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."
Hapi's first release was See What I See, a full-length from his brother Dave Beegle. Since then, the Beegle brothers have released three more of Dave's CDs and sold about 15,000 copies total. Not bad for an indie upstart that began by fighting its way onto the shelves of local retailers and has since obtained national distribution through Denver-based USA One Stop and other outlets. The appeal of Hapi Skratch -- which has released more than sixty CDs for a roster of primarily local artists, including Crypto Star, A Band Called Horse, Dear Marsha and Blinddog Smokin' -- may lie in the fact that the label aims to provide help at all levels: Beegle and his staff are producers, studio coordinators and engineers who press CDs once they're recorded, and promote and distribute them once they're released.
And though the label is his bread and butter, Beegle ain't getting rich on the affair. Selling local product is an often difficult and slow process -- the average pressing is only 1,000 copies -- so there's little guarantee on investment. Beegle is currently working to add an e-commerce outlet to the company's Web site (www.hapiskratch.com) as one more venue for independent distributions and as a way to boost sales. Still, Beegle sounds almost like a wealthy philanthropist when discussing the label's most immediate plans. "We want to start getting involved in a lot more charity shows," he says. "We're doing one on April 20 at Herman's Hideaway [with Clockwork, MindGoFlip and Crypto Star], which is meant to generate money to educate kids about guns. It's the Columbine anniversary, but I don't want it to be about that. I want it to be about the problem of angry kids who want to shoot each other."
On a lighter note, Saturday's Hapi Skratch Anniversary party will feature Crypto Star, 12 Cents for Marvin, Blinddog Smokin' and Dave Beegle. Hapi anniversary, Mr. Beegle.
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The newsletter from Boulder boy Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles label contained a happy little nugget of local news: AT is planning to release the forthcoming full-length effort from Slim Cessna's Auto Club, a still-untitled work in progress that the band and producer Bob Ferbrache hope to finish up by mid-April. The tentacle blurb describes the Club -- which is still operating in a somewhat limited capacity after Slim took off for Rhode Island -- as "hillbilly country hee-haw greats...They even yodel. Lots of you will probably hate it. I think we love it."
Club guitarist John Rumley says the band is thrilled with the deal, although no papers have been officially inked. Biafra, he says, has been a longtime fan of the band ever since catching them in San Francisco three years ago. "Bob [Ferbrache] is good friends with him," Rumley says, "and every time he's in town, he'll come see us play if we have a gig. He's seen us four or five times." (Presumably, Biafra had better luck getting into Auto Club shows than he did a couple of years ago, when a bouncer at a sold-out LaDonnas show at the 15th Street Tavern, observing a fire code restriction, wouldn't allow the Dead Kennedy into the bar until Ross LaDonna recognized and rescued him.) Rumley says Biafra is also a big fan of Auto Club member Jay Munly's solo work. Perhaps a recording contract is also in the works for the lanky hillbilly revisionist? Guess we'll have to wait until the next newsletter.
And now for a bit of shameless self-promotion: Located just a few pages away from this one is the ballot for Westword's Music Showcase, a to-the-death faceoff between more than fifty of the area's most beloved performers. (Actually, its not really to the death. Aside from a few guitar-string-induced blisters every once in a while, there's little blood involved. I've just been watching a lot of wrestling lately.) Won't you be a good scenester and participate by voting for your favorite artist in each category? Or skip some, we don't care, we just want to know who you do like. Ballots can be filled in the old-fashioned way -- with ink, then mailed in -- or you can swing by www.westword.com/mas2000 on your way to your favorite bastion of digital debauchery.
Have praise, a beef or local music news to share with Backwash? E-mail Laura.Bond@westword.com.