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Crackerjack Classical

[whitespace] Claire Schneeberger
Idyll Hand: Conductor Claire Schneeberger.

Claire Schneeberger leads the Bay Shore Chamber Orchestra

By Michael J. Vaughn

'ART IS LIKE Crackerjacks; once you eat one, you've got to have more till the box is empty." Claire Schneeberger, 27-year-old conductor of Capitola's Bay Shore Chamber Orchestra, is paraphrasing a friend, but it's clear that the Crackerjack Theory of Musicmaking is her personal modus operandi--and that her musical appetite has made for some pleasant additions to Santa Cruz culture.

The Missouri native was brought to Santa Cruz in the summer of 1996 by a muse of a more personal nature: Joshua Salesin, an audio engineer she met while both of them were working for the Boston Symphony at the Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts. It didn't take the new transplant long to find the music in her adopted home; she soon had a gig doing preconcert lectures with the Santa Cruz Symphony.

In November of that year, she spotted an audition announcement for the Bay Shore Lyric Opera, a new company planning performances at a former film house on Capitola Beach. Schneeberger auditioned at cello but afterward sent musical director Tony Quartuccio a letter saying she would be "a great assistant conductor" and soon had herself another job. She added to her list later that year, when she worked as an assistant to conductor Marin Alsop at the Cabrillo Music Festival.

"As a conductor, you really have to make your own work," Schneeberger says. "Marin is a real good example. She wanted to conduct, she didn't have any place to conduct, so she started her own orchestra: the Concordia, in New York, which still performs. "That's the thing about being a conductor. You can't take your violin in your bedroom and practice by yourself, and there's only so much you can do in your head. You have to do your learning in public."

The Crackerjack box wasn't quite empty, however, so Schneeberger's next step was to talk Quartuccio and his opera players into a chamber orchestra. The idea was well received, primarily because Bay Shore wanted to keep its theater active during its off-season and the opera's instrumentalists needed the work. Thus the Bay Shore Chamber Orchestra was born. The group presented a concert last summer featuring American composers, won support from the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County and the Capitola Arts Commission, and this year scheduled two concerts (the first was May 29, featuring works by Mozart and Dvorak).

ASKED TO NAME a favorite child from this weekend's program, Schneeberger doesn't hesitate: Wagner's Siegfried Idyll. "This is the piece that he wrote on the first birthday of his son, Siegfried," Schneeberger explains. "The family always called it 'the stairway music,' because Wagner and his players practiced it at a tavern down the street, then played it that morning on the staircase until Siegfried and his mother woke up."

The program also includes Mozart's Concerto for Flute and Harp, which will feature flutist Teresa Orozco and the San Jose Symphony's principal harpist, Dan Levitan. Orozco describes the piece as a frequently performed yet sadly rare work in Mozart's canon.

"For supposedly not liking the flute," Orozco says, "[Mozart] sure does a great job of writing for that instrument--and for the harp, as well. There are some beautiful melodies in there. He didn't write much music for flute, so we like to take advantage of what there is."

Schneeberger hopes the chamber orchestra's schedule will expand, but she says the group must work around both the opera and symphony seasons.

As for conducting, Schneeberger's future looks brighter every day; the Bay Shore Lyric Opera has just booked her to conduct its fall performances of Cosi fan tutte (with Quartuccio remaining as an adviser). For a 27-year-old who looks even younger (after her Santa Cruz Symphony talks, patrons would say, "You look like you're in high school!"), she can anticipate a long career in a notoriously late-blooming profession.

"My friends from grad school would tell me that, in conducting, you're not really in your prime till you're 60, and you're not fully respected till you're 80," she says. "That's what I like about this career: it's got good longevity."

The Bay Shore Chamber Orchestra performs works by Telemann, Wagner and Mozart on Saturday (June 26) at 8pm at the Capitola Theater, 120 Monterey Ave., Capitola. Tickets are $10, children 13 and under free. (462-3131)

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From the June 23-30, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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