Q & A: Maestro John Zoltek

By Beacon Staff

Now in its 31st season, the Glacier Symphony and Chorale continues to evolve and grow. The following conversation with John Zoltek, the symphony conductor and music director at the Glacier Symphony and Chorale.

Beacon: You’ve worked with musicians, composers and orchestras from all over the world; what is it about the Flathead that made you decide to stay and work here?

Zoltek: Music life in the Flathead is a combination of many factors: the pool of musically creative and dedicated individuals who live here and participate in our artistic life; the inspirational landscape and spiritual energy infused in our beautiful environment and our closeness to it; and finally, the growing support of the community of volunteers, donors and musical audiences that make it all possible and worthwhile. I have seen a great progression of the musical arts in my nearly 18 years here and I have great hopes for the future development of our musical world, in all musical genres. From the Glacier Symphony and Chorale, to the John Simpson Don K Jazz Series to the amazing Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival, and countless other musical events and venues, this area is outstanding in its quality and variety of musical experience.

Beacon: Classical music can be a difficult sell to those who aren’t familiar with it, but the GSC is quite popular in many circles here. Is there a concerted effort to make your concerts accessible for everyone?

Zoltek: So-called classical music has stood the test of time for a reason. Because it is great music! It is not necessarily an easy art form to understand or enjoy the first time. But I wouldn’t look at it as a hard sell. Rather, we are talking here of one of the greatest art forms in the world with a rich variety of music that can be enjoyed by everyone young and old. For me, it’s a matter of presentation and communication. If the music is presented and performed with energy and conviction, well polished and stylistically shaped, the audience will get it! They just need to give it a try. We have worked hard to take down the barriers that might keep people from coming to concerts. We have a variety of price points on our tickets and offer free student tickets for most of our concerts. I believe the GSC has done a marvelous job in offering programming variety and abundant educational opportunities, including free youth tickets to Masterworks concerts.

Beacon: When it comes to composing, what are your inspirations, and what is your process like?

Zoltek: Lately I’ve been writing both classical pieces and jazz tunes for the upcoming Jazz Night with the Maestro – I play jazz guitar. But I am always in the process of creating one orchestra piece or another. My two recent compositions, “Going to the Sun” and the “Trumpet Concerto” have been composed for specific purposes. Basically, I have a number of pieces under my fingers and at the ready for further development when the moment arrives. I usually begin my composing process at the piano where I conceive on my themes and other material; this after an initial point of inspiration or imagined music landscape or emotional mood. For instance I have working on a cello rhapsody for solo cello and orchestra. When this piece will finally come to completion will depend on many factors. Composing is not something I do every day – too busy! – but when I know its time, it’s pedal to the metal!

Beacon: You premiered “Going to the Sun” last summer; have you got any more compositions in the works that you plan on debuting any time soon?

Zoltek: The in-progress Cello Rhapsody mentioned above plus a number of other orchestral works including an overture currently titled “Astounding Winter Skies,” after a lyric by one of my favorite classic rock groups, YES. Hopefully a new work will be coming soon to a theater near you.

Beacon: You founded Festival Amadeus, and you choose the theme for each GSC season. What are your hopes and goals for the GSC’s future?

Zoltek: First of all the Glacier Symphony and Chorale is a superb organization both artistically and administratively. I am very happy to have had the opportunity to be the artistic leader and look forward to an exciting future. Working with Executive Director Alan Satterlee and Chorale Conductor Jim Stanard has been and very rewarding experience for me. Not to mention the array of wonderful dedicated musicians and singers who make up the totality of the performing groups. The symphony musicians are like family to me. Many of them have been playing for over 25 years! They are all dedicated amateur and professional musicians committed to making the best possible orchestra we can have in the valley. My hat goes off to all of them. We plan on raising the artistic bar, continuing to bring a variety of classical and new music to our community. Festival Amadeus will grow this summer as we will expand to offer three chamber concerts in Bigfork in addition to our eight days of concerts in Whitefish. Our future development will most likely come in the summer with Festival Amadeus and perhaps additional Pops concerts too. Our winter season is already very snug with lots of concerts from October through May. We will focus here on quality and continuing to serve our audiences throughout Northwest Montana.

MORE FROM THE MUSIC ISSUE

Old School Records: A music renaissance is taking place in a downtown Kalispell record store

John Dunnigan: After three decades, still a staple of Whitefish’s bustling music scene

John Zoltek: A conversation with Glacier Symphony and Chorale conductor and music director

Erica von Kleist: Local phenom launches booking agency for local talent, kicks off nonprofit

Guitar Festival: Annual festival keeps growing through planning, perseverance and luck

Snowghost Music: Whitefish studio continues golden era of audio recording in a digital world

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