Max Bragado-Darman

By Scott MacClelland

THE MONTEREY SYMPHONY music director since 2004, he will step aside at the end of the 2019-20 season, and “officially retire” to his “humble abode” outside of Valladolid, the “de facto” capitol of autonomous Castile y León, northwest of Madrid. “It’s where I have my library and my instruments. It’s tranquil, where I can study and play the piano.” Bragado’s abode will become his headquarters, but as for life after his tenure in Monterey is over, “everything’s up in the air.” But, he adds, “If anyone wants me I’m there. I am open. I am still digesting our decision.” His countless fans are hopeful. “Conducting is my love,” he says.

On the phone last week we chatted at length, starting with memories of the great opera soprano Montserrat Caballé, who died just before Bragado returned to Monterey. (He expressed dismay that Spanish television kept showing videos of her singing with Freddie Mercury instead of scenes from her legendary operatic career.) “My admiration for her was total.” He recalls Miguel Zanetti, a “splendid” pianist, “a friend from a young age,” for whom he turned pages and who was Caballé’s accompanist in the Rubens gallery at the Prado in Madrid, when he met her. He also remembers when he and his wife Mary heard Caballé in Il trovatore at the Metropolitan Opera and the 45 minute ovation she received at the end of the performance. “The sets were down, the stage was empty. Her control—her pianissimo was not to be believed.”

Bragado is opening the Symphony season with a premiere, Alex Berko’s Among Waves, a joint commission with the Big Sur Land Trust. “Alex is a young composer whom I met in Cleveland when he was finishing high school and going to college. He sent me scores,” Bragado remembers. “The way that he wrote, the musical syntax—it was novel, something new, very ‘today’ and even ‘tomorrow.’” The theme of the new season is the sea (hence “Sound Waves”) which, starting with John Wineglass’ Big Sur: The Night Sun during the 2016-17 season, Bragado hopes will continue a legacy of new commissions. 

“At the Monterey Symphony, we work years in advance,” Bragado explained. “I propose to the Music Committee a theme reflected in one piece on each program.” He also proposes four or five alternative composers. “Alex was 18 or 19 when I met him. I think he’s getting his bachelor’s degree in December.”  

“The Monterey Symphony is one of the most unique orchestras,” Bragado declares. This reflects his own influence over the last 15 years. “I like to make sure that all the parties involved have in front of them in advance what they need to ‘sell’ the product.” By contrast, in Europe, he explains, orchestras are state-subsidized, make last-minute decisions often politically motivated and often become pawns in settling old scores. “Philanthropy, by contrast, is where all contributing constituents want the institution to thrive. That way the least one can do is participate in the institution’s future,” he says. As it applies to the Monterey Symphony, he adds, “I say this with great pride.”

Going back to ‘up in the air,’ he says “If I could play chamber music I would love it. The piano is still my instrument. My piano teacher at university, György Sándor, described me perfectly: ‘Conducting is your love and piano is your mistress.’” 

Mariam Adam

CLARINETIST MARIAM ADAM’s effervescent personality and insatiable curiosity make for an infectious brew. She offers no hint of regrets, or loss, though like anyone else she has certainly experienced the latter. The Monterey native, who now divides her time between Paris and California, leads an international musical career. At a youthful 42 years of age, she has conquered all opportunities to perform—in symphony orchestras, summer festivals, chamber music ensembles, jazz ensembles, and has collaborated with such luminaries as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, pianists Gilbert Kalish and Anne-Marie McDermott, and jazzmen Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea and Pacquito D’Rivera.

Among many others venues, she has performed at Carnegie Hall, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Kennedy Center, San Francisco Performances, Wigmore Hall, Beijing Performing Arts Center, and at numerous classical and jazz festivals in France and Germany.

A founding and former member of the Grammy-nominated woodwind quintet, Imani Winds, she maintained an active international touring schedule for more than 15 years (including Carmel’s Sunset Center). Imani’s albums have won numerous awards and continue to influence wind chamber music through their commissions and original compositions.

Adam has been invited for solo recitals, chamber music concerts and masterclasses throughout Western Europe and the Americas, both North and South. She has performed and toured with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Chineke! Orchestra (see the NY Times article link on our Weekly Magazine, July 10, 2018). As a soloist, she has played with the Orchestre de Pau (France), Singapore National Youth Orchestra, Prince George’s Philharmonic (Maryland) and the Appassionato Ensemble (France).

She has recorded 13 albums, including the new AdZel duo with Stephanie Zelnick (scroll down to our Weekly Magazine of July 3, 2018) that includes music by an early 19th century clarinetist, Henrik Crusell, and contemporary pieces by Jason Barabba, Anne Guzzo and Mohammed Fairouz, the latter three composed for the AdZel duo.

The previously released and enchanting Havana Moon, was described by reviewer James Manheim this way, “The Havana Moon title and the presence of Cuban reedman Paquito D’Rivera at the beginning of the program might give the impression that this is a collection of Cuban crossover music; in fact, the program is pan-Latin; composer Miguel del Áquila is Uruquayan,  Heitor Villa-Lobos is Brazilian, and JP Jofre is an Argentinian bandoneón player and composer. The music is for the small Transatlantic Ensemble headed by German pianist Evelyn Ulex.” Ulex is a Steinway & Sons artist.

The music bug bit Adam as a youngster. “Since pre-school I was always exposed to theater, symphony, pantomimes, chefs, motivational speakers, professional athletes, baroque musicians and a plethora of people who visited the schools to expose us to the arts and beyond.” In those early years, she had a powerful reaction to the cat in Peter and the Wolf, the clarinet part. She attended summer classical music and jazz camps—“drums for jazz, clarinet for classical”—in the late 1980s, when they were held on the campus of Stevenson School in Pebble Beach. This was only reinforced from visits to her Monterey public schools by musicians sent there on behalf of the Monterey Jazz Festival’s education programs. (It and the summer camps were championed—demanded is the word most of us who knew her would choose—by the late music education warrior, Ruth Phillips Fenton of Carmel, also the Founder of Youth Music Monterey.)   

Adam joined YMM’s Youth Orchestra in 1989 and remained with the program through its senior level Honors Orchestra until 1993. She studied locally with the late Rosario Mazzeo, retired from the Boston Symphony and a legend among the greater community of clarinetists. “I even took classes at the Naval Postgraduate School in meteorology, and Arabic at the DLI.” (Her father was Egyptian, her mother is Mexican.) In New York she continued her studies at the Manhattan School of Music.

When she hears international musicians referring to ‘provincial’ Monterey, she corrects them instantly, “Monterey is a most diverse city in culture, nature, events and people. Even with all my travels I’m always impressed when I come home to see such an international mix and so many festivals and events happening at one time, and that’s just in Monterey, Pacific Grove and Carmel.” She adds, “‘What you don’t know, you don’t miss’ has always been my belief; and there’s not a lot I’m missing since I was exposed to so much here growing up.”

Adam speaks of music passionately and advises aspiring young musicians to take advantage of available resources. “You can learn an instrument by yourself just by YouTube, imitating what you hear. Soon those voices become your own.” She proposes that those who earn a living in other fields can still keep the culture of music alive and well and important in their lives. “You can become a local legend, a musical magnet in your own community.”  

“Orchestra is not my first passion,” she declares. Through her strong affiliation with Chineke! she devotes more time to Chineke! chamber music, “where players are one on one with no conductor.” At Chineke! she performed with Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the teenaged cellist who performed at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. “I was amazed at the maturity of this kid. In fact his whole family has been impressing me from day one. In Europe families in music produce families of music.”  

Adam and Romain Blondel of Solea Management, representing international concert artists, became the parents of a son two years ago. “Day care in France is a great help.” She recently conducted a masterclass ‘informance’ at the Paris Conservatoire on Latin American music. “They don’t do a lot of Latin music in France. It’s just lack of exposure.” Her always-searching curiosity sniffs out new music carefully. Recently, she’s been mulling a short festival of new chamber music in Monterey.