Conductor Michael Christie has amassed an impressive resume since he received an “outstanding potential” prize at the First International Sibelius Conductor’s Competition in Helsinki at the age of 21.
Now 43, Christie is at the top of his game, having forged an international career in Europe, the U.S. and Australia while proving himself a musical adventurer through his innovative programming with the Minnesota Opera, where he has served as Music Director since 2012.
Last July, for example, he conducted the premiere of “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs” at the Santa Fe Opera, a project that drew upon talent from the Minnesota Opera. According to the MinnPost, Christie “presided in the pit ... giving careful guidance to the pulsating yet delicate electro-acoustic score by the 40-year-old Mason Bates.”
Stints at symphonies such as the Queensland Orchestra (2001-2004), Phoenix Symphony (2005-2013) and the Brooklyn Philharmonic (2005-2010) round out the career of this former wunderkind, not to mention his 13-year tenure as music director the Colorado Music Festival in Boulder and guest conducting gigs all over the world.
Christie — the fifth and final music conductor candidate to try out with the Santa Rosa Symphony this season as a successor to Bruno Ferrandis — will lead the orchestra this Saturday, Feb. 10, through Monday Feb. 12 in a colorful program of Bernstein, Prokofiev and Dvorak at the Green Music Center. He also conducted the orchestra in January 2015, when he arranged for fiddler Mark O’Connor to perform with his wife in the first half of the program before tackling his own Fiddle Concerto after intermission. The concert ended on a colorful note with Copland’s “El Sálon México”
“I’m not afraid to look at how the menu of the concert is set up,” Christie said in a phone interview in September. “I really felt like, ‘Let’s wrap it up with something quick, splashy and fun for the orchestra.’”
A former trumpet player, Christie is known for his clear conducting of even the most challenging scores and for his strong rapport with musicians.
“Having played in lots of orchestras gives me a good idea of what the orchestra musicians are experiencing, especially those who are far away from the podium, ” Christie said. “Unlike a keyboard player, I have a pretty good sense of the canon ... and I’ve tried to implement successful rehearsals.”
Christie likes to make small tweaks to traditional program formats in an effort to create a better experience for audiences. He likes to provide variety in programming and to balance the expectations of every audience member in the hall, a challenge he finds as rigorous as it is rewarding.
“When you have about 1,500 people in a space, everybody comes there wanting their own experience,” he said. “Some people just want music. Some people want to know what’s going on. Trying to find a balance is really fascinating for me.”
Here is an edited version of our interview with Christie, who lives in Minneapolis with his wife Alexis, a pulmonary critical care doctor; daughter, Sinclair, 9, and son Beckett, 3.
What will the symphony musicians enjoy about working with you?
I’m very much about making the experience of the concert fun and entertaining, and having an open mind about what people should experience. I’d like to think that I would be able to give the musicians a broad view of the repertory, and hopefully, get them as engaged as possible with the audience there, who really struck me. They’re magnificent. I really felt like the audience was very actively engaged in what was happening, and I felt like they had great pride in the orchestra.
Get To Know Michael Christie
Age: 43. Born June 30, 1974
Home base: Minneapolis
Status: Married with two young children
Current position: Music Director of the Minnesota Opera
Performance dates: 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10; 3 p.m. Feb. 11; 8 p.m. Feb. 12. Christie will give a pre-concert interview one hour before each performance. To view a video of the conductor, go to srsymphony.org
Where: Weill Hall, Green Music Center, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park
Tickets: From $29
Reservations: 707-546-8742 or online at srsymphony.org