Music News & Reviews

A classical weekend in SLO

Scott Yoo is Festival Mozaic’s conductor and music director.
Scott Yoo is Festival Mozaic’s conductor and music director. TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO

Talk about flying by the seat of your pants.

Bettina Swigger officially began her job as executive director of Festival Mozaic less than two weeks before the classical music fest’s first big event of the year — this weekend’s WinterMezzo.

“I have a lot to learn really quickly,” Swigger said.

While Swigger will have to cram on WinterMezzo before this weekend’s shows, the event will give her a quick firsthand account of what her new employer does.

“It’s exciting for me because I haven’t been able to see the festival,” she said.

Swigger replaced Curtis Pendleton, who held the position for 10 years before family considerations prompted her to move to Canada. A native of Albuquerque, Swigger is a musician herself, having started playing the viola at age 5.

“My grandfather bought me music lessons as a birthday gift,” said Swigger, who also plays electric bass.

She studied classical music through her comparative literature studies at Colorado College, where she began her career and first met Festival Mozaic conductor Scott Yoo. Swigger, who was the manager of the Colorado College Summer Music Festival, met Yoo when he conducted a student orchestra there. Even then, she was impressed with Yoo’s talents.

“He just has this ability to bring things out of people that they didn’t even know they could do,” she said. “And he’s really engaging. He talks about music in a way that isn’t pedantic. He’s funny. He just has this passion that is really hard to replicate and which I haven’t seen in a lot of other conductors.”

After her stint at Colorado College, Swigger became the executive director of the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region — an arts advocacy organization similar to Arts Obispo — in Colorado Springs. She was still performing that job when the Festival Mozaic position opened up and Yoo suggested she apply.

While Swigger has lived in tourist destinations—and visited places such as Spain, Brazil, and the Caribbean — she was immediately impressed when she saw San Luis Obispo for the first time.

“I was brought to tears by how beautiful it was,” she said. “Which makes me sound like such a total geek. But I almost drove off the road.”

While focused on her new job, she hopes to find some opportunities to play music. And she’s already scoped out places for music consumption.

“Before I moved here I made sure to check out Boo Boo

Records while I was in town,” she said.

But for now she’s heavily focused on WinterMezzo, which features a slew of guest musicians and a program of duets and trio sonatas from the baroque to the modern era. The weekend will also feature two rare violins — the “Leonora Jackson” Stradivarius and an even rarer Guarnarius del Gesu. The violins, estimated to be worth around $9 million altogether, will be used in performances.

“A violin that goes unplayed doesn’t sound as good,” Swigger said. “So people who collect these kinds of instruments are art patrons, and they lend them to musicians.”

Prior to the festival’s main concert on Sunday, there will be two notable encounters, where the musicians will perform and discuss the works, which include pieces by Bach, Sergei Prokofiev and Pablo Sarasate.

“That to me is where this festival is different from a lot of the other festivals,” Swigger said. “Where you have that intimate understanding of the work before the big concert.”

She expects Yoo’s talks to be especially insightful.

“He always talks about music in relation to, like, baseball or wine or things you can understand without years and years of classical training,” she said. “For some reason there’s this idea that classical music is for people who already know a lot about classical music, which is totally not true.”

Reach Patrick S. Pemberton at 781-7903.