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.
There were only two rehearsals for all of us to get to know each other and the repertoire included two Mozart concerti. The soloists were outstanding, reminding me once again that none of us are in peril of a dearth of musical talent out there. In the eighth symphony by Dvorak, the orchestra caught many of the nuances that inhabit the sunny world created by the composer. All in all, a lovely experience.
About a month before he was scheduled to conduct the DSO in its annual Classical Roots concert, conductor James dePriest passed away. These concerts, which have been presented for the past 35 years, honor composers and performers from the African-American community. They are linked to Black History Month and bring a quite different audience into orchestra hall.
Jimmy had chosen a program that included music of Brahms and Wagner as well as James Lee III and Adolphus Hailstork. I volunteered to lead the performances if no one else could be found and everyone thought that this would be a nice tribute to Jimmy. We honored him with the Barber Adagio for Strings.
Eric Owens was the stentorian bass in two Wagner excerpts and I enjoyed working with him. He is also a budding conductor so we went over the next score he was working on, which would be discussed with Christophe von Dohnanyi. Good luck, Eric.
The Lee piece was excellent. James is a composer I have been championing and it is always a treat to see someone grow musically before ones very ears. Hailstork’s Earthrise combines the text of Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” with original words and creates a fine balance of spirituality and classic structure. Next season I will once again conduct this special concert, featuring Kathy Battle in a program saluting the Underground Railroad.
In May, the DSO will travel to NY for two concerts at Carnegie Hall’s “Spring for Music” Festival. More about that next month but in preparation, several of us met with our soloist, Storm Large—yes, that is her real name. She will be singing Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins. I thoroughly enjoyed our time together. She is a thoughtful musician and even though she does not yet read music, her understanding of the text and the musical style is dead on.
Next it was off to Nashville. Having been their music advisor for three seasons, it was a pleasure to return and witness the growth of the orchestra under Giancarlo Guerrero. They sound terrific and there was much enthusiasm all week. The soloist was Elina Vähälä, a violinist who I did not know prior to this engagement. Giancarlo asked if I would accept her for the Corigliano Concerto and I trust his judgment. She was outstanding. The 35 minutes breezed by and Elina’s concept was large scaled. I look forward to working with her again.
Also on the program were the “Enigma” Variations. Since I have done this work quite often I almost take for granted that everyone else has. Of course that is not the case and I spent a little time explaining the meanings of all those initials, asterisks and the enigma itself. IMHO.
Then it was off to Pittsburgh, where I did the last of my concerts as principal guest conductor. It has been five wonderful years with this marvelous orchestra. I am pleased that I will see them during the next few seasons as well.
It was a great program to do as an exit. Mason Bates is their composer of the year and was on hand for The B-Sides with its electronic representations of a space walk and the techno beat that concludes the work. Audience reception was ecstatic and I have to say that I am proud to have been the one to introduce Mason to the audiences in Steel Town.
Manny Ax was soloist in the Mozart C Major. No, not the “Elvira Madigan” but the one that I have dubbed “The Other.” There is nothing left to say about Manny that has not already been written. To have his friendship and share these great musical moments is always a highlight of any season.
Prokofiev 5 more or less closed out the concert. I was surprised to see that I had not done it with the PSO before. This is one of my party pieces and the festivities certainly were in evidence. Great virtuoso playing from the whole band.
Since it was patron appreciation month, I was asked to play an encore. As is my wont these days, I picked the Carmen’s Hoedown, arranged by my father. Everyone loves it and this little gem will be perfect whenever the Lyon orchestra goes on tour. The problem is that this seems to be the only arrangement by my dad that has survived. Cindy is on a mission to try and locate any parts from the albums on Liberty Records where these first appeared. Any info out there would be much appreciated.
Manny and I were on the same plane headed to Detroit. This was because we were performing the “Emperor” Concerto with the Civic Orchestra, the youth organization arm of the DSO. The orchestra had been thoroughly prepared and it was quite amazing how professional they sounded. We focused on purely musical matters and there was not much that I would have done differently from any other orchestra. As I said to the audience, “These young musicians bring the same high standards to this stage as any organization.” The evening was a true inspiration.
On the book front, sales continue to be good. I will do a couple signings this summer, in Santa Barbara and Aspen. The Beethoven Symphony set is being edited as I type. We are frantically trying to decipher Charles Ives’s copious instructions for his 4th Symphony.
Now it is off to Moscow, but since the concerts do not take place until April, any discussion will have to wait.
See you next month,