News of Otsego County

Conductor search

Polish Conductor Named New CSO Music Director

Polish Conductor

Will Take Podium

As CSO Conductor

After Three Auditions,

Musicians Choose Maciej

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

Maciej Żółtowski addresses the crowd ahead of his concert, “The Fairy Tale” (Ian Austin/

ONEONTA – Maciej Żółtowski, the former managing and artistic director of the Radom Chamber Orchestra in Poland, has been named the Music Director designee of the Catskill Symphony Orchestra, search committee chair Laurie Zimniewicz announced.

“We think Maciej has a great vision for growing the orchestra in style and skill,” said Zimniewicz. “The musicians had great things to say about all three conductor finalists, but they strongly supported Maciej.”

In addition to Żółtowski, finalists Silas Huff and Carolyn Watson each conducted a concert; Huff conducted “The Firebird” in September and Watson conducted “The Elements” in October.

Żółtowski will make his debut as the music director at the annual Cabaret Concert on Saturday, March 14.

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.

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.

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