Monthly Blog


  • JANUARY 2013

    Happy New Year!

    The world did not end so now we must await the next apocalyptic prediction. In the meantime, there was a lot to catch up with during December.

    Following the Mahler 3 performances in Lyon, the next week was spent in the recording studio, or in our case, the concert hall. The ONL and Naxos have embarked on a truly ambitious project. We are committing all the orchestral works of Ravel to posterity. This includes the operas, other vocal works, transcriptions by Ravel and others as well as the usual suspects. There are some works that have never been recorded before.

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  • FEBRUARY 2013

    When exactly do people stop wishing each other a “Happy New Year”?

    This one started out with quite a varied repertoire, and some interesting venues along the way. First up was Rotterdam, scene of the heart attack. The program was certainly designed to keep the festivities of January going, with music by Strauss Jr. and Gershwin. Many European orchestras celebrate for the whole first week of the month and the Rotterdam Philharmonic was no exception.

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  • MARCH 2013

    When asked who he thought was the greatest living composer, Leonard Bernstein replied, “Beethoven!”

    Having spent three full weeks traversing the nine symphonies, I can only come to the same conclusion. Of course there were weeks, months and a lifetime of study leading up to these performances. Thoughts and ideas changed and a feeling of being overwhelmed permeated my being.

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  • APRIL 2013

    The end of March means one thing: Baseball is back! It is not as if I do not enjoy the other sports and certainly the University of Michigan seems to be doing well in the basketball tournament, but for me it is about being in the outdoors, for the most part, and following a couple of teams for the next half a year.

    Oh, there was music as well.

    After the Beethoven marathon, I had a brief respite but wound up taking a couple of days to work with the young musicians of the Juilliard pre-college orchestra. Their regular conductor was called out of town and I was asked to jump in. There is something totally fulfilling about working with talented youngsters that always energizes me.

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  • APRIL 2013: The Russian Connection

    Rather than wait, I felt compelled to write sooner regarding my sojourn to Moscow at the beginning of the month.

    It is important to have some background in several areas.

    First, my family origins are in Russia with my mother’s family coming from Belarus and my dad’s from Odessa. Those of you who have read Conducting Business will know the story. My great-uncle, Modeste Altschuler, founded the Russian Symphony Orchestra of New York in 1903. He conducted many U.S. premieres of important scores from his homeland, including the 2nd Symphony by Rachmaninov.

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  • MAY 2013

    April in Lyon. Spring decided to wait a little before showing up.

    After the Moscow adventure it was nice to get back to my other home. These would be the final two weeks in the Auditorium, as it will be closed for about 5 months while crews repair the air conditioning and heating systems. Also, the organ is undergoing a transplant. New pipes and a general cleaning are in store for the instrument.

    In the meantime, we had two wonderful programs to present, each featuring Jean Yves Thibaudet, a Lyon native. I have said it before but it bears repeating. In my opinion, there is no pianist who has grown so much over the years. His approach to music has always been refined and subtle but during the past five years or so, he has captured the essence of the long line. It does not matter what he is playing, you can always be assured that Jean Yves will deliver an outstanding performance, filled with color and beauty.

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  • MAY 2013: New York

    From Motown to Manhattan. That was the slogan in Detroit for May.

    For the first time in 17 years, the DSO was headed for Carnegie Hall, part of the Spring for Music Festival. The basic concept was that orchestras were to present program ideas and those with the most intriguing would be invited to participate, six in total each season.

    Our offering was to present the four numbered symphonies of Charles Ives. This had never been done, as far as we knew, and the idea resonated with the presenters. We planned the last part of our regular season in Detroit accordingly, raised the necessary funds and thought we were good to go.

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  • JUNE 2013

    By the end of May, it appeared that Stravinsky might have had the last laugh after all. 100 years after the premiere of The Rite of Spring, the actual season of spring decided not to show up around much of the U.S. and Europe. Unseasonably cool and sometimes cold temperatures prevailed and all the flowers were confused.

    The weather was much better inside the concert halls, although in Lyon, we had a different venue to contend with. Our Auditorium is closed for the next several months, as repairs are being made to the heating and air conditioning systems, as well as a restoration and general cleaning of the organ pipes. This meant that we had to find a place to play.

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  • JUNE 2013: Van Cliburn Diary

    Starting with the day of arrival, I began keeping a journal of thoughts regarding the 14th Cliburn competition. All the entries are as I wrote at the end of the day, with nothing altered.

    June 4, 2013
    It’s hot here in Fort Worth, and not only outside. This is the final day of competition to determine the six finalists in the fourteenth Van Cliburn Piano Competition. After ten days of solo playing and chamber music, the thirteen judges will reach a decision around 11 o’clock tonight. These will be the pianists who play concerti with me.

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  • JULY 2013

    For most of my career I have avoided cycles. It has been season after season of as much variety as possible in my repertoire choices. But this past year has been quite different.

    There was the Beethoven Symphony Cycle in Detroit as well as the four Ives Symphonies. In Lyon we have been inundated with Ravel. And to close out the season, there was a complete grouping of all the Rachmaninov works for piano and orchestra.

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  • AUGUST 2013


    This is a word that I have not had in my vocabulary for quite a while. After an extremely busy season, winter, spring and summer, I am taking several weeks off to recharge the batteries.

    July provided some more than pleasant musical experiences. First up was a series of concerts at Greenfield Village. This is a property that tries to replicate early American society, with period costumes and customs. It is also the site where the Detroit Symphony Orchestra plays an annual set of concerts celebrating the Independence of the United States.

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  • SEPTEMBER 2013

    As I write this, vacation is about to come to an end. Having a nice long stretch of time off proved invaluable. Among other things, I wrote a piece for woodwinds and strings that will be premiered in the 14-15 season. This was something I had planned for a long time but needed an extended period in order to complete the work. It has turned out to be just what I intended.

    There was a lot of baseball viewing, both in person and on TV. The Tigers are looking pretty good for the playoffs. One thing that was surprising: no matter where I went, when I wore a Tigers cap, people invariably stopped me to comment on either the team or the city. This really never happened when I was in St. Louis. Guess it was assumed that things were okay there.

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  • OCTOBER 2013

    Vacation is over. No more Mai Tais. The only surfing to be done is on the Internet. I had not seen either of my orchestras since July and missed them both very much. In a way, the true relationships started around the same time. My first three seasons in Detroit were each abbreviated due to outside circumstances, so it was

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  • MID-OCTOBER 2013

    Fall is a beautiful time in Michigan. The baseball team has made it to the playoffs for the third year in a row. Apples are plentiful from the orchards in the area. The music scene is springing back into action.

    Although it is the start of my sixth season with the Detroit Symphony, it really is more like the third. Back in 2009, I only had a limited number of weeks to lead the orchestra due to previous commitments. The next year a heart attack put me out of commission for three months. And in the following season—well—our weeks together were cancelled due to a debilitating labor dispute.

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  • NOVEMBER 2013

    When we left off last month, I had finished a set of performances in Detroit with the Tchaikovsky 5th Symphony. Usually I do not repeat a work in consecutive weeks, but as it happened, the same piece was scheduled for my return to Lyon.

    A question I am asked quite often is, “What are the differences between American and European orchestras?” Here is the ideal opportunity to try to answer this.

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  • DECEMBER 2013

    It is somewhat unusual for me to be making a debut with an orchestra these days. With a limited guest-conducting schedule, due to running two orchestras, I have to be a bit more selective about where I will be guesting. So it was surprising to many that I spent a week in La Coruña with the Galician Symphony Orchestra.

    This part of Spain is in the northwest and has a population of only a quarter million people. You would think that only a provincial band would be located there, but in reality, it boasts one of the best orchestras in the country. It did not hurt that I have a particular passion for Spanish food and wine. It also helped that my good friend, Michel Camilo, was the soloist.

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    Some of you loyal readers will have noticed that there are subtle changes in the appearance and content on this site. Over the next few months, these alterations will continue, as we think it is time for something different. Performance content will be more complete, the news section will be updated more frequently and even the look of the site will be changed. Hopefully, no service will be disrupted during this period and you will continue to visit often.

    Each season, there are a number of world premieres to be presented. Most of the time the works are either short or take up no more than 25 minutes.

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