The Glacier Symphony will celebrate the conductor’s 25th anniversary by performing one of his original compositions at each of his MasterWorks concerts this season.
Zoltek, 63, grew up in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. After playing guitar in various rock and jazz groups during his high school years, he graduated from Berklee College of Music in Boston in the late 1970s, at a time when the college was more widely known as a conservatory of jazz music. Having a solid background in music theory, his interest in composition – initially jazz – began at the end of high school and college. Although he was not an inclined college student, he immersed himself in his studies at Berklee and completed an intensive four-year program in two and a half years with honors.
âI became a jazz guitarist and came out as a classical composer and conductor,â Zoltek said in a recent interview with the Daily Inter Lake. âMy mind opened completely when I left my hometown and started interacting with many highly regarded people who inspired me. I wanted to emulate their knowledge and understanding not only of music, but also of the perspective of world culture.
While at Berklee, Zoltek had the opportunity to study and work abroad, which he says helped build his confidence in what he believed he could accomplish in his artistic life.
After taking courses in conducting and gaining an understanding of symphonic literature, composition and conducting came naturally to Zoltek.
âIt was kind of a surprise to me, but it felt organic,â Zoltek said. âFor me, artistically and musically, the depth and richness of classical music and the intrinsic qualities of the art form were a logical extension of what I was looking for in rock and jazz music.
âWhen I started studying orchestral sheet music, it was like opening a treasure chest and seeing all the jewelry. Music brings me to the intuitive, emotional and also the cerebral level.
IN 1996 when Zoltek accepted the position of music director and conductor of the Glacier Symphony, he was the conductor of the Renton Youth Symphony Orchestra in Seattle and also worked as a freelance conductor. Having studied guitar since the age of 7, he also played free jazz and studied in Europe during the summers.
He didn’t expect to spend 25 years in Montana.
âBut I found a home here both creatively and within the context of the community,â Zoltek said. âLife has been good for me here. It has been very enriching.
Zoltek has also spoken about the demands of the job over the years.
âLiving in a small community and trying to maintain and build a symphony orchestra comes with many challenges,â he said. âWhen I arrived here the budget was very small. There were years when I had a lot of players, then years when I had very few violinists. It’s just part of the composition of a small orchestra. All Montana orchestras are in the same situation.
âOn the other hand, there has been a lot of support from the community,â he noted. âPeople are proud to have a symphony orchestra in our valley. In fact, Montana as a state has a long heritage of symphonic music.
Of Montana’s seven active symphonies, Glacier Symphony is the most prolific, giving year-round more concerts per season than any other orchestra in the state. Glacier Symphony is also the only orchestra to hold a week-long classical music festival – AmÃ©dÃ©e Festival – created 15 years ago with Zoltek as founding artistic director.
Zoltek describes the growth of the symphony over the past 25 years as organic evolution, ebb and flow.
âIt went from being a popular amateur to something much more demanding, not only for the symphony but also for the chorale,â Zoltek said. “The Glacier Choir has also dramatically increased his artistic abilities under the guidance of current conductor Micah Hunter.
Zoltek challenged, motivated and trained the orchestra to excel.
âI wanted to build an orchestra, play great symphonic literature, conduct Beethoven, Mahler, Brahms and Stravinsky. Musicians have to be very dedicated, âZoltek said. âEven if they are paid, they are volunteers. They are not professional musicians, but they are very good musicians. There are a lot of rehearsals, we go there all year round and the standards we have set for ourselves now must be maintained. Musicians understand this. I am very proud of all the musicians who have dedicated a great part of their lives to making Glacier Symphony a viable artistic entity in the valley.
ZOLTEK A Not only did the orchestra propel the orchestra artistically during his tenure, but he was also deeply involved in the evolution of the organization and administration. At this point in his career, he wishes to re-evaluate his role and realign his focus on orchestral building, programming and his own creative work as a full orchestral sheet music composer. His compositions have been performed in the United States, Canada, Europe and South America.
He would also like to focus more on his jazz fusion roots.
âIt’s so much fun and a great creative outlet for me. I’m an instrumental performer on guitar, so this is where I take my shots, expressing myself in an improvised way. For me, it’s dynamic and cathartic music.
Most recently, Zoltek wrote a cello concerto titled “Through Tamarack and Pine” for Robert deMaine, principal cellist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Zoltek describes the play as a contemplation of the power and energy of nature.
âThe beauty and power of nature that we have all around us here is expressed through the power and vibrancy of symphonic music,â he said. âMany great composers have been inspired by the beauty and strength of nature. “
While Flathead Valley Community College’s new McClaren Performance Hall and College Center is slated for completion next spring, Zoltek plans to celebrate the Symphony Orchestra’s 40th season next fall at a venue specifically designed for symphonic acoustics.
âOur move will be important not only for us but for the whole valley,â Zoltek said. âIt will be a vibrant center for performing culture, enhancing both the symphony experience and that of the audience. This will open up so many possibilities.
Zoltek is also planning to expand the symphony’s summer events, the Amadeus Festival and the Symphony Night at Rebecca Farm.
âThe symphony orchestra has become a part of our cultural milieu over the past 40 years,â said Zoltek. âAs the valley grew larger, residents came to expect a symphony and a symphony hall. It is a draw, a reflection of the wide range of quality of life offered by this community. The great art of symphonic music opens yet another door to a captivating experience.
Community Editor-in-Chief Carol Marino can be reached at 406-758-4440 or [email protected]
The Glacier Symphony begins its 39th season with music from the 19th to the 21st century. The first MasterWorks concert of the season with performances on October 30 and 31 is called “Ascension”.
The 21st century opening composition celebrates Maestro John Zoltek’s 25th birthday. The orchestra will perform his symphonic poem âProcessionalâ, one of the many pieces by Zoltek presented this season.
Russian-American violinist Yevgeny Kutik will join the Glacier Symphony Orchestra for a performance of a masterpiece for violin by 20th-century Russian composer Alexander Glazunov.
The 19th century offering on the program is Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No.2 in Major.
The performances will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 30; and 3 p.m. Sunday, October 31 at Kalispell at Flathead High School Performance Hall.
The Covid-19 directives in force will be respected.
Tickets and more information are available by calling the box office at 406-407-7000, or by visiting the website https://glaciersymphony.org/. Kindergarten to Grade 12 students can call the box office and receive selected free seats.