News of Otsego County

Serving Otsego County, NY, through the combined reporting of Cooperstown's Freeman's Journal and the Hometown Oneonta newspapers.


Catskill Symphony Orchestra

Conductor Search: What A Treat, Opportunity


Conductor Search:

What A Treat, Opportunity

Now, THAT’S marketing – in the nicest possible light.

On learning its venerable founding conductor, Chuck Schneider, was retiring after 46 years, The Catskill Symphony Orchestra Governing Board could have simply advertised for a new one, sorted the resumes, interviewed top prospects and made a decision.

Instead of handling matters in-house, the search committee threw open the decision-making to the public; not exclusively, of course, but it encouraged attendees at three concerts this fall – and the musicians, too – to fill out questionnaires assessing each candidates’ strengths.

And what a lesson for veteran concertgoers and newcomers alike, to see three conductors from different parts of the globe – Silas Huff, who rose through conducting the 44th U.S. Army Band, Carolyn Watson from Australia (now in Kansas), and Maciej Zoltowski from Poland – perform widely varying programs in markedly different styles.

“The biggest surprise is: we got 73 applicants – nationally and internationally,” said Laurie Zimniewicz, search committee chair. “We were like, wow.”

So, as you can imagine, all three have terrific credentials. Google them.

The conductors designed their own programs and invited in soloists, and each evening was at times gripping, even for the not-so-aficionados/experts among we audience members.

Huff began with Strauss, which swept audience members onto their feet, and ended with Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite,” another crowd pleaser. He was the most engaging in his remarks from the podium.
Watson was precise, intense, all energy.

Her selections were the most edgy, beginning with Higdon’s percussion-heavy “Fanfare Ritmico.” But if you were surprised at the outset, you were captured by the end.

Zoltowski was Tchaikovsky heavy – two of the three pieces. But what Tchaikovsky! The audience was rapt as pianist Alex McDonald, brought in from Texas, accompanied the CSO on Piano Concerto #1 – an emotional highpoint of the season, for sure.

To see three different conductors at their trade – one each in September, October and November – was a
rare opportunity around here, and mind-expanding.

It was satisfying to learn how the community responded: Attendance grew over the three concerts; subscriptions grew. Doing well by doing good. Nice.

The Search Committee won’t make the final decision, but will present an assessment Dec.10 to the CSO Governing Board, including graphs depicting how the audience and the CSO musicians rated the three.

The plan is to give the most weight to the musicians’ inputs. “Without a happy orchestra, we won’t have an orchestra,” she said, and she has a point.

Still, there’s more to that.

Will a conductor’s taste in music help fill the house? Will he or she be able to reach out to all constituencies – the musicians, yes, but also audiences, the board and, if the institution is to grow and prosper, the community?

Will the conductor be able to think like an executive, to strategize, to identify opportunities and chart the future? And, in doing so, to productively collaborate with CSO President Diane Williams, the Governing Board and Executive Director Thomas Wolfe.

In short, the Governing Board may be guided by others’ perspectives, but in the end, it must make its own decision.

In part, that decision will be with an eye to the future: How to attract a younger audience. As a side benefit, conductor candidates have provided a rich list of ideas on how to do this, Zimniewicz said.

The Catskill Symphony Orchestra, based in Oneonta, was founded in 1973. That’s almost half a century ago. It can be taken for granted. But it shouldn’t be.

At a time when major cities are losing their orchestras, ours continues to thrive. If you haven’t partaken, this is a good time to put a toe in the water.

The conductor should be chosen around the first of the year and will direct the CSO’s annual Cabaret Concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 14, in SUNY Oneonta’s Dewar Arena. You’ll be glad you did.

Conductor Contest Raises CSO Turnout


Conductor Contest

Raises CSO Turnout

Bill and Cynthia Goertemoeller applaud Maciej Zółtowski at the end of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto #1 Saturday, Nov. 16, as the Catskill Symphony Orchestra performed in SUNY Oneonta’s Hunt Union Ballroom. At right is Laurie Zimniewicz, who led the search committee to recruit a new CSO conductor. (Ian Austin/

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

ONEONTA – Though the new music director of the Catskill Symphony Orchestra won’t be named until after the New Year, the board of directors already has plenty to celebrate.

Maciej Zółtowski guides the Catskill Symphony Orchestra through Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concert #1.

“We had nearly a full house for all three shows,” said Diane Williams, board chair. “We saw an uptick in season subscriptions too, because season ticket-holders were invited to all of the pre-show talks the conductors gave.”

On Saturday, Nov. 16, Maciej Żółtowski, the third finalist for the conductor position, conducted Stanisław Moniuszko’s “Concert Overture: The Fairy Tale” and two pieces by Tchaikovsky. Though he had fallen on ice on the SUNY Oneonta campus and dislocated his elbow just days before, he still managed to conduct with both hands.

But with all conductors finished with their concert auditions, the difficult task of deciding who will take the CSO’s baton begins.

“Each of the conductors brought something different to the podium,” said Laurie Zimniewicz, search committee chair. “But in all cases, we saw the musicians stepping up to the plate and putting out incredible music.”

On Saturday, Sept. 7, Silas Huff conducted “The Firebird,” and on Saturday, Oct. 12, Carolyn Watson conducted “The Elements: Rhythm, Melody and Form.”

“People really liked Silas’ congeniality; Carolyn had a very different kind of program, and a lot of people said that really stretched the audience,” said Zimniewicz. “And with Żółtowski, how do you not like Tchaikovsky? Plus, he and Silas’ soloists, that they had the contacts to bring that kind of talent here.”

Zimniewicz and the search committee will meet and look over the surveys handed out at the end of each performance to rank and rate the conductors in the areas of pre-show talk, program selection, and whether the conductor engaged the musicians.

“We’ll analyze their strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “We’ll compare to how each of those to the other candidates, and we’ll put the results of each of those onto a graph.”

From there, they will also look at the surveys completed by the musicians, which, Zimniewicz said, will carry more weight than the audience surveys.

“All three were great candidates,” said Ana Laura Gonzalez, piccolo. “We all have our favorites, but no matter which one gets picked, we’ll have a strong conductor.”

She praised Huff’s “personable” nature and detail-oriented conducting, Watson’s “bravery” in her selections and Żółtowski attentiveness to the orchestra.

“He did very little with his hands,” she said. “He used a lot of facial expressions to the orchestra. It was very subtle, but very clear to the musicians.”

The results will be compiled and delivered to the Board of Directors at their December meeting, where they will be tasked with choosing the new conductor.

The conductor will make his or her official CSO debut at the Cabaret Concert on Saturday, March 14. The concert will also feature special guest Mandy Harvey, an “America’s Got Talent” Golden Buzzer winner, as well as the annual conductor competition.

“For a small, regional symphony to bring in such a broad range of choice was so important,” said Zimniewicz. “These conductors came from such a broad range.”

Arm Healed, 3rd Candidate Conducts Tchaikovsky At CSO

Arm Healed, 3rd Candidate

Conducts Tchaikovsky At CSO

Maciej Żółtowski, the third candidate vying for the position of Conductor of the Catskill Symphony Orchestra, leads guest pianist Alex MacDonald, foreground, in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 during this evening’s performance in the Hunt Union Ballroom at SUNY Oneonta. Żółtowski had recovered from his fall earlier this week that dislocated his elbow, and was able to conduct the orchestra with both hands. From here, the CSO search committee will begin deliberations and make their recommendation to the CSO Board of Directors on who they think should conduct. Their decision will be made by the end of the year. (Ian Austin/

Holiday Market In

Heated Green House


ANGEL TREE PROGRAM – Give the Gift of Christmas this holiday season. Adopt a family in need. Visit to learn how.

HOLIDAY MARKET – 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Find holiday gifts from 50+ vendors selling textiles, herbal products, jewelry, wreaths, more in heated greenhouse. Includes food/wine tasting, hot apple cider donuts, pies more. Sunnycrest Orchards, 7869 St. Rt. 10, Sharon Springs. 518-284-2256 or visit

3rd CSO Candidate Slips On Ice, Dislocates Elbow

Żółtowski To Conduct With Left Hand

3rd CSO Candidate Slips

On Ice, Dislocates Elbow

Maciej Żółtowski leads the Catskill Symphony Orchestra in rehearsal earlier this week. (Ian Austin/

ONEONTA – The show must go on.

Walking back from his interview with the Catskill Symphony Orchestra board, Maciej Żółtowski, the final of the three contenders for the music director of the CSO, slipped on the ice on the SUNY Oneonta campus and dislocated his right elbow, according to Laurie Zimniewicz, chair of the search committee.

An EMT assisted Żółtowski back to the Red Dragon Building, and an ambulance was called.

Trying to assist Żółtowski, CSO Executive Director  Thomas Wolfe fell on the stairs and dislocated his right shoulder, Zimniewicz said. A second ambulance was called and both were treated at the Fox Hospital emergency room.

CSO Prospect To Focus On Tchaikovsky Works


CSO Prospect To Focus

On Tchaikovsky Works

Maciej Zółtowski rehearses with the Catskill Symphony Orchestra. (Ian Austin/

Editor’s Note:  Maciej Żółtowski, the third candidate to become the Catskill Symphony Orchestra’s next conductor, will perform at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday, Nov. 16, at SUNY Oneonta’s Hunt Union Ballroom.  Tickets at door or via  This article appears in this week’s Hometown Oneonta and The Freeman’s Journal, on newsstands now.

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

ONEONTA – For Maciej Żółtowski, conducting is a kind of enchantment.

“It is similar to magic,” he said. “You get up there, you wave your stick and music comes out!”

Appropriate, then, that Żółtowski, the former managing and artistic director of the Radom Chamber Orchestra in Poland, will be conducting Stanisław Moniuszko’s “Concert Overture: The Fairy Tale,” as part of the third and final entry in the Catskill Symphony Orchestra’s Conductor Search concert on Saturday, Nov. 16.

The piece, he said, is close to his heart.

With Percussion Heavy ‘Fanfare’, Conductor Watson Leads CSO


Standing Ovation Salutes

2nd Candidate’s Concert

Dr. Carolyn Watson, the second guest conductor hopeful for the Catskill Symphony Orchestra, took to the stage tonight in the Hunt Union Ballroom. Here she conducts Jennifer Higdon’s “Fanfare Ritmico.”  The first candidate, Silas Huff, performed in September; the third conductor, Maciej Żółtowski, will conduct the third concert at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 16.   The next conductor will direct the CSO’s Cabaret concert next March.   (Ian Austin/
2nd Conductor’s Concert Uses Spinoffs From Bach


2nd Conductor’s Concert

Uses Spinoffs From Bach

Australian-born Carolyn Watson, now at the University of Kansas, directs the Catskill Symphony Orchestra through a rehearsal earlier this week in anticipation of Saturday’s concert. (Ian Austin/

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

Carolyn Watson during an interview.

ONEONTA – Carolyn Watson knows that among conductors, it’s a small world.

“My conducting professor at the University of Sydney was Imre Palló,” she said. “He was the music director of the Hudson Valley Philharmonic, so when I saw the Catskill Symphony Orchestra, I wondered if it was near where he used to be. And it was!”

Watson, the second of the three finalists seeking appointment as Catskill Symphony Orchestra conductor, is planning a concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in SUNY’s Hunt Union Ballroom that includes spinoffs from J.S.  Bach’s “Ciacona for Solo Violin, BVW 1004, no. 5,” with Michael Emery, CSO concertmaster, playing the violin solo.

Xavier Montsalvatge’s “Desintegracion Morfologica de la Chacona de J.S. Bach”, for example, is a breakdown of the Bach piece, while Johannes Brahms’ “Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98,” utilizes elements of Bach’s “Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich BWV 150.”

“The elements of a piece are rhythm, melody and form,” she explained. “Each of these pieces highlight that, and the form puts everything together.”

The concert is entitled “The Elements,” and includes Jennifer Higdon’s “Fanfare Ritmico” and Gabriel Fauré’s “Pavane for Orchestra.”

“I hope this appeals to the orchestra and the audience,” Watson said in an interview. “I’m guessing the Fanfare and the Montsalvatge will be much less familiar – it’s easy to trot out the same works that audiences like hearing, but I wanted to bring in some variety. It shows the kind of conductor I would be.”

She also chose the Higdon piece to highlight female composers. “I looked through the last several years of programs and they were all male composers,” she said.

Growing up just outside of Sydney, Australia, both Watson and her brother, Matthew, played violin from a very young age. “My mother played a little piano, but she always wanted to play the violin and wasn’t able,” she said. “So she would play us all these records, like Tchaikovsky.”

Matthew now plays for the BBC orchestra. “I came into conducting by accident,” she said. “I was teaching in Sydney, and more often than not, I found myself in front of groups of students.”

Interested to learn more about conducting, she enrolled at the American Academy of Conducting in Aspen, Colo., in 2007. “It really opened my eyes,” she said. “I quit teaching, and freelanced around Europe for a few years.”

She conducted the Brandenburg Symphony, the BBC Concert Orchestra, The St. Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic and others before moving to the United States in 2013 to teach at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan. She has also conducted the Lyric Opera in Kansas City, the Austin Symphony, the San Antonio Symphony and the Detroit symphony Civic Orchestra.

“I like being the center of attention!” she joked. “But really, I enjoy the artistic responsibility. I love the rehearsal process, and I like working with people.”

“There’s so much more to conducting than just gestures,” she continued. “It’s about feeling the vibe in the room, the subtle, non-verbal communication. The orchestra is able to read things from me.”

Now University of Kansas’ director of Orchestral Studies, she has returned to her educational background, coordinating interdisciplinary programs across campus.

“I just did a production with the campus counseling and psychiatric services to promote mental health,” she said. “The program included pieces by Robert Schumann and Bohuslav Jan Martinů, who both famously struggled with mental health issues.”

She hopes that, if chosen as the CSO’s musical director, she can continue similar programs in Oneonta. “I want to connect the orchestra more broadly with aspects of the community,” she said.

And since starting at Kansas, she realized that she is also in the same town as Silas Huff, who is also in the running for the conductor position. “He came to see the most recent performance I had,” she said. “We were going to meet for lunch this week, but I had to come here!”

Standing Ovation For Huff At End Of ‘Firebird Suit’


Standing Ovation For Huff

At End Of ‘Firebird Suite’

Silas Huff, right, one of three conductors auditioning to succeed founding conductor Charles Schneider in directing Oneonta’s Catskill Symphony Orchestra, took to the stage tonight at SUNY Oneonta’s Hunt Union Ballroom.  Here, he directs cello soloist Andrew Janss in Franz Haydn’s “Cello Concerto No. 2 in D Major, Op 101.”  Huff, the first of three candidates who will be guest conductors this fall, received standing ovations for Strauss’ “Overture to Die Fledermaus” and, the finale, Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite.”  The next conductor candidate will be Carolyn Watson, who will perform on Oct. 12.  Tickets available at (Ian Austin/

Food, Fun, & More

At Country Living Festival


COUNTRY LIVING FEST – 1 p.m. Celebrate country life with vendors, cornhole tournament (1-6:30), pumpkin patch, farmers’ market, more. Includes demonstrations on backyard beekeeping, floral arrangements, fly fishing, cider pressing, metal detecting, more. Kallan Fields, Well’s Ave., Hartwick. 607-293-8123 or visit

CSO Conductor Candidate #1 Is Here

CSO Conductor Candidate #1 Is Here

Silas Huff Rehearsing With CSO;

‘Firebird’ Planned This Weekend

Silas Huff conducts the CSO in a performance of “The Firebird” Tuesday,
Sept. 3, in SUNY Oneonta’s Hunt Union Ballroom. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.COM)


ONEONTA – From the time he was seven, Silas Nathaniel Huff knew he was going to be in music.

“I was a guitarist, so I thought I was going to be a rock star,” he said. “Then I got into college and discovered classical music. I thought I’d be the next John Williams.”

But fate – or rather, his classmates – intervened.

“We had to take a conducting class to get my master’s degree, and my classmates said, ‘Silas, you’re not that good of a composer, but you’re a great conductor!’”

Huff is the first of three finalists for the Catskill Symphony Orchestra’s music director position and will conduct Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite, 1919” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7, at SUNY Oneonta’s Hunt Union Ballroom.

“It’s like a first date,” he said. “It’s exciting and intimidating. I get to meet them and hope they like me, and hope that I like working with them. The decision about which conductor, like dating, will be all about chemistry.”

His first task was to work with the symphony to design the program. “It took a little negotiating,” he said. “But once we decided on ‘Firebird,’ we were able to work backwards from there.”

He chose his program based around the number of solos – 10 in all – to showcase the orchestra’s individual talent. “It’s like testing out the orchestra,” he said. “But it’s also about giving them that spotlight. It makes them feel good too.”

Huff is also dedicated to expanding what people think of as an orchestra performance. “If someone asks you, ‘Do you want to go to an intimidating venue where you have to dress up and stay silent?’ You’re going to say, ‘No, I’d rather go get a beer,’” he said. “So why don’t we bring the orchestra to a brewery?”

He also wants to highlight the work of contemporary composers, including Kenneth Fuchs, Alan Shultz, Scott McKenzie and Rachel Whelan. “Who’s today’s Beethoven?” he said. “I want to find that person.”“For me, putting together a program is about the orchestra asking itself, what are some great pieces we know our audience loves, and what music is our audience going to love,” he said. “That’s how I program. You’re going to like it, so let’s listen, shall we?”

Huff is married to “Hello Gorgeous!” author Taylor Morris. The couple live in Lawrence, Kansas, a recent move for Huff when he became Washburn University’s director of orchestras. He also organizes workshops for young conductors to practice with a live orchestra.

“Unless you are a millionaire and can hire an orchestra to play for you, you don’t get a chance to practice much,” he said. “With these workshops, I hire an orchestra and bring in an older maestro to critique the young conductors. You’d be amazed how much better you get, just by doing it for a week.”

Throughout the week, he will meet with community leaders and symphony patrons, as well as rehearse with the orchestra ahead of Saturday’s performance.

First CSO Conductor Finalist Takes The Baton

First CSO Conductor Finalist

Takes The Baton At Hunt Union

Silas Nathaniel Huff, one of the three finalists for the Music Director of the Catskill Symphony Orchestra, conducts his first rehearsal of “The Firebird” program evening. The concert, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7 at the Hunt Union Ballroom, will invite audience members to record their comments on Huff’s conducting at the end of the performance. (Ian Austin/


Concertgoers To Get Chance To Pick Next CSO Conductor

Concertgoers To Get Chance

To Pick Next CSO Conductor

Silas Nathaniel Huff, Carolyn Watson and Maciej Zoltowski are the three finalists chosen from 73 candidates seeking to succeed Maestro Chuck Schneider as CSO conductor.

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

ONEONTA – As an audience member at the Catskill Symphony Orchestra, it will be, in part, up to you to help the Symphony select the new conductor.

“We’re encouraging people to buy subscriptions so they can attend all three concerts,” said executive director Thomas Wolf. “Afterwards, audience members can fill out forms and rate each conductor.”

On Monday, May 6, the Symphony announced that, of 73 applicants, three finalists had been chosen to vie for a chance to succeed Chuck Schneider as music director/conductor: Silas Nathaniel Huff, Carolyn Watson, and Maciej Żóɫtowski.

“They all bring different strengths,” said Wolf. “But all of them are very interested in helping build the orchestra and helping the organization grow.”

Laurie Zimniewicz is chairing the search committee, which formed in the wake of Schneider’s announcement last spring. “It’s was a long, exhausting process,” said Wolf. “We reviewed resumes and watched videos for every candidate. And here we are.”

Huff is the musical director of the Astoria Symphony Orchestra, the Colorado Pops Orchestra and the Boulder Concert Band, as well as the conductor of the 44th Army Band (New Mexico’s National Guard Band). He holds degrees from Texas State University and UCLA, and in 1999, won First prize in the Los Angeles Valley Composition Competition for “Begging The Question,” an homage to modernist composer Charles Ives.

Watson, the director of Orchestral Studies at The University of Kansas took home a top prize at the 2012 Emmerich Kálmán International Operetta Conducting Competition in Budapest. She has conducted orchestras throughout Europe including the Brandenburg Symphony, BBC Concert Orchestra, North Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Kodály Philharmonic, Savaria Symphony Orchestra, Budapest Operetta Theatre, Bulgarian State Opera Bourgas and in Russia, the St and holds a PhD in Performance (Conducting) from the University of Sidney.

Żóɫtowski collaborates with many Polish symphony orchestras including the National Symphony Orchestra of the Polish Radio (Katowice), the Polish Radio Orchestra (Warsaw), the Polish Orchestra Jeunesses Musicales, Beethoven Academy Orchestra and Poznan Philharmonic. He studied violin at the F. Chopin and J. Elsner Music Schools in Warsaw, where he also received M.As in conducting and composition.

The three were each in town last week tour the facility and interview for the position. “It was very thorough,” said Wolf.

They will not, however, be required to relocate to the area. “We only do four concerts a year,” said Wolf. “They will fly into town when we need them to. The week of the show, there are four two-and-a-half hour rehersals, so they’ll have 10 hours of time with the orchestra.”

Each conductor will have a chance to perform for an audience; Huff will conduct on Saturday, Sept. 7, Watson on Saturday, Oct. 12 and Żóɫtowski on Saturday, Nov. 16.

And once the committee has had a chance to review the audience remarks, as well as input from the orchestra and the board of directors. Wolf hopes a decision will be made by December.


Posts navigation

21 Railroad Ave. Cooperstown, New York 13326 • (607) 547-6103