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Backwash

This young whippersnapper is wise beyond his years.

Michael Christie is not unlike many of the musicians in Denver. In his free time -- a commodity severely limited by repeat trips to places like Zurich and Sydney -- he and his buddies get together and, ya know, jam a little. The difference, perhaps, is that Christie prefers a style many local players wouldn't even know how to listen to, let alone play.

"I've recently taken up some baroque instruments, particularly the cornetto," he says on the phone from his home on Long Island. "My friends and I play together when we can. There's a big interest in music of the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth centuries here. My friends are really big chocolate fans, so I'll bring a bar or two over from Switzerland and we'll just play and have a good time."

Ah yes: a little chocolate, cornetto and chamber music. What better way to unwind from the demands of a day job -- in Christie's case, conducting orchestras all around the world. Christie has led symphonic orchestras in Australia, South Africa and Lithuania, among others slightly less exotic, including the Buffalo Philharmonic and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. And while many of the heathen masses -- of which I am, admittedly, a part -- associate orchestra leaders with geriatric, Mr. Burns-looking men in tuxes, arms and white hair flailing about at the helm of the orchestra pit, Christie is among a handful of internationally recognized composers who are just old enough to rent a car at the airport. Now a stately 25, he's been performing professionally since 1995, when a panel of classical celebs bestowed an "Outstanding Potential" award on him at a conducting contest in Helsinki, Finland.

So while the commercial-music market is presently overrun by perky pop tarts with barely legal boobies and boy bands trying to stave off the career-killing aging process, Christie is proving with each wave of his baton that a young man can survive one of the oldest gigs in the music business.

"I feel very lucky to be the age that I am and to be working professionally," he says with the good diction and manners of a person you might expect to see in a Jeopardy championship. "There is always the question of what the contact between me and the orchestra will be like. Occasionally there's a look of skepticism on people's faces when I first walk up, but eventually everyone seems to realize that we're all up there to do the best that we can in a professional manner, and most of my experiences have been positive. I actually really enjoy seeing the surprised looks in the audience, because I think that because of my age, people feel a little bit more relaxed and comfortable about approaching and talking to me. I try to take advantage of that freeness, because it is somewhat unusual for people to feel that way about a conductor."

Local audiences will soon have the opportunity to greet Christie with surprised looks on their faces. In November, Christie was named as one of four candidates for a position as music director for the Colorado Music Festival when longtime orchestra conductor Giora Bernstein steps down in August. As part of the selection process, Christie and the other three in the running will take turns guest conducting during the monthlong festival, which takes place at Boulder's Chautauqua Auditorium from early July to early August. Christie's slot comes July 30 and lasts through August 4, though he plans to attend most of the festival in an effort to start getting to know the tastes and inclinations of the local classical set.

Prior to that, though, he and pianist Pascal Roge will join the Colorado Symphony Orchestra -- Denver's self-governing ensemble formed in 1989 after the Denver Symphony went belly-up -- for three performances at Boettcher Concert Hall, April 7-9. He'll lead the orchestra's 79 players through piano works by French composers Fauré and Ravel, as well as Adam's Slonimsky's Earbox and Respighi's The Pines of Rome.

Audience members can expect Christie to flail about and whip his baton around like the most seasoned conductor out there. But, he adds, his musical interests are not limited to dead composers with accents over their names. "I like hip-hop," he says. "I have a large collection of things from Boston and Chicago to Pink Floyd and Alanis Morissette." Considering this, Christie might be the sole person in America to whom Metallica's recent pairing with the San Francisco Orchestra might actually be appealing.


Morris Beegle of Fort Collins-based Hapi Skratch Records has the somewhat rare distinction of being the proprietor of a local label that has managed to stay aloft for more than a couple of years -- five, to be exact, as Hapi Skratch celebrates its fifth anniversary with a show at the Aggie Theater on Saturday, April 8. Though not a musician himself, Beegle learned music-marketing, production and distribution skills while in school in Georgia years ago. Beegle started the label in 1995 after quitting a fairly cushy job with Handleman distribution company, an outfit that supplied mass merchants like Kmart and Sears with music and video product. "I got tired of doing the middle-management thing for billion-dollar corporations," says Beegle, a native of Loveland, "and I wanted to do something to help out the local scene. So I moved back to Fort Collins and started my own production company."

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