Maestro Adam Flatt has been a prominent presence in Denver's musical scene since becoming Music Director of the Denver Young Artists Orchestra and Associate Conductor of the Colorado Symphony in 2001. The Denver Rocky Mountain News observes, "Flatt shows an obvious love of the music and a confidence on the podium that bodes well for his future."
Maestro Flatt was gracious enough to sit down with "Classics Alive" for this interview.
After conducting the same piece many times, how do you keep it fresh?
The nice thing about what musicians do for a living is that we get to work with works by incredible geniuses all the time. So, I feel lucky in that it's never boring. It's exciting. When you're involved with a great piece it lends itself to examination and constant re-examination. That may even be a way to decide if a work of art is great or not—to see if it can always reveal new things about itself to you.
What advice do you have for a young person who is interested in pursuing a career in music?
I think a young musician needs to be honest with himself about the degree of passion - and if there is any ambivalence at all, it may not be the right idea. It's the kind of career that needs total devotion. I think a career in music only rewards people who are totally devoted to it. The best advice is to expose oneself to all sorts of things, to pursue all sorts of other interests so that you know if there is something that is going to be more important to you. You need to know if there is anything else that captures your heart because music presents real challenges. You have to surrender yourself to music and all that it needs. So, if that's what you really want to do with your life and that's what makes you happy – GREAT! But, if not, then find something else.
What instrument did you start with?
I played violin from the age of 5. Most conductors play either an orchestral instrument or piano first.
Who did you study with?
Like almost everybody, I began my formal conducting studies in college, in my case at UC Berkeley. I also studied in Germany for awhile with thoughtful and intellectual musician named Max Pommer. Then I came back to Indiana to grad school. I was thrilled at Indiana to be in such a great community of talented musicians.
Was there a particular person or event that inspired you start conducting?
I started out as a violinist at age 5, and I was good, but I wasn't a prodigy. After a couple of years, I got good enough to join an orchestra. For me, that was incredible and suddenly I realized why I had been practicing - the sound of a big group of musicians playing together made a huge impact on me. It was a real rush. That kind of music-making quickly became my favorite. That developed over time to a curiosity about scores and leading the music.
I became known as the music nerd in high school, bought scores and tried to teach myself how to conduct. I went to a normal, public high school that had fantastic, high level orchestras. At the time, I had no idea that, as a young American musician, I had found such a needle in the haystack. The orchestra teacher became ill and he was out for a number of months and the school district supplied us with substitutes, some who knew a lot about music and some who were more qualified to teach...Spanish, or whatever... And so I got all sorts of interesting opportunities to conduct through that experience.
I was, like, on fire with enthusiasm about it. Then I went to college and had to create my own opportunities at first. You have to sort of nag your friends to get together to give you an experience to conduct. I continued to create these informal opportunities for myself and then later got good opportunities to go abroad.
For those student musicians who want to play in an orchestra, what is the most important skill for them to develop?
Rhythm! Virtuoso technique is important, clearly. But real musical literacy (including sight reading), and rhythm are important for orchestra playing, and rhythm has a lot to do with listening to the ensemble around you when you play. The people who win auditions need to have a whole list of impressive attributes, but you won't ever win (or keep) a job without excellent rhythm. Young musicians naturally rush. When a young musician conquers steadiness he is a big step closer to mature playing.
What specifically do you think about right before a performance?
Actually, I try to clear my mind - to enter into total concentration right before a performance, and not think about anything. I want to get ready to inhabit the piece of music completely. That's like in the minute before the performance. Before that minute, I'm just chilling out and trying to relax.
Thank you, Maestro Flatt for spending time with us.
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