Classical Music

Notes From Round Top: Charles Olivieri-Munroe

Conductor Charles Olivieri-Munroe offers sounds and insights from the Round Top Music Festival.

The Round Top Music Festival is a long-time Texas classical music tradition. Founded in 1971 by concert pianist James Dick, the summer institute is a training ground for exceptional young musicians from conservatories and universities around the world. 

The annual six-week festival has become known for its orchestral concerts, chamber music recitals, and master classes, as well as for its 210-acre campus in the Texas Hill Country filled with historic architecture, fountains, gardens, herb collections, and cats.

In this series, Notes from Round Top, we’ll feature concert recordings and interviews with conductors of the 2018 Round Top Music Festival, which takes place June 3 – July 15.

Born in Malta and raised in Canada, Charles Olivieri-Munroe is the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Kraków Philharmonic, Chief Conductor of the Philharmonie Südwestfalen in Germany, and Honorary Chief Conductor of the North Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.

Listen to the 2016 Texas Festival Orchestra conducted by Charles Olivieri-Munroe, performing Hector Berlioz’s Le Corsaire Overture, below. Recorded in Festival Concert Hall on June 25, 2016; Andy Bradley, recording engineer:

 

Charles Olivieri-Munroe will conduct this summer’s opening concert on Saturday, June 9. The 2018 Texas Festival Orchestra is made of up approximately 90 artists chosen from more than 500 applicants.

Learn more about Olivieri-Munroe, his 2018 Round Top program, and his life as a conductor, below:

 

How did you fall in love with classical music, and specifically with conducting?  

I fell in love with classical music since my parents played various classical music at home on the stereo. Moreover, they gave me piano lessons, and my father was an amateur pianist and violinist, himself. Conducting came later in my late teens and specifically in my first year of university.

 

What does the art of conducting mean to you?

The art of conducting to explain in a nutshell is almost impossible – it is an art, which incorporates many skills, which mature over time. They include body, arm technique, listening skills, leadership skills, emotional intelligence, empathy, psychology, knowledge of history. 

 

You have been coming to the Round Top Music Festival since 2005.  What has the Festival come to mean to you over the years?  

The Festival has come to mean for me a place quite unique and original from all other places where I conduct during the year – its idyllic country setting, the laid back Texan backdrop, the energy and enthusiasm from the young musicians, and the family atmosphere of the music and festival staff. I am always impressed also by tireless efforts, and the continuity and growth provided by the festival’s artistic founder James Dick.

 

At Round Top, you are a mentor as well as a conductor.  What do you hope to impart to these young musicians during your week with them?

I hope firstly to inspire them in the performance of the repertoire they are playing, as well as to make them understand their role in the larger orchestral setting and the impact and relevance of the composers whose music we are performing. From a career perspective, I hope also to give them an idea of the possibilities that lie ahead of them.

 

What do you end up learning from these young musicians? How does this Festival enrich you as an artist?

I am enriched every time I have the privilege to conduct great music with fine orchestras around the world. Even young musicians starting out on their careers provide a certain special dynamic to music making, which is typically unblemished and open-minded, which I like. It also reconnects me with the contemporary classical music educational scene in America. 

 

Does the scenic location and the Texas landscape of Round Top inspire you in any way?

I alluded to that earlier, and the answer is yes. Also, I grew up in a similarly idyllic setting in rural Ontario, so in some ways it brings me back to that which I once knew.

 

Is there a theme to the program you’re presenting on June 9?

Well, there is not a theme per se. The focus is on Richard Strauss with two of his most popular tone poems (Don Juan and Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks), which is a great opportunity for the young artists to play early in their careers. And likewise the Piano Concerto by Edvard Grieg is another famous work, which is a pleasure to perform and listen to from an audience’s perspective. 

 

The program starts with the Grieg Piano Concerto – a very romantic and beloved piece of music. Why do you think this concerto has remained so popular with audiences?

I think this has been a result of the work’s perfect crystallization of original melodies, technical flair, and warm Scandinavian Romanticism.

 

The soloist for that concerto will be Festival Founder, pianist James Dick.  Have you worked with him before? What do you enjoy about performing with him?

I have worked with Jimmy many times in many different countries (Germany, Turkey, Czech Republic, Romania, and the U.S). He always brings to his performances a deeply considered interpretation – never superficial, always profound.

 

The order of your program seems non-traditional in that it opens with the piano concerto, instead of the shorter pieces.  Was there a particular reason for this order?

I think it’s attractive to open with a longer work, in this case since it features the soloist. In the second half, the audience has the pleasure to take in two larger orchestral settings in nevertheless shorter punchy and explosive works, featuring soloists this time from within the orchestra itself. 

 

What do you love about Strauss’ Don Juan and Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, which are on the program?

The orchestral virtuosity in both, the brilliant orchestration, the wit, the lyricism, the grandiosity

 

In our previous interview, you told me that the composer in history that you feel most connected to is Richard Strauss! Do you still feel that way?

Certainly I feel very connected to Strauss’s music. He lived at a time very different to my own, and he was a very different person from myself. But even though our lives are totally different, his music continues to have a relevance to me and happily to others. After all, the concepts of love, loss, death, redemption are timeless.

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Catherine Lu

Catherine Lu

Content Producer & Announcer

While growing up in Chicago and Houston, Catherine’s love for art, music and creative writing was influenced by her teachers and parents. She was once concertmaster of the Clear Lake High School Orchestra and a four-time violinist of the Texas All-State Symphony. A graduate of the University of Chicago, Catherine...

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