Moving Maestro: Joseph Olefirowicz

Acclaimed conductor Joseph R. Olefirowicz

"The Dancing Conductor": Google it if you haven't already seen why Joseph Olefirowicz is suddenly being recognized on streets outside his hometown of Nashua. The YouTube video of him "dancing" during a lull in the Leonard Bernstein opera "Candide" at the Vienna Volksoper (shot by an infrared camera used for lighting cues) was so delightfully quirky that the stage manager posted it online without his knowledge, just for fun. It quickly shot up to over 210,000 views and shows no sign of slowing down. And if you want to see more of him in a slightly more formal setting, Olefirowicz will be debuting as guest conductor for the Springfield Symphony Orchestra for their December 2012 Holiday Pops Spectacular and he returns to the Vienna Volksoper in January 2013 to revive the house's successful production of "Candide." Or else you could just visit The First Church (UCC) in Nashua any Sunday after Labor Day where he is the minister of music, directing the choral program.

You sing, direct musical theatre, conduct opera, you've worked in TV, play the organ and direct the choir at a church. Do many conductors have such eclectic careers?
Well, the podium is mainly what I've done since leaving college, but my career is certainly unique. I should note my role at the church is a full-on, full-time head position for one of the largest music programs in the state. The size and scope of the program is what drew me to Nashua.

I hear a lot about diminishing (or aging) audiences for opera and symphony. Did you fear for the future of symphonic music in America?
Very much so. I recently was attending a Boston Baroque concert and I was easily the only person under 45 in the pre-concert talk. A lot has to do with the paradigm shift in education, putting music studies on the fringe rather than as an integral part of a quality education. Music tends to unify us, but if we don't reach the next generation with those skills, we'll lose something.

What attracted you to Bernstein's "Candide"?
It is probably the dream overture of any young conductor. It was on my final exam at Ithaca College. Because of the difficulty of staging the piece it is so rarely done. It's a jewel in the crown to count it among the repertory of any conductor.

Was the version that was filmed typical for you or are you usually better behaved during the lulls in the score?
It is the only four minutes of the piece that is in the same time signature and tempo. That snippet of energy illustrates my complete trust in the orchestral ensemble to do their work, to allow them to just play and let me phrase some things for them. It's also a measure of the joy of 130 musicians absolutely having a grand time playing Bernstein.

Your YouTube debut was a surprise to you. Do you think it might work in your favor?
It already has. My American symphonic debut with the Springfield Symphony is technically a result of it. I got a call from their principal conductor who had just seen it. And the Bernstein Foundation has posted it on their Facebook page.

Categories: Q&A