Monthly Blog


  • SEPTEMBER 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 20

    On March 11, 2020, I stepped off the podium at Orchestra Hall in Detroit. The strains of “Oh, Fortuna,” as interpreted by Carl Orff in his Carmina Burana, were the last notes I would lead for … no one knew how long at the time. Earlier that evening, the governor of Michigan had urged communities to avoid gatherings of 100 or more people.

    For six months, I wrote, watched television, tried to cook in a healthy manner, and avoided pretty much any contact with anybody. Yes, there were the obligatory trips for medical check-ups, but for the most part, I got to know every nook and cranny of my abode. As several orchestras attempted to put on highly scaled-back seasons and others shut down until January and beyond, I was beginning to think that my next trip to the stage might not ever take place.

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  • SEPTEMBER 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 19

    There was a catchphrase used by a company that manufactured recording products. “Is it live or is it Memorex?” That firm must be in a total state of confusion these days.

    We have come to the time when orchestras are starting up their reconstituted seasons. After a summer of remote chamber music and virtual ensembles, many groups are going to reemerge this week. Most will consist of forty musicians or less, and others will keep the forces down to four or five. A few will have a small contingent in the audience, but most will be playing to empty halls.

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  • SEPTEMBER 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 18

    Do you remember radio? Fifty-one years ago I was driving from St. Louis to Oberlin on July 19th. It was a cloudless evening when I heard the voice of Neil Armstrong as he descended the ladder and then stepped foot on the moon. All those sci-fi serials, films, and audio dramas of my childhood flashed in front of me. Good thing there were not too many people on the road that night.

    Having written a few speculative fiction stories, visions of what the lunar surface might contain were coming to me, fast and furious. Perhaps the astronaut would encounter a previously unknown civilization of celestial beings that lay dormant until our heroic space cadet accidentally crushed them under his boot. Perhaps the Russians did beat us in the moon race and were secretly planning to obliterate the United States from their nuclear moon base, which had gone undetected by our satellites. They never forgave us when Van Cliburn won the Tchaikovsky competition.

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  • SEPTEMBER 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 17

    Our strange journey to a destination still unknown has been a bumpy ride so far. Musicians and orchestra staff have hit a stumbling block completely unlike the shutdowns that occur with strikes and lockdowns. Somehow, most have remained optimistic, even though a few ensembles have had to close up shop for the entire season.

    But on August 29, many of us received the following news, which sent shock waves to all sectors of the classical music world:

    Statement from Columbia Artists:

    It is with a heavy heart that, having endured a prolonged pandemic environment, we must announce that effective August 31, 2020, Columbia Artists Management, Inc. will close its doors. 

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  • AUGUST 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 16

    It is a late afternoon on a Thursday, sometime in mid-September. Sam and Janet are contemplating what to do that night.

    Sam: “I’m beat. Those kids at the office are driving me crazy.”

    Janet: “Why don’t you take a little nap? Oh, remember, tonight is the opening of the symphony season. Where did I put the tickets?”

    Sam: “Do we have to go?”

    Janet: “The Stevens and Dorfmans are sitting in our box. It would be rude to snub them. Besides, Ruthie always makes you laugh.”

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  • AUGUST 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 15 (10:20 a.m., Aug. 18)

    “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.”
    —Harlan Ellison

    In 1998, the author of the quote above was given a task from the creator of the television series The X-Files.

    I have a writing exercise for you. I’d like you to produce a short story using the premise “The 102-year-old pregnant corpse.” It’s currently 1 p.m., and I’d like a completed story by close of business today, please. Oh, there’s one more thing. You’ll be writing it in the front window of a bookstore.

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  • AUGUST 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 14

     It is now the middle of August. If ever there was a confluence of important decisions to be made, this is the time. Schools are supposed to reopen, but conflicting directives and information are making that choice difficult. The political conventions are approaching, and we don’t have any idea of how they will look or sound. Protests continue to grow, and the enmity between sectors of the public and law enforcement seems greater than ever. Sports are experiencing the consequences, in some cases, of seemingly reckless behavior, thereby jeopardizing all participants.

    And then there is our small world of classical music. Most orchestras were expecting to start their seasons either in September or very early October. Some have cancelled all concerts until the new year, and a few have taken the entire 2020-21 season off the books. Others are holding out until the last possible moment, with the hope that some miracle will allow them to proceed in some form.

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  • AUGUST 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 13

    There are some things that we are all supposed to do, certainly those of us in certain age brackets. The government demands some, our family and friends ask for others, and the medical community advises on several as well. It was time for what might be my final colonoscopy. When you reach eighty, and if you are in decent health, this procedure is considered unnecessary. I will be seventy-six next month. Don’t worry. I am not going to write anything about the invasion.

    Because we live in a different time, there is a new wrinkle in preparing for the operation. You have to get a COVID-19 test. All of us have watched and read about what it entails, but I thought that it might be useful for you to know how it actually works. This would apply equally to anyone who has to undergo surgery of any kind these days.

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  • AUGUST 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 12

    New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto, Boston, Baltimore. Those are just a few of the orchestras that have announced they will not commence the fall season and do not plan to start up again until the holidays. The next seven days will certainly see more organizations do something similar.

    All of us want to return. The spring and summer vacation has lasted long enough. But now we add autumn to the list. All we need is winter and we will have completed the Vivaldi cycle, not to mention Tchaikovsky, Haydn, and Glazunov, to name a few. Perhaps those should be among the works we consider upon getting back to work.

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  • AUGUST 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 11

    It has been two months since I began writing about the impact of the coronavirus on the world of classical music. Sometimes, I have been prompted by developments in the news, and other times I have shared general ideas for potential future use as the industry recovers.

    Until now, I have not really addressed an important group: the staff. These are the people who mostly work behind the scenes. You don’t know their names or even what their jobs entail. However, without them, an orchestra cannot function. As opposed to the musicians, many of these workers need to continue doing their jobs while the crisis continues. That presents a real problem, one that every organization faces.

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  • JULY 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 10

    The cancel culture is out in full force. Almost every day brings news of yet another arts institution delaying the start of its season until the new year. When I began writing this series of articles, my greatest fear was that we were not going to be prepared for this eventuality. Now that it is here, what can be done to fill in the time?

    Although parts of Europe have opened up, most of the organizations across the pond have taken a conservative approach. They are presenting concerts, but for the most part, caution is being exercised. Here in America, we cannot get into a concert hall, and there is a lack of product available in the video market.

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  • JULY 2020: National Pastime Edition

    With the start of the baseball season only moments away, I thought it might be amusing to imagine what the play-by-play commentary might sound like:

    Welcome to beautiful Busch Stadium. It has been a long time coming, but here we are, on July 24, finally getting the Major League season started. The groundskeepers have done a great job getting the field ready, even with the hot and humid weather St. Louis has experienced these past few weeks.

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  • JULY 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 9

    As we move forward into July, it is becoming clear that we will pay a price for not listening. Right from the start of our isolation, my thoughts have been centered on what the musical world will be like when the time comes to start the regular orchestral season. I have been concerned about the ability of music directors and soloists to come to the States. Turns out that it is problematic the other way around as well.

    The EU has cracked down on its citizens entering the U.S.A. for fear of the virus being transmitted back to its own shores. Not surprisingly, given the aggressive reopening plans in some parts of the country and the lack of adherence to public health guidelines, we have experienced the highest spike in new cases of any country in the world. Some states, including New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey, are now imposing a two-week quarantine on visitors from other states with large outbreaks.

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  • JULY 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 8

    Change is not easy. It is built on a foundation of pre-existing ideas that people deconstruct, rearrange, or reshape. For the short time that we have been a nation, America has tried to find the path to the future by looking back at the lessons of history.

    It is human nature to seek out stability and security, and to hold on to traditions. With the tragic consequences of the COVID epidemic, we are forced to tread carefully as we plot our return to that safe spot. We are staying conscious of the need to get back with an eye to the future. Perhaps we have been a little too conservative.

    For the time being, many musicians have found novel ways to reach the public, whether through individual lessons, private concerts, or all manner of clever audio and video presentations. I have seen how creative we can be, considering that we are not actually creating the works that we perform.

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  • JULY 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 7

    There is a lot of information. At the same time, too little information is available. We don’t know what to do with the information when we get it. Who is this information person anyway?

    During the continuing pandemic, I have found myself in very strange lands, navigating the etiquette of virtual meetings, chat rooms, and even phone conferences in which I sense this odd disconnect between those I am speaking with and me. The more of these events I do, familiarity breeds acquiescence to this new set of communication tools.

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  • JULY 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 6

    Facing the facts is a rough business. Those of us in the arts are dreamers, always seeking to find what is next. But what if there is no next? We have come to an important crossroad during this pandemic that is forcing each of us to consider options that were at one time unthinkable.

    These actions will have consequences not only for us in the orchestra business, but also for musicians in every sector of the performing world. The possibility that our work, which has come to a standstill, might disappear altogether is slowly sinking in. Consequently, soul-searching and devising workable solutions are at the forefront of our thinking.

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  • JUNE 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 5

    In the 1980s there was a popular television show called The A-Team. The leader of the group, Hannibal—not Dr. Lecter—had a motto, heard on each episode: “I love it when a plan comes together.” One has to wonder what he said when it did not.

    As we reach the four-month mark of the viral wars in America, several strategies have taken shape for easing restrictions, with some succeeding and others being met with a surge in cases. The separation anxieties are subsiding in Europe as arts organizations experiment with socially distanced performances but meanwhile increasing in the States as uncertainty looms. Amid the continuing protests, calls for parts of history to be dismantled, and a justice system careening ever more out of control, the United States of America might as well drop the first word of the country’s name.

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  • JUNE 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 4

    The sound you have been hearing of late is that of shoes dropping. More than three months into the isolation from normalized civilization, a few things are becoming clear.

    We are a nation divided in a world that is more insular. Equality seems to be just a word, devoid of meaning for many. The great experiment called democracy is seeing itself torn apart, and we are barely hanging on to our constitutional rights. Our diverse musical culture is trying its best to be relevant, but at the same time, there is no way for artists to do what they do best: communicate in person.

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  • JUNE 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 3

    Perspective has a way of reshaping our priorities. For the past two weeks, we have witnessed events that either remind us of earlier times or, for the younger set, are unlike anything we have ever experienced. Now we can truly say “The Whole World Is Watching.”

    I remember 1968 very well. Although my heart and soul went into my studies, it was impossible to be immune to the scenes in Grant Park—and in major cities and college towns across the country—as Americans were reeling from the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy as well as the continuing conflict in Vietnam. Here we find ourselves once again, grappling with social and political unrest and physical acts of violence that are changing on a daily basis. This time, however, our war is not against an enemy in a faraway country, and we know why we are fighting.

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  • JUNE 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 2

    A little over a week ago, I wrote at length about what concert life might look like as we get to September and October, the start of the cultural season. I considered matters of orchestra size, social distancing among musicians and audience members, how to accommodate subscribers, and other pressing matters.

    In the short time between that article and this one, I have heard from a number of people in the profession, many of whom are trying to formulate similar thoughts and put a plan in place. My piece left out some factors that must be considered, each of them affecting the process of returning to the concert hall. Perhaps it might be easiest for me to address some of these issues by framing them in the form of questions:

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  • JUNE 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 1

    Nearly three months into the process of isolating ourselves physically from the rest of society, members of the arts world find themselves struggling to come up with solutions for how to return, if we really do, to a more regular pattern of life. This has given us a lot to think about, and this pondering has produced some interesting experiments.

    Performances are given with musicians all over the world participating, their images projected onto our devices as if they were an extended version of the Brady Bunch. I was involved in one webinar with eight other people and found myself in the middle of the three-across group. All of a sudden, I was Paul Lynde on the Hollywood Squares.

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  • MAY 2020

    Throughout my adult life as a musician, I have never experienced what most people would call a daily routine. Those of us in the profession don’t keep regular hours. We have rehearsals and concerts on different days at different times. Sleep patterns change depending on when we complete our work and then start up again.

    Now that I have been holed up in my bunker for six weeks (or has it been six months?), I have a consistent regimen. It did not take long to settle in, and I suppose it was inevitable that some sort of pattern would emerge. Conductors do not practice at home; they study whichever works are next on the agenda. As the cancellations kept rolling in, the need to have pieces ready to go disappeared.

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  • APRIL 2020

    Well, here we are, mostly stuck at home—some working, others studying, and many trying to figure out what to do to fill the time. For me, the month started quietly, but by the time I started rehearsing with the DSO for planned performances of Carmina Burana, the World Health Organization had declared the coronavirus a pandemic, and life in the United States began to change. The next few days brought concert cancellations, starting with those in Detroit.

    Next it was with the young musicians of The Orchestra Now at Bard College in New York. We were supposed to play a program in Manhattan, but the school shut down classes, and you just cannot rehearse an orchestra virtually.

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  • MARCH 2020

    ¡Viva España!

    It is not often that I get to spend a whole month in a country other than the United States. The couple of times it has occurred, I was involved in an opera production, when you have to hang around through the rehearsals and performances. This past month, following the week in Dublin, Cindy and I headed for Spain, where I had two weeks of concerts and two weeks of sightseeing.

    Starting off in Mallorca, I was in familiar territory. Having conducted there a couple years ago, I knew the orchestra and most of the city. As with so many European ensembles, the Balearic Orchestra does its rehearsing in a studio, away from the concert hall where it performs. Although I have written about this situation before, it bears repeating. The hall is to the orchestra as the violin is to the violinist. Imagine soloists needing to practice using one instrument but doing the final rehearsal and performance on another. Yes, I know that pianists have the same, if not a worse problem, but they can still develop their own personal sounds and styles by themselves.

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  • FEBRUARY 2020

    Between impeachment and Brexit, working in the States and Europe is provoking more questions than answers. Good thing that I could concentrate on some truly wonderful music-making during the first month of the New Year.

    Before heading east, Cindy and I went out to LA, visiting Daniel and Bridget for a few days. After a half year of marriage, they are doing great, and both have really exciting projects ahead. We spent a lovely New Year’s Eve with her family, and the next day had dinner with Jeff Beal and his wife, Joan. Daniel and I also took in the ninth installment of Star Wars. It seemed to wrap up the story, but it also seemed just a bit cumbersome in having to deal with so many threads from the past films. Still, being old enough to have seen them all in a theater, I can say that it has been a true pleasure. Watching the cycle grow and reach several generations is a thing of wonder.

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  • JANUARY 2020

    As the clock approaches midnight, it still seems appropriate to have a look back. December was a month that began with sadness for Cindy and me but ended with an even greater appreciation for friends and family.

    Charles McTee passed away at age 91, about seven months after his wife Jaquelin died. It is difficult enough losing one parent, but two in the same year is truly heartbreaking. I first got to know Chuck and Jackie about ten years ago, and they were a wonderful addition to my family.

    They lived all their lives in the small town of Eatonville, Washington, she as a teacher and he as a businessman. Their love and respect for each other was on display every minute. It was evident that they had raised two fantastic daughters, Christy, who lived nearby, and Cindy.

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  • DECEMBER 2019

    There was a lot of meat, some stuffing and a bit of corn on the table. No, I am not talking about the Thanksgiving meal, but rather the musical buffet that made up the month of November.

    One of the benefits of having more weeks available for guest conducting has been the opportunity to visit orchestras I have not conducted in quite a while. Buffalo, Rochester and Toronto filled that bill. Detroit was sandwiched in there, but now I return as the music director laureate, a job more like a guest conductor with a few additional administrative responsibilities.

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  • NOVEMBER 2019

    Journeys unknown and paths less taken were part of last month’s itinerary. After a leisurely jaunt through most of Ireland, it was back to work in a very unusual setting. But there were also visits to the familiar and celebrations to be had.

    Being on the freelance circuit has some built-in advantages. For me, it is an opportunity to drop into parts of the musical world I have never seen as well as traverse long-desired destinations. Ireland was certainly one of those, but it was also a chance for Cindy to connect with a large part of her family heritage.

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  • OCTOBER 2019

    I know, I know. You want to hear about my fake-news death and the Jimmy Kimmel show. That will come a bit later in this entry. To start, I need to get back to music.

    After a five-week absence from the podium, very intentional, I returned for a set of single, one-off concerts during September. It seemed a bit strange, but I wound up opening the season for the Houston Symphony. Usually in the States, these programs are done by the music director, but as Maestro Orozco-Estrada has two positions, he had to give up one opening night, allowing me to return to the orchestra for the first time in several years.

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  • SEPTEMBER 2019 (Post-Birthday Edition)

    “Welcome to Busch Stadium. It is a beautiful day for a ball game with temperatures in the upper 70s and a few clouds helping to keep the crowd cool. The Cincinnati Reds come in for this first game of today’s double-header with the Cardinals sitting atop the National League Central division by two-and-a-half games …”

    For the past two days, various cards, messages and gifts had been coming in, all in anticipation of my impending milestone marking three-quarters of a century on the planet. This was all leading up to the big day itself, but I found myself moved by the early heartfelt wishes of so many people.

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  • SEPTEMBER 2019 (Pre-Birthday Edition)

    Lurking around the corner is the monster simply known to me as 75. This is not to be confused with the film that will hit theaters soon, It: Chapter Two, but the comparisons are not too far off. There is this entity that tries to lure both young and adult human beings into another world. In the Stephen King story, it is simply to scare the bejesus out of those watching events unfold, and in my life story, it is a landmark both to be appreciated and a little frightened of. I do know that Pennywise wears more makeup than I do.

    Prior to the first of September, for me AKA b-day, I only had one conducting assignment during the month of August. But it was an important one, as it marked a milestone in my podium history.

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  • AUGUST 2019

    “Happy is the man who finds a true friend, and far happier is he who finds that true friend in his wife.” —Franz Schubert

    Aside from my own, I had never attended a wedding of any kind during my entire lifetime. After all these years, on July 7th, I found myself at the Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California, watching, and crying a little, as my son married his fiancée and companion, Bridget Laifman. About one hundred people attended the ceremony, followed by a joyous celebration of the union during the reception and dinner.

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  • JULY 2019

    “I actually think that the job of chief conductor is becoming obsolete. The famous names from the past, Willem Mengelberg and Eduard van Beinum, spent a lot of time in Amsterdam. These days chefs constantly travel from one orchestra to another.”

    Those words come from the soon-to-retire Bernard Haitink. Boy, does he have it right. After a full season of simply being a guest conductor, I believe that the musical landscape has changed significantly, and one of those alterations has to do with the perceived necessity of having a music director. I will get to this topic a bit later in this piece, but first, there was one week of work left before the summer break.

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  • JUNE 2019

    Life with fewer responsibilities. It has been a long time coming, but I have a feeling that new challenges await. In the meantime, hitting the guest circuit has been a most refreshing change for me.

    Not that there are not tasks to be accomplished as well as other goals to be achieved. After the heart procedure, I heard one thing loud and clear: lower stress. For this first season, after more than 40 years as the person in charge, I wound up working as hard as usual but felt freer to make music at a different level. No longer did I worry about making so many decisions that might impact others in either a positive or negative way. Just leading rehearsals and concerts seemed like plenty to do, and now I could do it in a more focused way.

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  • MAY 2019

    This April was a month like no other, similar to a rollercoaster ride of emotion, conflict and elation.

    On Easter Sunday, Cindy’s mother passed away. At age 89, Jackie was a bundle of energy. Over the past few years, that vitality began to dwindle. Although she remained strong in mind, her body was giving way to infirmities. Ultimately, she decided to forgo her medications, preferring to let nature do its thing and spare her from the inability to be a physically functioning presence in her home.

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  • APRIL 2019

    On the other side of the world, musicians are doing what they are supposed to do: connecting to the past, present and future.

    It was the longest single period I have ever spent in Asia, five weeks working with five different orchestras. Although it would have been easier if the itinerary had not sent me from west to north and then east, jumping back and forth between countries was not as difficult as I expected. Three of the ensembles were new to me, not only because I had never conducted them, but also because I had never heard them.

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  • APRIL 1, 2019

    It is usual at the beginning of the month for me to write a lengthy piece about what I have been doing, along with a bit of travel news. Indeed, that will occur in a couple days, as I am traveling and have not had the chance to put keystrokes to computer in a meaningful way.The reason I am posting this is because of the extraordinary occurrences that took place over the past 24 hours. Some of it was expected, but most came as a shock and surprise to me.It all started as routine, with breakfast in the restaurant at my hotel in Shanghai. As usual, I perused the local English newspaper, the Shanghai Daily. There were two headlines that caught my attention, but I moved on to other, seemingly more important articles. The first read, “Local temple acts to comply with garbage management regulations,” and the other, “Robot has power to perform.”

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  • MARCH 2019

    When is a lot of American music simply too much? Never!

    The entire month of February was spent conducting creations from the States, some old and some new. Over the course of four weeks, I led pieces by 18 different American composers. Performing these wonderful works was nothing short of exhilarating.

    It all started in Bern, Switzerland. They had asked for a program of American works, and I included the Barber Violin Concerto among them. This would be the only piece that I repeated during the whole month. Our soloist was Augustin Hadelich, a violinist I certainly knew about but had never worked with. His sweet tone and sense of rubato for this most romantic of concertos was always in good taste.

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  • FEBRUARY 2019

    Well, that didn’t take long.

    After a lovely New Year’s Eve concert in St. Louis with music, fun and friends, Cindy and I got home around 10:30. I had written most of last month’s web piece and sent it off to post. It never dawned on me that there might just be something cringeworthy to start off 2019.

    I have never been one to do much to celebrate the arrival of the next twelve months. It was sort of exciting the first time my parents let me stay up to watch the ball drop in Times Square, but I was in Los Angeles, so I actually saw it at 9:00 in the evening. In 1968, I did venture down Broadway, but not to get into the crowd gathered to hoot and holler. Instead I went to the theater with the largest screen to view 2001: A Space Odyssey. Some years I led concerts in various parts of the world, but mostly I stayed in, once in a while tuning in to watch the last moments of the proceedings.

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  • JANUARY 2019

    Although it was a good year for a lot of things, many of us were pleased to get rid of 2018. The final month started off with as much, maybe even more, turmoil than usual. Following our adventure in Morocco, Cindy and I headed for the final conducting gig of the year, this one in Paris. But our arrival was anything but calm.

    A bit later in the week, I wrote a short piece and thought it might be published in a major newspaper. I was told that the subject really wasn’t being covered in enough depth to warrant an editorial comment from me, so I will now share it with all of you.

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  • DECEMBER 2018

    So much packed into one month: a return to Lyon, a German tour, a birthday celebration and an exotic holiday!

    Although the ONL had opened its season several weeks earlier, I had the privilege of taking the orchestra on a six-concert tour of Germany. That followed a set of performances in the Auditorium as preparatory sessions for the trip. It was clear that we would perform the repertoire that would be played over the course of the tour.

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  • NOVEMBER 2018

    Before our monthly update, it seems like time to think about the world in which we live. I am writing this a few hours before heading to JFK for my six-week European tour. October will seem like a distant memory in a few days, but how far can we go to be away from the hatred and enmity that exists on this horrifically troubled earth?

    Predictions of the impending catastrophe of global warming started fueling the fire of divisive rhetoric and indecision this past month. Then there was the ugly spectacle of seeing victims being torn down because they told their stories of harassment and attack. The #MeToo movement appeared to be gaining momentum, but this moved to the back burner quickly.

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  • OCTOBER 2018

    It feels like forever since I wrote a regular monthly piece for my website, but now that I am conducting again, we can get back to normality.

    There was just a bit of trepidation as I approached the podium in Indianapolis to conduct the finals of their violin competition. Almost four months had passed since I last picked up a baton and waved my arms. This was certainly the longest period I had gone without using this set of physical skills. Would there be any strain on my musculature? Did I have adequate strength to get through the rehearsals and concerts? Would the tuxedo still fit after I had lost twenty-five pounds?

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  • SEPTEMBER 2018: Small-Town Gal

    Bonnie, over at Kirk’s Pharmacy, has seen it all. Of course, she wasn’t around when the building was the town hospital, founded 113 years ago. She is not in touch with any of the Nisqually Tribe, the original settlers of the region. But she did see the logging town go through its ups and downs. More than likely, she was here when my wife was born. 

    Nestled in the northwest of the state of Washington, Eatonville is the very definition of an America that, to most big-city folks, has disappeared. With a population of around 3,000, and sort-of in between the big towns of Seattle and Tacoma, it is one of the last places that you would expect me to have visited often. But for the past eight years, I have come here to spend time with Cindy’s parents, Charles and Jaquelin McTee, who were born at the old hospital almost 90 years ago. They have  resided in the same house for more than 60 of those years.

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  • AUGUST 2018: In Praise of the Seconds in Command

    It all looks so easy. The door opens, the music director enters, the orchestra stands, then they sit, and the conductor starts the concert. Granted, there is a lot of study, preparation and rehearsal before the audience hears one note. But even the members of the band often do not realize the importance of the music director’s assistant in making this all come together.

    I am not speaking of an assistant conductor, the one desperately waiting for the boss to come down with something nasty enough to put him or her out of commission for at least one program. That hope of jumping in at the last minute is a dream of so many who have mounted the podium. I should know. In 1974, I took over for three maestri, albeit in different cities. Mostly, at least in the early days, it was my job to learn all the music, observe the rehearsals and give relevant comments about balance to the person conducting.

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  • AUGUST 2018

    Ah, the sun, surf and sand. Whether vacationing on the Left Coast, scuba diving in the clear waters of the South Pacific or sipping rum punches on the beaches of Mexico, this time of year is mostly about getting as out-of-shape as possible. Sounds good; no?


    Until this summer, I usually could be found at music festivals—leading orchestras, teaching or diving into opera. But, after fifty years of doing exactly that, I decided that it was time for a break. Upon wrapping up my music director tenure in Detroit in June, which was to be followed by finishing the last week of the season in Lyon, I would take a few months off with no plan in place.

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  • JULY 2018: A Day at the DMV

    Changing residence is always complicated. You must inform friends and family about your new digs. Account information needs to be updated. Finding the best grocery store requires a lot of shopping around. But perhaps the most difficult task to accomplish is the one that involves your automobile.

    On a hot, steamy day in my new hometown of Clayton, Missouri, I thought that I had it all figured out. There were, at least so I was led to believe, two places to visit. One was the department that registers your car, and the other was the one where you transfer your license. After a preliminary check, it seemed that all the proper steps had been taken to ensure a trouble-free exchange of information.

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  • JULY 2018

    After several weeks devoted to health and personal matters, I decided it was time to get back to regular writing. By that I don’t mean just the usual diary entries, as there really is nothing much to talk about, other than changing residence.

    That is a big deal, of course. Cindy and I are now ensconced in our new home in St. Louis. Yes, it is back to the scene of my family history, as four generations of Slatkins have lived here. Many people wondered where we would end up. Looking at various sites in California, where the major plus would be access to my son on a more regular basis, we determined that it was not the best choice for us. Taxes are steep, and the state seems quite high up on Mother Nature’s watch list when it comes to earthquakes and fires.

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  • JUNE 2018: Notes from the Heart, Part 4; An Incredible Moment, Suspended in Time

    There are times in life when your heartstrings are pulled so tightly that it is impossible to contain your emotion. When that occurs, you transition from one plane of existence into another dimension. Such was the case on June 23rd.

    For the past eight years, the Detroit Symphony has paid homage to individual benefactors during its annual Heroes Gala. On the occasion of my ten-year anniversary at the helm of the orchestra, the board decided that I should now receive this honor, along with two wonderful souls, Harold and Penny Blumenstein. They have been among the strongest advocates for our educational initiatives and certainly deserved this recognition.

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  • JUNE 2018: Notes from the Heart, Part 3; A Welcome Diversion

    A hospital is not supposed to be a place you go for thoughts and reflection. Everyone is there to make you better. But sometimes a question can come up from one of the staff that causes you to think outside the box.

    After a couple days, I was told that it was time to take a little walk in the hallway. This was not easy, considering that I was hooked up to various medical devices, not to mention the pain from the surgery. There were others doing the same thing, all of us moving at the speed of the zombies in Night of the Living Dead. Most were accompanied by nurses and sometimes a friend or relative.

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  • JUNE 2018: Notes from the Heart, Part 2; The Procedure

    Musicians hate, really hate, getting up early in the morning. That is why orchestra rehearsals don’t start until around 10 a.m. So I felt both lethargy and anxiety when I arrived at the University of Michigan Medical Center at 5:30 a.m. to begin preparations for the day’s events.

    After the tests that were given the day before, I received clearance to move forward with the procedure. It struck me as odd that I had to pass tests to determine if I was well enough to fix a major disease. What would have happened if I had a cold, or worse? Knowing that the blockage in my arteries was above 90%, it was not impossible to envision another heart attack while waiting to recover from an unrelated illness.

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  • JUNE 2018: Notes from the Heart, Part 1

    On November 1, 2009, my heart attacked me.

    It was a sneak attack, as six weeks prior I was informed by my general practitioner that a physical exam showed me to be in good health. Over the succeeding years I modified my diet but never really followed anything strict.

    Eight-and-a-half years later, I entered the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center for a triple bypass coronary procedure, an attempt to prevent any further disease. The problem was spotted a few days prior to the surgery, thankfully caught in time before another heart attack.

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  • MAY 2018

    It seemed to take forever, but spring finally arrived. With snow on the ground right through the middle of the month, Detroit was poised for a continuing winter. However, the chill disappeared in Orchestra Hall with a program that warmed the soul.

    The star was our concertmaster, Yoonshin Song, who delivered a magnificent reading of the Second Bartok Concerto. In complete command of this fiendishly difficult work, she made it seem less a virtuoso vehicle and more of a rhapsodic carriage. With her wide command of dynamics, expressive approach to the lyrical passages and faultless intonation, it was one of the best collaborations I have ever experienced in this amazing piece.

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  • APRIL 2018

    The groundhog was right. No signs of spring at all during my four-week trip to Europe. Maybe they should try Katowice Katy instead of Punxsutawney Phil.

    I am not exactly sure why we did it, but in Lyon it was decided that we would undertake a two-week Scandinavian Festival. This provided an opportunity to revisit a couple of symphonies that I dearly love as well as one new piece that was most enjoyable to conduct and play. Sibelius seems to go in and out of fashion, and today we have a number of Finnish conductors who have brought him back to life.

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  • MARCH 2018

    Even though my music directorship in Lyon has ended, the six-year tenure stayed very much in the forefront during the month of February. At this time, during the usually bitterly cold weather in Michigan, we put on a festival, in the past devoted to a single composer. With Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Mozart represented in previous seasons, it was time to try something different.

    What could be more natural than bringing some of the repertoire from France back to Detroit? After all, the Motor City was founded in 1701 by the explorer and adventurer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac. It also happens that I drive one of his automobiles. Okay, so he really was from what is now part of Canada, but still, he did create this bustling town and give it a French moniker.

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  • FEBRUARY 2018

    It is not often that I get a relatively calm month in the middle of the concert season, so January turned out to be a nice breather before the heavyweight demands of the next months. With the DSO French Festival on the horizon, as well as assorted dates in Europe, Cindy and I thought that we could couple concert-giving with R&R.

    The first week of January had us wrapping up our Arizona getaway. I had never been to Sedona. Just staring at the majesty of the rock formations was enough to take one’s breath away. It is not difficult to understand why so many artists have been drawn to this part of the United States. Inspiration is visible throughout the region.

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  • JANUARY 2018

    “… and a Happy New Year!”

    Wasn’t 2017 fun? There was certainly no shortage of mind-numbing events and statements coming from all over the world. There are many days when I am grateful to be able to immerse myself in music, as if seeking refuge from elements of society that have gone off track.

    What better piece to convey the conflicts that emerged in 2017 than the Ninth Symphony by Gustav Mahler? This work was the final one I would lead before heading off to vacation. There are so many theories as to the meaning of the final completed symphony, it is impossible to state them all.

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  • DECEMBER 2017

    What a month! November may be the time to give thanks but, at least this year, it was also the time to visit some old friends.

    It all started in Washington with the NSO. I had not been back to my old orchestra for several years. There are many fresh faces but still a majority of musicians whom I hired over my twelve-year tenure. Most everyone seems to be doing very well, and I actually remembered most of their names. A few members have passed away, and some others have retired, but by the time the first rehearsal ended, we all seemed to be comfortable with each other.

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  • NOVEMBER 2017

    A quick glance at my calendar showed me that there was not going to be very much time to rest during the first couple months of the new season. Fortunately, all the conducting was going to be done with institutions I know well, so at least a degree of familiarity lent some cohesion to the whirlwind of rehearsals and concerts. My schedule would include the three orchestras where my career had developed over the past 50 years.

    First up was St. Louis. It is hard to believe that it was 49 years ago that a young man first stood on that podium at Powell Symphony Hall. There will be celebrations to come next season, but this year it was a return to one of the pieces that helped put the orchestra on the map. I did not count how many times we performed Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony, but it was probably the work we played the most often.

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  • OCTOBER 2017

    About a two-hour train ride from Paris to the east lies a city that even many French people don’t know about. But for seventy years, Besançon has been the home to a two-week music festival that attracts a good number of listeners. Every other year there is a conducting competition that has produced a number of outstanding winners, including Seiji Ozawa.

    When I began my conducting studies at Juilliard, we were only a class of four students. One of them was Catherine Comet, a French woman who had won first prize in 1963. She would go on to be the first female to ever head up an American orchestra and served as my assistant in St. Louis for two seasons. When Cindy and I met up with some of the people who would assist during the week, we were given the full festival brochure. And in it was Catherine’s picture from more than fifty years ago. I understand that she retired and now lives in Wyoming.

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  • SEPTEMBER 2017

    Finally, a relatively quiet month. I did not conduct one note, write a piece of music or play anything on the piano. Okay, there was some studying, as a few new works are on the horizon, but a real vacation was in order, and I took advantage of this rare occurrence.

    After the success of the DSO’s Asia Tour, Cindy and I headed out to California. My wife was one of the featured composers at this year’s adventurous Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music. Their new music director, Cristian Măcelaru, scheduled one of her works in each of the festival’s two weeks. It was strange being in the audience, as I had never before heard any of her music conducted by anyone other than myself.

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  • AUGUST 2017

    What a way to end my concert calendar for the 16-17 season! A three-week Asian tour with the DSO.

    This trip was a long time coming. When I began my tenure in Detroit, one of my mantras was that we would not go on the road until we had funding in place. The strike that occurred six years ago meant that we would certainly not hit the tour circuit for a while. But everyone believed that we could meet our goals, and finally, the DSO embarked on an international trip, the first in a very long time.

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  • JULY 2017

    It is very likely that those of you reading this want to know all about the Cliburn competition. Normally, I would have led with that, but on a more personal, as well as musical level, there was a more important day that took place for me.

    After six successful years, I led my final concert as music director of the ONL. That is not meant as a boast, but is simply a fact. When I first arrived in Lyon, the orchestra and its administration were facing a great deal of unrest. There was a controversy regarding a cancelled Japanese tour. The management was changing personnel, and the entire institution was under the threat of severe budget cuts.

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  • JUNE 2017


    Greetings from Fort Worth, Texas, where I am serving as Chairman of the Jury for the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. But that opening yell was not just about yellow roses. As you will read later, it became the calling cry for my French orchestra.

    May started off with my next-to-last trip as music director of the ONL. It hardly feels as if six years have passed since I began my post in France’s second city. The time has flown by, and we have all accomplished a great deal together. Even with regime changes in our administration, we have all grown, and we enjoy a great reputation throughout the world.

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  • MAY 2017

    Extremely intense three weeks in the States, with a lot of hard work and results that made it all worthwhile.

    With only one day to recover from jet lag, I launched into Mahler’s 10th Symphony with the DSO. Most of you probably know that this is the work that was left incomplete, as the composer died while writing the piece. Never mind that he was superstitious about Beethoven’s death following the German master’s 9th; Mahler left enough information via sketches for several editors to try their hands at conjecturing what this last work might have sounded like.

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  • APRIL 2017: Mahlerian Madness

    I have a confession. Pretty much throughout my years as a student at the Juilliard School, I hated Gustav Mahler. The symphonies were too long, too loud, derivative and, at least to me, boring. One morning a friend spotted me in the cafeteria and said he had an extra ticket to a concert that night by the Philadelphia Orchestra. I asked what they were playing and he said, “The New York premiere of the Tenth Mahler.”

    “Why would I want to hear a work by a composer I don’t like, much less one that he did not finish?”

    “Because it is the Philadelphia Orchestra,” my friend replied.

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  • APRIL 2017

    Following the successful tour of the ONL in the States and a few free days at Disney World, it was time to get back to Europe. But in this case, it was to work with two orchestras I had not seen for almost ten years and another that was a debut.

    Milan may be the fashion capital of the world, but it is likewise notable when it comes to music and food, two of my passions. La Scala is obviously the drawing card, but the city also has a very good symphony orchestra, known simply as La Verdi. Having made several visits there over the years, I knew what to expect, even though there are many new musicians in the orchestra.

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  • MARCH 2017


    That was the oft-quoted word that characterized my very first trip to the U.S. with an orchestra from another land. February was devoted to the ONL, with a week in Lyon and then a two-week, eight-concert trip to the States.

    Taking a full symphony orchestra on a lengthy trip is, literally, always risky business. The promoters in most cities do not want to pay the full fee, and much of the burden falls on the orchestra itself in terms of dealing with the fiscal consequences. But the final result, if most everything goes as planned, can turn out to be a boon for not only the organization, but also the city it represents.

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  • FEBRUARY 2017

    Is there a point in music when the phrase “too much of a good thing” applies? Certainly not when it comes to Mozart. The great Austrian was the focus of our Winter Music Festival, previously inhabited by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Brahms. But there was also a week when the DSO played out in the neighborhoods, and that is where we start this month’s entry.

    For the past six seasons, a great deal of time has been spent performing in outlying communities, away from the grandeur of Orchestra Hall. There remain members of the public who either are unable to travel from the suburbs or still harbor apprehension about coming downtown. Over the course of our series, many of these people have been so taken by the orchestra that they have indeed started to visit The Max again.

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  • FEBRUARY 2017: The Right to Be Yourself

    Normally at this time, I post a monthly recap of musical events that have taken place, and that entry will appear during the second week of February. But something occurred over this past weekend that compels me to write something off-topic.

    It was Saturday in the late morning, as I was driving to Orchestra Hall and listening to the radio, that I first learned of the newly instituted immigration rules that have been put into place. All I could think about was that a little over a hundred years ago, both sides of my family came to Ellis Island seeking refuge from the horrors that were sweeping Russia. Their dream was to come to the States for political, social and religious freedom. Lady Liberty welcomed them with no tears.

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  • JANUARY 2017

    It could not have come a moment too soon. One had to wonder how history would paint its picture of this past year. There remains much to be settled, and none of us knows how events in the States or the world will affect the arts. Still, there were two fine weeks of performances left in Detroit before Cindy and I started on a nice, long vacation.

    A few years ago, when the DSO went to Carnegie Hall, we inherited a program originally scheduled for the Oregon Symphony featuring Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht’s Seven Deadly Sins with vocalist Storm Large. Fiscal demands prohibited our colleagues in Portland from getting to New York, and since we were already headed there for our own program, we also filled in the previous evening.

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  • DECEMBER 2016

    The Cubs won the World Series for the first time since 1908! Donald Trump was elected President! Cindy and I moved out of our Lyon apartment!

    November was a very strange, and extremely busy, month.

    It started off with—well—nothing. I was supposed to lead the Pittsburgh Symphony in a set of subscriptions concerts, but the orchestra remained on strike, and I simply stayed at home. After two months a settlement was reached, but it was a couple weeks too late for me to lead the orchestra. Hopefully the resolution will keep the peace for the time being.

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  • NOVEMBER 2016

    After the successful opening of the season in Lyon, it was time to try to achieve the same in Detroit. We certainly had the star power to do it, and there were also a couple of agenda items that I hoped would make this year particularly interesting.

    Coming from a background which housed about as much musical diversity as possible, I wanted to try and see if the merging of the popular culture with the classical traditions could sustain itself over the course of the majority of our subscription concerts. “Gershwin and His Children” was the name I chose for this project, basically looking at his influence on composers from all over the world.

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  • OCTOBER 2016

    With just a little over one month to go before we elect a new President of the United States, there is much to think about. With confrontations between citizens and the police, continued terrorist activity throughout the world, and an insecure economy, one could at least find comfort in the arts, and for a few hours each day, I was able to do just that.

    The early part of September was mostly spent getting reacquainted with our house in suburban Detroit. It had been twelve weeks since Cindy and I had seen it, but everything seemed fine, and a sense of security fell upon our souls. All my kitchen utensils were where they were supposed to be, the home theater system was slightly misbehaving, and the everyday rituals came back easily.

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  • SEPTEMBER 2016

    The next sentence is one I have very rarely written: I conducted one piece for the entire month of August.

    After chronicling the process of putting together Samuel Barber’s opera, Vanessa, there were just four more performances to present. During the winter season, when I have done an opera, usually I found time to fit in a guest conducting engagement during the extended breaks between performances. Even my earlier appearance in Santa Fe saw me dart up to Aspen and over to the Hollywood Bowl.

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  • AUGUST 2016

    After a terribly long trip from Nagoya, we arrived in Santa Fe, a place so opposite the Japanese cities we visited on the ONL tour that not only jet lag, but also cultural shock, set in. I am here for the duration of the summer, conducting five performances of Samuel Barber’s masterpiece, Vanessa. When I was here several years ago, I had suggested that this work would be a good one for me to do, and everyone seemed to agree. The fact that it has never been presented at the Santa Fe Opera, which is celebrating its 60th year, took everyone by surprise.

    Some of you will remember that a few years ago, I kept a diary, posting almost every day about what turned out to be an ugly chapter in my musical life. The Metropolitan Opera provided the backdrop for what would become an unfortunate confrontation with one of the major divas of today. The New York Times weighed in with “In Revival of Verdi, A New Note of Drama.” They followed up with an article about the great Verdi conductors. Although I was not on the list, it was probably the only time I will appear in a published article with the likes of Toscanini, Muti, and Kleiber.

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  • JULY 2016

    Most of the time, I devote this space to simply recounting what has taken place over the previous month, at least as far as my musical life is concerned. Every so often I deviate from this if there are abrupt changes in the world that seem to shake all of us to the core, for better or worse. June was one of those months.

    Please keep in mind that I do not take political sides or engage in one-sided discourse. These observations are just my own personal thoughts on matters that mean a great deal to me.

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  • JUNE 2016

    First off, I hope you are enjoying the new website. It took a lot of work, but now that it is up and running, I feel more connected to this still-early phase of the twenty-first century.

    Winding down activities for the season always feels like the stakes are ramped up. You have to imagine that everything you do is in preparation for what is to come when it all starts up again in a few months. This certainly was the case in May.

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  • MAY 2016

    The end of a grueling, nine-week global schedule finished up with gusto and subtlety. We literally traveled around the world during these past two months, winding up in Tokyo for a most wonderful three-week stay.

    Prior to that, there was much to do in Lyon. The two weeks spent there contained a number of concerts and events, including the announcement that I will be wrapping up my music director tenure with the ONL next season.

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  • APRIL 2016

    Amid the escalating political rhetoric dominating the news, as well as atrocities being committed in the world, there was some comfort in traveling to places old and new for me this past month. I found myself ending each rehearsal period by telling the orchestras I led that we are so lucky to be musicians.

    After the exhausting Brahms Festival in Detroit, I began a nine-week road trip, one that took me to orchestras familiar and unknown, at least as far as my own experiences were concerned. The first stop was in Fort Worth, with an ensemble going through its own set of difficulties during a lengthy contract negotiation. Now that I will head up the jury as well as conduct for the next Cliburn Piano Competition, it seemed logical to spend a week getting to know the orchestra a bit better.

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  • MARCH 2016

    Whew! That was exhausting.

    It was a good thing that February contained one extra day, as I needed any break possible. It all started back in Lyon, with a program that would also be played in Paris. As many of you may know, the Auditorium is blessed with a fantastic organ, recently restored. And as you may also know, there is a new hall in Paris that now contains a brand new instrument. We would be the first orchestra to play a concert featuring this new addition to the Philharmonie.

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  • FEBRUARY 2016

    When they decided to call it “New Year,” perhaps they were referring to my conducting schedule. With four pieces that I had never performed, all of them substantial works, it was a good thing I had three weeks off beforehand so I could wrap my brain around these creations.

    In Detroit, we have been priding ourselves on presenting varied programs with interesting combinations of music. January is the start of our Neighborhood Series, where we go out to seven different locations and perform to audiences that traditionally do not come downtown.

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  • JANUARY 2016

    It’s 2016, and this coming year is filled with interesting programs, exciting places to be, and fascinating people to work and play with. But there were some important events that took place last month. Three very demanding programs finished up the old year, with the first week of December particularly complex.

    First off, there was the announcement of my extension in Detroit. Some people have assumed that I am planning to retire. This is hardly the case. What is occurring is that at the beginning of the 2018-19 season, I will take a different post with the DSO.

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  • DECEMBER 2015

    The slight delay in this posting is due to what many of you now will know. After what will be ten seasons with the DSO, I am moving into a different position with the orchestra. At this point, I have no idea what the various questions will be from journalists as well as my regular readers. So I thought it would be a good idea to let you know what is occurring.

    This past summer, I took nine weeks off from conducting. Some of that time was devoted to really thinking about what the remainder of my career would look like. I also reviewed what had been accomplished and what was left to do in Detroit. At the same time, contract negotiations for the future were commencing.

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  • NOVEMBER 2015

    What a month!

    With both Detroit and Lyon up and running, October was the first month of high-intensity music making on a large scale. With the strains of the Rosenkavalier Suite still in my head, I shifted my focus to Strauss’s earlier opera, Salome, for what would be an amazing evening of drama.

    The month before, the ONL had made the decision to cancel the second of two Salome performances, as advanced ticket sales had not been particularly strong. Although our subscription base has increased substantially, anyone can trade out their ticket for a different concert. And the new model, allowing subscribers to decide later whether or not to go to a performance, has made attendance figures less predictable.

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  • OCTOBER 2015

    It did not start out well.

    Upon arrival in Lyon, we were preparing for a concert at Côte St. André, our annual pilgrimage to the birthplace of Hector Berlioz. The program was a bit unusual in that it contained two rarities by the festival’s namesake, plus the Beethoven Ninth.

    I had never heard of, much less conducted, either the Scène Héroïque or the Death of Sardanapalus. After studying them, it was pretty clear why. These works are both for chorus, soloists and orchestra. One of them contains music that would later be used in Roméo et Juliette. But neither is truly representative of the French master’s style.

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  • SEPTEMBER 2015

    I could get used to this non-conducting thing. That might be good news for some out there. It was truly a break from an exhausting regimen from the past season. A couple people asked me if I was retiring. Not yet, all you hopeful baton twirlers.

    The second part of the respite was filled with travel and some adventure. Neither Cindy nor I had ever been on a cruise ship. To rectify this, we went to Alaska, the only state I had never been to in the U.S. Completing the cycle was not the intention, but seeing this part of the world was.

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  • AUGUST 2015

    At the time, when I first announced that I would spend my summers away from the podium, no one believed me. How would it be possible for someone who has devoted his life to waving his arms to actually halt for nine weeks? Well, halfway into it, I can attest that it has not been difficult at all.

    However, the first part of the rest period involved a surgical procedure, which went well but confined me to the house for a week and a half. What to do? There were a couple projects that I could take care of, one related to business and the other purely for pleasure. Let’s start with the latter.

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  • JULY 2015

    A long season has come to a close. With three weeks of performances left, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Not that I did not enjoy the overwhelming majority of work, but it became clear that a recharging of the batteries was needed.

    Earlier in the year I made a well-considered decision to give myself more time off. Although 70 years old is apparently young for a conductor, the rigors of travel, learning and relearning a great deal of music, and having other items on the agenda made it mandatory to give both mind and body some rest from the demanding schedule I have maintained. More about this a bit later.

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  • JUNE 2015

    It is not out of the question to describe this past month as gigantic. Over the course of four weeks, all the major works were at least an hour long. With two Mahler symphonies, Asrael by Suk and a concert performance of Tosca, I was ready for a bit of a break.

    Things started off calmly enough. On what appeared to be his first visit with the ONL, Josh Bell performed and triumphed as usual. We have been working together since he was sixteen years old, so a lot of repertoire has passed between us. This time it was something new, Bruch’s Scottish Fantasie, a work which does not come up very often these days.

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  • MAY 2015

    Just when I think that there are no new worlds for me to work in, up pop a couple that are really off the beaten track.

    The violinist Vadim Repin had asked if I would participate in his Trans-Siberian Art Festival. The project began last year, and the idea was to make the Siberian part of Russia a true destination for artists and events. Concerts take place in several different cities, utilizing the orchestras from those areas, and chamber music programs are offered as well.

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  • APRIL 2015

    If the frying pan, fire analogy ever existed, it certainly applied to the first part of March. Having successfully navigated my way through the six Tchaikovsky symphonies in three weeks, it was back to Lyon for the four by Brahms over a two-week period. Even though these works are regular repertoire, two of them were first meetings between the ONL and me.

    The idea for this mini-festival was to focus on three elements for each concert. The symphonies were played in chronological order, something we could not do with Tchaikovsky in Detroit. But rather than an all-Brahms program, each concert also included a Russian concerto and opened with a short, relatively calm, American piece.

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  • MARCH 2015

    It was Tchaikovsky month at the DSO. Considering that most of the time, temperatures outside were in the single digits, it seemed appropriate to bring warmth to those who attended the six programs and 12 performances that took place.

    February is a difficult month for the arts in Detroit. Many of our regular donors, subscribers and patrons are in warmer climes down south or on the slopes out west. This means that we need to come up with something just a bit different in order to fill the house downtown. So two years ago, we did an experiment and put Beethoven on the docket. It did even better than we all thought possible.

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  • FEBRUARY 2015

    Nothing like jumping right into it for the New Year. A week of concerts in Detroit followed by three in Lyon. And a season announcement as well.

    It was time for the DSO to begin its neighborhood series, where we hit the suburbs and play for audiences that either can’t get downtown or might even be experiencing an orchestra for the first time. We now have eight partner venues, ranging from auditoriums to places of worship. Each presents its own problems regarding set up of the orchestra, and in a couple of them, the positioning of the ensemble is a bit of a challenge. Nevertheless, we are bringing the DSO to a wider audience and these programs have been wildly successful, with full houses across the board. They also give us the opportunity to explore a more intimate repertoire than is heard at Orchestra Hall.

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  • JANUARY 2015

    The Old Year went quietly, including a couple weeks off before starting the new one with a lot of work. But there still is plenty to catch up on.

    December began in Lyon with the OLN. The first of two weeks of concerts featured French premieres of three pieces by Mason Bates, one of our two resident composers. Having gone through several American works over the past three years, the orchestra was comfortable with Mason’s stylistic musings.

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  • DECEMBER 2014

    You never know what is around the corner.

    Musical pleasures abounded as winter weather started in a bit earlier than expected. However, one highly anticipated guest-conducting trip to Tokyo had to be cancelled. Turns out that I needed to have a medical procedure. Nothing life threatening or related to the 2009 heart attack, but still, it was something that could not be put off.

    All turned out well, and having a couple of downtime weeks certainly enabled me to catch up on a number of fronts.

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  • NOVEMBER 2014

    And the celebration continued.

    With all the hoopla in Lyon, and especially considering that several Detroiters were in attendance, I could only wonder what they had in store for me back home. I did not have to wait long to find out.

    It was a pretty grueling trip, with driving from Bratislava to Vienna, catching a plane to Paris and then the 8-hour-plus flight home. The luggage came off quickly, and I was anxious to get to the car and go home. When Cindy and I emerged from baggage claim, the sliding doors revealed a huge throng gathered. It took me a second to realize what was happening.

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  • OCTOBER 2014

    There is only one way to begin this. I can only give my heartfelt thanks to all of you who greeted me in one way or another for my 70th birthday. Sometimes it is possible to take your friends for granted, and sometimes you don’t even know who your friends are. On this occasion, I have been blessed with so many good wishes that it is not possible to answer everyone personally. So please let this be the thank-you card you each deserve.

    After the somewhat grueling summer sets of concerts, it was right back to work in Lyon, with no break in between. For many European and even American orchestras, September is a month that is difficult to sell. The French are just beginning to come back from summer holidays and are not quite ready to get into the routine of the concert season. For that reason, we usually play at a couple of festivals to begin our year.

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  • SEPTEMBER 2014

    There has been a lot going on in my head for the past few weeks. Very little of it has to do with turning 70, but clearly something has caused me to think of many things that most likely have been swimming in my brain for decades.

    To start with, I was going to revisit, possibly for the last time, certain places that have held special spots in my musical life. Sometimes even I forget that for two seasons, I was the music director at Grant Park. For those of you unfamiliar with this festival, it takes place outdoors in downtown Chicago. For 80 years patrons have been treated to some of the finest music-making, and they do not pay for it directly. Indeed, it is the only city-funded classical music festival in the United States.

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  • AUGUST 2014

    It was a very rushed period in Lyon. We had a concert to perform as part of a jazz festival, followed by just one day of rehearsal for a two-week tour to Japan. The “Jazz at Vienne” is an annual event that plays around a bit with the jazz format. Here it is meant to include most music that falls outside of the classical and pop repertoire, which does not explain the presence of performers such as Jamie Cullum and a couple others.

    Nonetheless, the Roman amphitheater, which seats, uncomfortably, around 10,000 people, was packed for our show. The ONL did an hour and a half set featuring the pianist Stefano Bollani. Although not so well-known in the States, he is a big draw in Europe, and I can understand why. Prodigious technique and exceptional improvisational skills are his hallmarks, and both were on display.

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  • JULY 2014

    It was unseasonably warm at the start of June in Lyon. Temperatures soared into the upper 80’s. But it is always so lovely that not too many people mind the heat.

    Unless they live on the fifth floor of an apartment building and the elevator is not working.

    I have no idea how long the ascenseur had been out of service. All I know is that schlepping up the six flights—remember that the first floor in Europe is the second in the States—luggage in hand, was excruciating. Maybe this was fine back in the 18th century, but not many people made it to 70 years old.

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  • JUNE 2014

    First things first. Cindy came through the brain surgery like a champ. The removal of the benign tumor took a little over three hours. She was home 48 hours later and communicating with friends and family. We are grateful to the medical team and all those who lent their talent and words of support.

    My role in those first couple of weeks was to simply take care of her. It was necessary for me to cancel an appearance in Naples, Italy, but everyone understood the circumstances. With the weather finally taking a turn toward spring, I could get outside and open up the barbeque season. There were no real dietary restrictions, but Cindy was not supposed to consume alcohol, meaning that I got one more glass of wine than usual.

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  • MAY 2014

    In what was my final set of guest appearances for the season, I found myself having more than satisfying experiences for three weeks. Life on the road can be difficult, but if the music making is exciting, that more than makes up for the travails of the itinerary.

    For the past two years, I have served on the board of directors of the Manhattan School of Music. However, my actual experience with that institution has been minimal. This changed with a week spent working with the student orchestra, culminating in the very first appearance of that ensemble at Carnegie Hall.

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  • APRIL 2014

    Probably about six of you are wondering where I have been for the past several weeks. Well, it seems that I have gotten a bit behind on my web postings, mostly due to an extremely busy work schedule. But here is the recap of those times past.

    It all started with a DSO trip to Florida. We had not been to the Sunshine State for four years, and at that time, we made some great new friends. Sadly, various elements conspired to keep us away until now, but we more than made up for the lost time with six extraordinary concerts.

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  • MARCH 2014

    One of the pleasures of having two orchestras is the ability to spend lengthy periods with each, honing the sound and discovering the repertoire together. Such was the case in February, when I returned to Lyon for a three-week stint.

    The weather in the States played around with the flight schedule but in actuality, one man’s delay is another’s advancement. Cindy and I were able to change the itinerary so that we wound up in Lyon an hour earlier than intended. This was all for the better, as there were three very full weeks ahead.

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  • FEBRUARY 2014

    After a perfectly lovely vacation, Cindy and I returned to Detroit and faced well-below freezing temperatures. It may have been cold outside, but indoors things were heating up on a very positive note.

    The orchestra had voted to ratify a new contract, concluding negotiations eight months ahead of schedule. We are now secure for the next three seasons and that means planning can go forward on all levels, both old and new. There remain some significant financial challenges, and the city is mired in a huge problem with the bankruptcy and how it affects the Detroit Institute of Arts. But we are a private, independent organization, so our fate rests solely with us.

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  • JANUARY 2014

    And a very Happy New Year to all of you!

    It is getting more and more rare for me to spend this time of year at home, and this year, I could be found in the Far East. But the journey began in Lyon.

    We wrapped up the old year with a concert of familiar French fare, however some of the pieces were new to many in the orchestra. Take for example the Zampa Overture by Harold. This piece, which used to be a staple of the concert band repertoire, hardly gets a hearing nowadays. We played this delightful, almost Rossinian romp for an afternoon crowd who seemed curious about a piece from their own country that they did not know.

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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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • DECEMBER 2012

    Another busy period, one filled with great music and sports heartbreak. The Cardinals did not make it to the World Series but the Tigers did. They needn’t have bothered. San Francisco took them out in four straight games.

    I had a wager with Michael Tilson Thomas. Whichever team lost, the losing conductor had to wear the opposition’s cap to a rehearsal. In addition, a gift basket of local foodstuffs was to be sent to the other orchestra. Not only did I sport the chapeau upon my return to the DSO, I also wore it on our webcast.

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  • NOVEMBER 2012

    It is that time of year again. No, I am not speaking of the complex season of concerts, but rather the baseball playoffs.

    And I am potentially in big trouble this time.

    As I am writing, Cindy and I are about to take off for Lyon. The Cardinals and Giants are starting game six of their series, with the winner going to the World Series. Whichever team triumphs, they will be facing the Detroit Tigers for the ring. People have been asking whom I will root for if this takes place. Being out of the country won’t help, as the Internet knows no borders. I wish there was some way that both could win.

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  • OCTOBER 2012

    Taxi cabs with doors that open automatically. Warm toilet seats that salute you when you enter the restroom. People bowing respectfully when you enter and leave a building.

    Yes, it was great to be back in Japan.

    Originally I was not supposed to return until November 2014, but Andre Previn decided that he could not conduct three weeks in a row and I picked up the middle set of performances. As it turned out, I had the time and was anxious to return after some wonderful performances last season.

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  • SEPTEMBER 2012

    Some people loathe going back to work. I relish it, especially when it entails conducting one of the biggest masterpieces in the repertoire.

    Performances of the Berlioz Requiem are still a relative rarity. It turns out that even in Lyon the work has never been performed at the orchestra’s home auditorium. This was the season opener and you could not ask for much more in the way of a spectacular start.

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  • MID-AUGUST 2012

    There are some promises that must be broken occasionally. After vowing a real vacation this summer, I accepted an invitation to be one of the participants in John Williams’s 80th birthday concert at Tanglewood. The actual date of his coming into the world was in February, but John only wanted one celebration and it was to take place in the Berkshires.

    When I was young, John was but a studio pianist in LA. It could hardly have been predicted that he would become one of the most important composers in the world. He worked often with my parents, showing the curiosity for the music business that would mark his entire life. From his role as a keyboardist, to that of an arranger, to a jingle and TV composer and finally to the big screen, John’s path was clear and well defined.

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  • AUGUST 2012: Leonard Goes to a Rock Concert (Sort Of)

    Several months ago, I vowed that I would actually take a vacation for most of the summer. That meant little conducting, a bit of study and a lot of sleep. One of the downsides of the conducting profession is the inevitable life on the road, so I decided to spend the majority of down time at home. We have a lovely house located far enough from downtown as to be thought of as an escape from work.

    My son was visiting, preparing for life as a college student. He will be attending USC, bringing a part of my earlier life back into play. His course of study includes music management. I am not sure if it will be “My Son, the Agent,” but he has become fascinated with this part of the business. To that end, I was just a little surprised when he learned that the rock group Yes was coming to the Detroit area to perform.

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  • AUGUST 2012

    As I write this, we are less than a week from the publication of Conducting Business. The first copies are now in my hands and it looks very good. There was just the slightest tremble in my hand as I ripped open the box containing the tome and wondering if this really was happening.

    There will be some book signings, radio shows and newspaper interviews to do. In Lyon I was asked if there was anything about my new orchestra in the book. Sadly, no, as not enough time has passed for me to include this experience. Maybe there will be a second edition, with an expanded last chapter. And then there is volume three, which will come after book two, Conducting Standards.

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  • JULY 2012

    Wrapping up seasons is an occasion to reflect on what has been done or accomplished over the past months. In this case, my first year as music director in Lyon had to be measured as a fine success. But before I led the last two weeks of concerts there, I had one wonderful week in my old stomping grounds.

    The National Orchestral Institute has been around for 25 years. It is centered at the University of Maryland in College Park. In some ways it reminds me a little of the New World Symphony in Miami, where I conducted earlier this season. The orchestra is comprised primarily of college age musicians of the highest caliber. They gather for almost four weeks to make music with different conductors and mentors from the leading orchestras in this country.

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  • LATE JUNE 2012

    We are just about a month away from the publication of Conducting Business on July 24. Amadeus Press has graciously allowed me to post the introductory chapter. I hope this makes some of you interested to read more.


    There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning. — Louis L’Amour

    There is an old joke about the audience member who comes up to the conductor after a performance. Having heard a full program, she says, “That was lovely. What do you do for a living?”

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  • JUNE 2012

    Winding down a season usually means that the overall pace slackens a bit. Not this time.

    The first week of May was relatively calm, with only one set of concerts in Detroit at Orchestra Hall. My brother joined us for a performance of the Korngold Cello Concerto, written for our mother more than 60 years ago! Fred and I have always enjoyed doing this piece together and everyone was caught up not only with the story behind the story, but the performance as well. It was also a rare opportunity for the two of us to catch up. Usually this is limited to a quick bite to eat when I am in New York.

    The Korngold was written for the film Deception and another piece on the program, Tristan and Isolde Fantasy, was composed for the 1946 drama Humoresque. The unusual scoring for violin and piano solo with orchestra was what composer Franz Waxman came up with for the moment when Joan Crawford walks into the ocean and kills herself. On this occasion it was played by our acting concertmaster Kim Kennedy and pianist Cameron Smith. No one was harmed in the presentation of this piece.

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  • MAY 2012: Kid Rock and Roll Over Beethoven

    The question on everyone’s lips was, “What is this going to be like?”

    The answer was, “Fabulous.”

    Over the years I have done my share of concerts with acts from the popular music culture. It started when I was the assistant conductor in Saint Louis. We had a series devoted to the earliest attempts at crossover, performing with diverse artists such as the New York Rock and Roll Ensemble, B. B. King and Odetta. Symphonic Rock was in evidence with the work of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, the Beatles and Pink Floyd. Metallica had a show arranged by Michael Kamen.

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  • MAY 2012

    “You’re baddass!”

    These two words were spoken to me following a concert in one of Detroit’s suburbs. A young woman came up to me, looked me in the eyes and that is what she said.

    After figuring out that this was a compliment, I realized that perhaps there are ways to reach the younger generation that I had not yet contemplated. Was it our performance of the “New World” Symphony? Perhaps it was because we were playing in a Temple.

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  • APRIL 2012

    Berlin, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Hannover, Munich, Friedrichshafen, Heidelberg, and Vienna. Almost enough for a German baseball team. This was a tour schedule that took me to all these places over the course of 9 days. Everything went well but you would never have known it from the way this European jaunt started.

    It had been more then two months since I last saw my orchestra in Lyon. I looked forward to seeing everyone and of course, making music with the musicians. But I had to get there first and as this trip began, I felt the exasperation of international travel once again.

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  • MARCH 2012

    It has been my habit to more or less inform readers of my comings and goings during a given month. This time I am going to start in the middle, dealing with a musical issue.

    There are not many pieces from the standard canon that I have not conducted. Usually, after a first try, I either keep the work and try to program it again, or I drop it from my repertoire. At this point in my life, I have the good fortune to pick and choose what I want to do.

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  • FEBRUARY 2012

    More than 6,000 miles separated conducting engagements in January. At least it was only one flight between Detroit and Tokyo, so the 14-hour trip was not unbearable. When you are dealing with a 14-hour time change, no amount of preparation can offset jet lag.

    After some time off, the New Year found the DSO playing in suburbia. This was the official start of the new “Neighborhood” series. Over the course of four months, we will play in six venues. Among the lessons learned during the strike was how many people simply found it difficult to make the trip downtown for concerts in Orchestra Hall. The superiority of acoustics and sightlines made no difference to a surprisingly large segment of the community.

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  • JANUARY 2012

    How does that song go? “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

    December proved the ditty correct, at least for me. Two weeks were spent in Lyon performing American music. A festival had been devised around my arrival this season and I thought it would be a good idea for musicians and audience to get to know me through some of the music created in the States.

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  • DECEMBER 2011

    Just when I think things are beginning to slow down, a month such as the last one occurs. Granted, much of the news was not related to travel or even conducting outright. Nevertheless it was a wonderfully busy time.

    Let’s start with the best part. Cindy and I got married on November 20th. The small ceremony was held in our house and about 18 guests attended. It was a huge effort to get the place ready in time, as we had only moved in a few weeks prior. Most of my job was to unload the wine, CD’s and DVD’s. I had no idea how much those boxes weighed and the day after the wedding, my back paid the price.

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  • NOVEMBER 2011

    October might be the best month of the year for me. I had my two orchestras up and running, Cindy and I moved into a new house, and both Detroit and St. Louis were in the baseball playoffs. The Lions had won their first four games of the young football season.

    Music first.

    No one really knew what to expect when the DSO started up this year. There were plans and more plans. The public was a little confused with all the new initiatives. When it was said and done, everything went smoothly and an air of optimism creeped into everyone’s collective being.

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  • OCTOBER 2011

    A café by the river Rhône. Sunny September skies. The sounds of many languages floating in the air. It is Lyon and the start of a beautiful relationship.

    Although it should really be called “The City Where Cholesterol Is King,” Lyon is my second home now and this was the first time I would see my new orchestra as its music director. I had guest conducted here five times previously and each was a wonderful experience. The position had been offered to me quite a while ago but due to administrative changes it took some time to effect a contract. But that is long past and we were off and running with a bang.

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  • SEPTEMBER 2011

    After almost six weeks of tending to Cindy, it was time to get back on the podium. She was doing extraordinarily well and all the signs pointed to a complete remission. There were still chemo and radiation treatments to go but they seemed more precautionary than necessary. I continued to admire Cindy’s strength and resolve during this time.

    I headed out to Santa Barbara alone for a couple days. Two years ago I had conducted at the Music Academy of the West and completely enjoyed the experience. This school and festival is a bit different than most of the others. There are only 135 students or so. They stay for eight weeks of intensive study and performance. Every one of them comes on a full scholarship, showing the commitment of the community. I did wonder whether the locals were referred to as “Santa Barbarians.”

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  • AUGUST 2011

    July was not a month for music, at least as far as I was concerned.

    Upon returning from South America, it was my job to take care of Cindy, who would be undergoing a double mastectomy at the beginning of the month. There were numerous decisions to be made, all of them difficult. One of the most important things we discovered throughout this process was how many people either had undergone some form of the cancer or knew someone who did. Getting information was not so problematic.

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  • JULY 2011

    What a strange month June turned out to be. It looked pretty simple on paper. One week of concerts in Detroit and a trip to Rotterdam, preparing for a tour of South America.

    But normal does not seem to apply these days.

    To start with, I began French lessons in preparation for the new job in Lyon. When I was in high school, French was actually my foreign language and I have usually managed to get by when travelling to Paris and other destinations in France. Cindy was also on board for this education experience.

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  • JUNE 2011

    About halfway through May, I started thinking about some of the composers I would be conducting just in a four-week span. The list is something like this:

    Del Tredici

    This reminded me of how fortunate I am to be in the music profession. Rehearsing and performing compositions of this caliber week in and out is something that none of us must ever take for granted. It remains a privilege as well as a responsibility to take care of these masters and all the others that we musicians present.

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  • MAY 2011

    Although I had a hefty tax bill to pay, nothing could diminish my pleasure in having my own orchestra back.

    After the free concerts we gave in Detroit, things began to return to normal in our second week. Putting an abbreviated season together was not easy. Several decisions were made quickly. All of the guest conductors originally scheduled were still available to us. If that had not been the case, I probably would have asked to be relieved of my own guest conducting obligations for the remainder of April and May.

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  • MID-APRIL 2011: The Nightmare Ends

    It took six months, interminable meetings and ultimate patience, but the strike that beset the Detroit Symphony Orchestra finally ended. After maintaining a self-imposed silence, I was able to greet my orchestra with the simple words, “Welcome home.”

    Not that the two days leading up to the first rehearsal were all that easy. We had learned that there were massive negotiating sessions taking place over the weekend, and when the two parties emerged, the basis for an agreement had taken place. Although it remained for the membership of the orchestra to vote on ratification, everyone agreed that the best medicine was to get back to the Orchestra Hall stage as soon as possible.

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  • APRIL 2011

    Although several conductors cancelled, and one tragically passed away in March, I was not needed as a fill in and simply stayed on my planned schedule. Of course that still meant no concerts with the Detroit Symphony, as the strike went into the half-year mark.

    More and more people are asking me how I am doing with all this and I certainly appreciate the concern. It is frustrating, disappointing and often depressing. Just as much as the musicians and public, I am more than anxious to get back on the Orchestra Hall stage, but I am equally anxious to know under what conditions that will be. It is sometimes forgotten that the music director is still the person who formulates artistic policy, but at the same time must adhere to the rules.

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