wisdom of the past.”
Bragado-Darman was talking from Spain, where he was reconstructing a piece by Flamenco composer Arturo Pavon. When the boss arrives on the Peninsula (as he did earlier this week), members must be on top of their game – they only have four two-and-a-half hour rehearsals in three days to get ready. Bragado-Darman is confident they will.
“The orchestra is the instrument of the conductor. Except my instrument has feelings, jobs and can get frustrated with me. But I feel lucky: I have as good an orchestra as anywhere in the world.”
Polo is a welcome addition. After attending Queen Sofia School in Madrid, he became a famous soloist, touring Europe and headlining Carnegie Hall. He and Bragado-Darman go back: When Polo was a teenager, the conductor asked the cellist to appear with the Symphony Orchestra of Castile and León. (This is Polo’s second Monterey performance; he last visited in 2005.)
For the first time in 10 years, the Monterey Symphony will showcase Dvorak’s Cello Concerto – interestingly, the last work of the Czech composer was the first Monterey performance Bragado-Darman conducted.
“The structure of the work is sensational,” Bragado-Darman says. “It’s a great crowd-pleaser, a combination of soloist and orchestra that creates an interminable dialogue of questions, responses and dialogue between each other.’’
Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony is said to be an autobiographical score of the composer’s difficult life; he died nine days after its debut. Bragado-Darman says he studies the sheet music to capture the heart of the piece. “Every time you study, you find new things. It’s like looking at a painting and finding a new brush stroke. There’s something always truly alive and new.”
THE MONTEREY SYMPHONY performs 3pm and 8pm Saturday, Sherwood Hall, 940 N. Main St., Salinas. $12-$15/3pm rehearsal concert; $19-$39/8pm concert. 758-7477. They also play 3pm Sunday and 8pm Monday, Sunset Center, San Carlos between Eighth and Ninth, Carmel. $35-$69. 646-8511, www.montereysymphony.org.