Stephen Czarkowski has thought a lot about what it means to be a conductor. He’s been thinking about it ever since he was a boy.
When guests from larger orchestras visit, they invariably comment on the beauty and energy they hear at Apollo concerts. The musicians’ extreme love of music is evident in every note they play. How does Maestro Czarkowski pull such powerful performances from these young men and women–mostly recent graduates of conservatories and music schools?
“It’s very challenging. There is a trust factor between us. We are trying to create music at one of the highest levels. Only so much is under the conductor’s control,” Stephen explained. He said he doesn’t make the music; he helps with the music. “Musicians make your sound,” Stephen said. “These are good people that I knew could rise to the occasion with limited rehearsals. I feed them the energy. The trust factor means that we know everything will work by the concert.
“It’s not just a gig for them; it’s something more,” Stephen continued. “They want to be here. They want to make music. Here, they are allowed to express what they want to do.”
At age 12, Stephen’s father brought him to a Leonard Bernstein concert. It was a turning point for him.
“I couldn’t speak for two days. I felt as if he were talking to me.”
By 16 he conducted a youth orchestra in Carnegie Hall. By 2003 he was one of four selected to be in Leonard Slatkin’s National Conductor’s Institute and was given the opportunity to lead the National Symphony Orchestra.
“I believe that these are some of DC’s finest musicians.” Conducting the Apollo Orchestra “is one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve ever had.”
He tries to earn the orchestra’s respect by “being genuine” and trying to be the best person he can be. It’s obvious the respect is mutual. The musicians admire and appreciate him.
The orchestra’s greatest strength? He sees it when they play the German composers–Brahms, Beethoven, Mahler.
The musicians “aren’t scared to play pieces intended for much bigger ensembles,” he said. He was “truly impressed” when they played Mahler’s Symphony No.4; it’s usually played with twice as many people. The musicians weren’t worried.
“For many of these players it’s the first time they’ve played these major works,” Stephen explained. This is what they studied, and now they have the responsibility to share their love of these works with an audience.
Stephen’s vision: first, of course, he’d like to see all of his musicians gainfully employed in major orchestras where they belong.
“I know what it’s like to graduate with a master’s degree and no job,” he said.
In an area where he has more control, he said he’d like to give the audience and the players the widest variety of music possible–”eclectic programing.” And he wants to provide the audience with “the best players possible.
“I want the audience fully engaged” as they were “when Allison Buchanan sang her beautiful songs. There was a feeling of awe amongst the players and the audience. I’m here to serve the music and the musicians. I want the best for the music,” Stephen said.
On his way to the Apollo he has guest conducted with the Honolulu and Virginia symphony orchestras, the Friday Morning Music Club and Berlin Airlift orchestras, and worked with the Danish Academy of Music and the Richmond Symphony. Currently he also conducts the Landon Symphonette, the University of Virginia Charlottesville Symphony Orchestra, and is assistant conductor of Opera Camerata.
Stephen received his Graduate Artist Diploma in Orchestra Conducting from Catholic University, his master of music in cello and conducting and his bachelor of music degrees from Mannes College, The New School for Music. Teachers include Barbara Stein Mallow, cello, and David Hayes and Samuel Wong, conducting. Stephen considers his teacher Carter Brey, principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic, his true mentor. Brey follows Stephen’s progress and work to this day.
Maestro Czarkowski is sitting for a third term on the Conductor’s Guild Board of Directors.
For more information please visit www.stephenczarkowski.com