Monthly Blog


  • JANUARY 2008

    Happy New Year!

    2007 has ended on a mostly upbeat note. In some years, December is a more quiet time for symphonic conductors. What with Holiday Pops, Messiahs, and other concerts devoted to this time of year, there is not much place for a lot of the traditional or adventurous symphonic fare.

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  • FEBRUARY 2008

    The New Year has gotten off to a quick start, hampered by a severe cold.

    Beethoven 9’s in Milan were great fun, a term one does not usually associate with this piece. But it seemed appropriate for the audience, which was looking for this high level of entertainment to bring in the festivities. Our tenor fell ill suddenly with just one performance under our belt, so we had to find another quickly. Being in Milan, you would have thought all they had to do was go across town to La Scala and get someone. But the answer seemed to lie in Germany, were a fine substitute filled in.

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  • MARCH 2008

    On the road again. The shortest month of the year can seem the longest when travel is involved.

    The NSO went to NY, and I did my final concert in Carnegie Hall as the orchestra’s music director. There is still something special about walking into the same place where almost every great musician has performed. You sense the history, as well as the ghosts. All went well, with some very elegant playing by the group. The day prior to that trip, I was in Detroit, announcing the 08-09 season to the press.

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  • APRIL 2008

    Life on the road is tough. A different orchestra each week, travel difficulties, strange accommodations. But when it goes well, all the travails get put behind.

    March started off in Milan, where I have conducted four times over the past year or so. Having gotten through the three-week stint in Germany, a change of language seemed in order. No, I do not really speak either German or Italian particularly well, but enough to get through rehearsals and to order properly in the restaurants. Almost all the cities and orchestras that I conduct have plenty of English speaking citizens and musicians. But it is nice to be able to communicate in the tongue of the country I am visiting.

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  • MID-APRIL 2008

    Normally, I try to keep this column down to once a month. But every so often, something happens which demands a “special edition.” For the past eight days, I have been in Detroit, the first time I have conducted there since being appointed music director. This was originally to have been a guest date, but now it was much, much more.

    Over the past six months, I have come here several times for meetings, dinners and functions designed to get to know the area, orchestra and community. All these trips have proved useful in setting forth an agenda for the next several years. But ultimately, none of it matters if the music making is not good.

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  • MAY 2008

    Home at last!

    After almost 12 weeks on the road, I have finally landed back in Washington. This will be a three-week stint with the NSO, which right now feels more like three months. No more hotel rooms and horrid Internet connections. And the projects that are looming here are interesting.

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  • JUNE 2008

    It seems as if this season will go on for quite some time. Between the travel and not really getting any vacation, some of the weeks can get tiring. But almost all of them are exhilarating.

    May started with a pet project of mine, the “Composer Portrait.” This is a series that I began in Washington six years ago. The idea is to focus on one person, present their life story—with chronological musical examples, and then play a complete piece. For these, we have utilized the considerable talents of Martin Goldsmith, radio commentator and author. He puts together an informative and entertaining narrative.

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  • JULY 2008

    And so it ends.

    June saw my final concerts as music director of the National Symphony. These occupied most of the month and, as you can imagine, was a highly charged three weeks. But there was almost as much packed into the first week as well.

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  • AUGUST 2008

    Summertime and the livin’ is, well, not as easy as it should be.

    July started off as planned with a trip to Nashville. Conducting on the 4th of this month is always an interesting experience, no matter where you are. I have done concerts all over the U.S. as well as a few in Europe. However, perhaps aside from Washington and Boston, it is hard to imagine a place more tuned into that date than Music City.

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  • SEPTEMBER 2008

    Another long orchestral season has come to a close and it is time to start gearing up for a busy 2008-2009 year.

    August saw a string of concerts in three venues, but with lots of travel involved. I started off in Detroit. For many years, the orchestra’s summer home was at the Meadowbrook Music Festival, a sylvan-like setting on the campus of Oakland University. In fact, the last time I conducted the orchestra, before we began the music director courtship, was at this space. In many ways, it is similar to the National Symphony’s outdoor arena, Wolf Trap.

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  • OCTOBER 2008

    September is usually a very busy month. There are seasons to open and I usually have to be right in the thick of things. But this year it is a bit different.

    After having spent the first week packing up and moving music and belongings up to Detroit, I started the concert calendar at Indiana University. There are five orchestras at the school. Each is very good, and one can sense that there is no problem regarding the future of orchestral performers. There might be, however, a question of how many jobs will be available, but filling them will not be difficult.

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  • OCTOBER 2008: Far East Diary

    Oct. 1: An 11-hour flight to get to Shanghai from London. It is mild here, and our hotel is located about a half-mile from the Arts Center. That venue was the host site for a small dinner this evening. So my first meal was not of Chinese food, but French! Walked around a bit and stopped off at a tailor shop, which hand-makes clothes and has them ready in a little over 24 hours. I expect the new tux to last about the same length of time.

    The last time I was here, about seven years ago, the city was in the midst of a building boom. This has not changed. There are more skyscrapers here than in most American cities. Shanghai is the most populous of Chinese cities and it is clear that they have prioritized Western style business methods to keep up in the world market place. You do not get a sense that this is still a country with a Communist regime.

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  • NOVEMBER 2008

    With the Far East tour completed, the remainder of October was devoted to a bit more traditional fare, at least as far as my own concerts were concerned. But still, not having conducted my own orchestra in Detroit, it still did not feel as if the season had really started.

    At least the first date was in Pittsburgh, where I am now the Principal Guest Conductor. However, there was the small matter of adjusting to the 19-hour flight from Singapore and the accompanying 12-hour time change. Aside from worrying how an airplane could stay in the sky all that time, the trip was not too bad. But the first rehearsal, 3 days later, was not so easy.

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  • DECEMBER 2008

    Another month filled with travel and good music making. When I think about my original plan, no permanent orchestra and just guest conducting, I now realize that this kind of schedule would have been too grueling. But it is still nice to see both familiar and new faces once in a while.

    The month started off in Baltimore. Contractual restrictions had prevented me from conducting Marin Alsop’s orchestra, as D.C. was too close. Now that I no longer have that clause to deal with, it seemed appropriate to work with the BSO. I knew several of the musicians from other dates I had done over the past 12 years with various pick-up bands. But working with the whole orchestra was quite different.

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    Usually these columns are devoted to what has occurred over the course of one month, occasionally veering off into something unusual. However, events of this past week almost certainly demand a special edition of their own, so here it is.

    It is difficult to know what has been more important, moving or even fun. After a long, long wait, I finally stepped on the podium at Orchestra Hall in Detroit and gave what will be the first of many downbeats as the orchestra’s music director.

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