The maestro 

Darko Butorac is making classical music cool again

Page 4 of 4

Perhaps the most effective, wide-reaching attempt at getting new listeners has been the symphony's free concert at Caras Park, which was started in 2005 by MSO, and garners 5,000 to 6,000 attendees each summer. Initially, the concert played classical greats. Butorac has taken the idea and made it a little wilder. Performances have movie themes and other popular music that people recognize. This year's concert is scheduled for Sun., Aug., 11, at 7 p.m., and, in addition to classics, includes "Night on Bald Mountain" from Fantasia and music from Saturday Night Fever.

"I think Symphony in the Park is my favorite concert," Butorac says. "Everybody comes out and everybody knows about it. I feel like a rock star with so many people there. And they get to share in the music, the humanity of it. The audience that comes to the park doesn't always come to the regular concerts."

Driscoll says the symphony has gone out of its way to be goofy for the last several years in an effort to bring in new audiences. But now that the community has gotten a taste for how accessible MSO can be, the organization wants to start introducing the classics again, but in a new light. You like John Williams' Indiana Jones theme? Perhaps you'll like Bela Bartok.

click to enlarge As a child in the former Yugoslavia, Butorac, pictured here at age 4 with his grandfather, learned to appreciate classical records along with his parents’ Beatles albums. - PHOTO COURTESY OF DARKO BUTORAC
  • photo courtesy of Darko Butorac
  • As a child in the former Yugoslavia, Butorac, pictured here at age 4 with his grandfather, learned to appreciate classical records along with his parents’ Beatles albums.

"Our marketing campaign has been offbeat for years," Driscoll says. "We've gone a little more traditional this year, but we can. We've broken through that stuffiness barrier. Now we can go back to the idea that this is great music."

For some people, Butorac says, that transition from stuffiness to simply great music is still hard to make if it means walking into a concert hall where the musicians wear tuxes and the question of when to clap is still shrouded in mystery.

"All of a sudden you take the atmosphere from sitting in a field having a picnic, having wine, to sitting in a seat in a concert hall next to people you don't know," he says. "And people become afraid. That's the fear I try to break down."


•••

Butorac is candid about the problems that classical music culture has created for itself. The conservative dress of a symphony isn't going to entice a punk rock crowd to sit down for a listen. And image has become part of how we identify with music. For instance, he says, if you take the Ramones, dress them in tuxes and put them in Carnegie Hall, it's going to be weird, even if they play the same music they always do.

"So imagine if the orchestra was painted in Kiss makeup standing on a stage with crazy lights and fog machines," he says. "It would be ridiculous. People would laugh at it the same way you would laugh at the Ramones. It wouldn't be honest. So let's just talk about the music."

As Butorac works to make classical music more accessible to the average person, he is emerging among the conducting ranks. He recently took on the position of music director for the Tallahassee Symphony. His announcement on Facebook brought a flurry of concern and sadness that he might be leaving Missoula. But Butorac quickly corrected the comments: He wasn't leaving Missoula, he'd be doing both jobs.

During the summer, when MSO isn't performing, he travels through Europe as a guest conductor. This is where he gets to see a wide range of audiences and how they react to symphonic music. He recently had a performance in Faenza, Italy, of the opera La Traviata. The city had been hit by an earthquake and the theater was closed, but they managed to fit the production inside a community center. About 500 people showed up, mostly elderly men and women who play cards and chess at the center.

click to enlarge Outside of the symphony’s concert hall, Butorac strives to make classical music more accessible by recording a podcast and hosting pre-concert talks with audience members. - CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Cathrine L. Walters
  • Outside of the symphony’s concert hall, Butorac strives to make classical music more accessible by recording a podcast and hosting pre-concert talks with audience members.

"It was their music and they knew every word, knew what was going to happen," he says. "They were singing along, they were crying along, crying in the middle of it! They cheered after the arias. The energy was unbelievable."

In Serbia, his former homeland, he played in a 15th century fortress to an audience that had not had a classical music concert in 40 years. Butorac had scheduled three encores for the show. After the third one, they brought the orchestra off the stage. But the audience kept clapping.

"So we brought the orchestra back on stage and played four more encores," he says, smiling. "Seven encores in a concert! That was amazing. You live for those moments."

Being in Serbia reminded him of the person he was before the fall of Yugoslavia and the person he became as a conductor, when he fell in love with classical music.

"I come from a place that is very old fashioned in its attitudes," he says. "For example we're deathly afraid of the draft—of moving air. If I sit in a doorway and there's cold air moving, I will catch pneumonia and die within days. This is a national fear. There is a certain rigidness. And so it's so beautiful to live in America where you can do anything."

Deciding not to be afraid of change is what has helped Butorac let go of his former country and embrace another. He brings that boldness to his conducting style and his life, and he's searching for just the right way to get other people to do the same.

"One must have the courage to say, 'What's the worst that could happen?'" he says. "You might go and hear a piece you've never heard before and you might hate it. That's the worst thing. What's the best thing that could happen? You could go and discover a whole new art form you never knew existed—a magic you never knew existed—and be moved by it. And that's what's more likely to happen."

Listen up: Darko Butorac has put together classical playlists for the big and small moments of your life. Listen to them right now at the Indy's arts forum, Green Room.

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