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Canadian conductor arrives at "cradle of classical music"

"Europe is the cradle of classical music. If you've been there, it's like a stamp into your passport - you've been where it's done best," said Miloš Jurkovič, musical director of the state-run Slovak Radio.
Canadian Charles Olivieri-Munroe owns such a passport. At age 31 he has already served as head conductor at two orchestras in the Czech Republic. Born outside the continent, he knows the value of those positions.
"It's difficult for young conductors in my country to get a job. Orchestras prefer renowned European conductors. Toronto has a Finnish one, Montreal a Swiss one and Vancouver an English one. They never employed a Canadian one," he said.


North American conductors look to Europe to begin their careers.
photo: Courtesy Charles Olivieri-Munroe

"Europe is the cradle of classical music. If you've been there, it's like a stamp into your passport - you've been where it's done best," said Miloš Jurkovič, musical director of the state-run Slovak Radio.

Canadian Charles Olivieri-Munroe owns such a passport. At age 31 he has already served as head conductor at two orchestras in the Czech Republic. Born outside the continent, he knows the value of those positions.

"It's difficult for young conductors in my country to get a job. Orchestras prefer renowned European conductors. Toronto has a Finnish one, Montreal a Swiss one and Vancouver an English one. They never employed a Canadian one," he said.

"For that reason, [in Canada] if you are serious about your career, you have to leave the safety of your home and go where tradition is richly embedded. Only then might you get the opportunity to conduct in your own country."

Olivieri-Munroe has received his latest European stamp as the new director of the Slovak Radio Symphonic Orchestra (SOSR), where he started last month. Both laid back and energetic, he enters one of the most demanding music jobs in the country: the 100-strong SOSR, along with the Slovak Philharmonic, is considered the apex of Slovak classical performance.

Founded in 1929, the SOSR performs roughly 15 concerts annualy from September to June in Slovakia and 10 to 12 abroad. In the past, guest-conducted by Englishman Kirk Trevor and accompanied by singers Ray Charles and Lisa Minelli, it has brought Slovak music to audiences in Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and Malta.


Olivieri-Munroe will conduct five concerts this year with the SOSR.
photo: TASR

Olivieri-Munroe takes the baton following the unexpected death of Slovak Róbert Stankovský last year. Having already conducted his first performance October 18, he says Slovak music fans will hear substantial changes during his two-year tenure at SOSR.

"I'm going to bring my own tastes to the job," he said. "I like romantic composers, post-romantic, modern. I'm looking to perform Mahler, Strauss, more French composers."

Musical director Jurkovič was impressed by Olivieri-Munroe during his appearance with the SOSR last June. Jurkovič describes him as professionally demanding and musically mature for his young age.

"Olivieri-Munroe was the best candidate to fill the vacant post," said Jurkovič. "We are very happy with him. He has the positive characteristic of knowing how to squeeze musicians, but in an elegant way."

The SOSR post requires nine weeks of rehearsal with the orchestra spread between October and June, leaving Olivieri-Munroe plenty of time to hunt down interesting scores and keep his director's post at the North Czech Philharmonic in Teplice, where he conducts eight concerts per season.

This year he will also guest conduct orchestras in Japan, Canada, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.

Leaving home pays off

Olivieri-Munroe began his musical education at age 18 at the University of Toronto, where he studied piano.

Four years later, determined to pursue a career in conducting, and mindful of the problems young conductors faced at home, he enrolled at the Janáček Music Academy in Brno, the Czech Republic's second largest city.

The school was working on a shoestring budget but was attractive to foreigners because it was nearly free.

Today, Olivieri-Munroe laughs at the shock of studying in an educational system without computers.

"I was forced to write letters by hand for the first time in my life," he said.

At his graduation concert in 1994, he caught the eye of the Brno Philharmonic, which offered him a job as their second conductor. He took over as chief-conductor in 1995, remaining there until 1997, when he won the baton at the North Czech Philharmonic.

With the North Czech Philharmonic he won several conducting competitions, including first prize at last year's prestigous Pražská jar (Prague Spring) music festival.

And now his work has landed him at the helm of one of Slovakia's top orchestras.

"It's a very flexible orchestra and it reacts well to my demands," he said. "With them I feel I can realise the sounds in my head."

Having come so far so quickly, Olivieri-Munroe has seen his sacrifice of leaving home paid off. Canadian orchestras, he says, would never have given someone so young and inexperienced the opportunity to conduct.

"But then again, how does a young conductor get experience without working with an orchestra? It's a Catch 22," he says.

To Jurkovič it's no wonder that Canada does not want conductors who have spent their whole lives in North America.

"Non-Europeans come here and are paid money no one would ever work for back home," he said. "But they know that when they go back, they will have a feel and sense for music that results in great performances."

SOSR concerts conducted by Charles Olivieri-Munroe

December 13, 2001
Christmas concert
January 10, 2002
Homage to Róbert Stankovský
April 11, 2002
Italian Inspiration
June 6, 2002
Summer concert

All concerts begin
at 19:30 at the Slovak Radio Concert Hall, Mýtna 1.
For ticket information,
call02/5727-3479 (80).
www.slovakradio.sk/sosr

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