EPSO Director Steps in to Conduct UTEP Symphony
Last Updated on February 21, 2019 at 12:00 AM
Originally published February 21, 2019
By Daniel Perez
The acting conductor of the UTEP Symphony Orchestra has taught and performed music throughout the world, and the lesson he most wants to share with his students comes down to two words: respect and professionalism.
Boshuslav “Bo” Rattay, music director and conductor of the El Paso Symphony Orchestra (EPSO), happily agreed to take over the UTEP orchestra for the spring 2019 semester after its longtime conductor – and his friend – Lowell Graham, DMA, sustained a shoulder injury in December 2018 and needed time to recover.
Rattay, who has been with the EPSO since 2013, is an experienced instructor who has taught at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. The native of Prague, Czech Republic, discussed his new assignment after a recent 80-minute rehearsal with 18 members of the orchestra’s brass and winds sections.
The orchestra’s first performance under Rattay (pronounced RUH-tay) is at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, in the Fox Fine Arts Recital Hall. The musicians will perform music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Alexandra Pachmutova and Jean Sibelius. Future concerts this semester will include selections from Ludwig van Beethoven and Hector Berlioz, as well as the popular “Music in the Movies” concert in May.
“There’s a variety of stuff so (the students) can have fun,” said a relaxed Rattay who wore a dark pullover hoodie, light gray slacks and white tennis shoes with bright red laces. While he took the job to help a friend, he also did it because he thought it would be fun to work with students again after six years out of the classroom. “You have to keep it enjoyable for both sides, otherwise things start to go downhill.”
During the recent rehearsal, he moved along at an efficient pace. His conductor arm movements ranged from forceful to gentle. He alternated between standing and leaning on a stool.
Rattay often offered encouragement or instructions on how he wanted a certain part played. He used his voice to mimic the speed and strength of different notes. The students wrote the instructions on their sheet music. On a few occasions when he did not hear what he wanted, he would correct the musicians in general in a kind, paternal way. He followed every message with the magic words: “thank you.”
Although in an academic position, Rattay said he preferred to run his UTEP rehearsals the same as he conducts them with the EPSO, as well as the Midland Symphony Orchestra in Michigan, and the Lake Charles Symphony Orchestra in Louisiana where he also is conductor and musical director.
“Things don’t happen right away as they do with professionals, but the kids eventually get it,” Rattay said. “Yes, it can be more tedious, but the approach is the same as with professionals. It’s not my job to fix the notes. It’s their job to fix the notes. Hit the notes, make it (sound) more professional and move on.”
Steve Wilson, DMA, chair of the Department of Music, called Rattay’s work on campus an amazing opportunity for UTEP orchestra students.
“Maestro Rattay clearly inspires our students to work to achieve the highest standard possible and the results are sure to be astounding,” Wilson said. “I can't wait to hear their first concert and look forward to the ensemble's growth throughout the semester.”
Rattay, who started playing the bassoon at age 10, said his work with UTEP musicians brings him joy because he senses they are hungry to learn. He said he treats them with respect and as professionals because he wants them to become better people as well as better musicians.
Some students, such as Michelle Shaheen and Christopher Terrazas, who both hope to eventually teach at the collegiate level, said they have enjoyed experiencing Rattay’s different approach to conducting.
Shaheen, a second-year graduate student who plays the French horn, and Terrazas, a senior music education major who plays trombone, said Rattay has offered an alternative perspective on musical stylings and collaborations that they will draw on as they continue along their academic and professional paths.
Brad Genevro, DMA, director of UTEP bands, said students he has spoken with are excited to learn from Rattay, who provides a real-world perspective based on his years working with professional musicians around the world.
“Bo has instant credibility,” Genevro said.Music department officials said Graham should be ready to resume his leadership of the UTEP orchestra for the fall 2019 semester.