Monthly Blog


  • 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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  • MARCH 2011

    If March is supposed to come in like a lion, I wonder what animal people will make of this past February?

    Most of you will undoubtedly know that the Detroit Symphony Orchestra has suspended the remainder of its strike-ridden season. More than half of the concerts had already been taken down and it really was only a matter of time before we were either back to work or down for the year. Much has been written, discussed and argued about. It is still not my place to comment –that will come later.

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  • FEBRUARY 2011

    Last time, I wrote a little about the orchestra in Lyon and its ability to retain its individual sound and style. This hit home even harder with my next stop on the tour.

    Some people think that the Vienna Philharmonic or New York Philharmonic is the oldest orchestra in the world. In reality, it is the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig. Its history can be traced back to 1781. The first well-known music director was the composer Felix Mendelssohn. The city itself is a haven for cultural mavens. Bach was here. Schumann and Mahler lived here.

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  • MID-JANUARY 2011

    Bonjour et bonne année!

    The better part of three weeks has been spent in France, two of them getting to know my new orchestra and city.

    But first, it was a little holiday. I must have been coming to this country for 40 years now, but there is very little that I have had time to enjoy simply as a tourist. Sure, I had been on the Bateaux Mouche and went up the Eiffel Tower, but rarely when I had some free time.

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  • JANUARY 2011

    When we last left off, the Detroit Symphony strike had entered its third month. Now the winter solstice was approaching. This year, it coincides with a lunar eclipse.

    “It’s a ritual of transformation from darkness into light,” says Nicole Cooper, a high priestess at Toronto’s Wiccan Church of Canada. “It’s the idea that when things seem really bleak, it is often our biggest opportunity for personal transformation.”

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  • Deborah Fleitz

    The majority of you reading this will not know the name, but you have been a part of her world. Deb was my assistant in Detroit. She was responsible for almost every aspect of my professional life.

    She kept track of where I was supposed to be and worked with managers, artists and musicians from around the world. Every time I wrote something for this site, it was her hand that dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s.

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  • DECEMBER 2010

    Weather forecast. Stormy with little chance of sun. Temperatures remain chilly throughout the month. Expect a break in the clouds if the pressure lets up.

    The strike dragged into its second month and I continued to keep quiet. But this did not mean that I did nothing. Very few days went by while I was in Detroit, when I did not speak with board members, urging them to help find a way out of this. Most said they missed the orchestra but needed to hold firm. The indication was that when a settlement was reached, purse strings might open once again.

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  • NOVEMBER 2010

    Last month I wrote that I did not feel it was the place of a music director to comment on any labor dispute taking place with his or her orchestra. The musicians of the Detroit Symphony went on strike at the beginning of the month, causing the cancellation of the season opening as well as the concerts for the remainder of the month. There remains uncertainty as to when we will get back to work. Until that time, I will maintain silence on the matter.

    In the meantime, there were other musical assignments on my calendar for the second half of October.

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  • OCTOBER 2010

    Fall is upon us, and another concert season awaits. Here in Detroit, the orchestra is in negotiations regarding a new contract. It is not the place of a music director to get involved with either side, so I will not comment on the situation other than to say that I hope by the time you are reading this, a resolution has occurred. There is nothing better for us than to be making music.

    In the meantime, summer has passed and I must say that it was most enjoyable. After the Hollywood Bowl, Cindy and I got in the car and drove up the West Coast. For most of my life, I believed that the United States northwest border ended in San Francisco. But amazingly, there seems to be lots more to visit. I still love the California vistas that extend out to sea. Usually at this time of year, the view is limited by fog. This was not the case on our drive.

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  • SEPTEMBER 2010

    One big plus of doing an opera is that there is a lot of free time once you start performances. In fact, with the new/old Spratlan opus, we had one stretch of eight days off. This gave me a chance to do things I normally do not have time for during the concert season.

    In the process of writing my book, I have needed to do a great deal of research. Very gradually I am figuring how to manipulate around the net, looking for small details, quotes or information I might need. At one point, I do not remember how or why, this little item popped up, but it prompted a somewhat amusing chuckle from me.

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  • AUGUST 2010

    This is the summer way-out west tour. For the next couple of months I will be flightless and mostly humidity-less. Colorado, New Mexico and California will the performing destinations. A mix of student and professional ensembles will make up the musical landscape. The major project is the world premiere of Lewis Spratlan’s 1978 opera, Life Is a Dream. Unlike my last operatic venture, I decided not to keep an actual daily diary, but it is still helpful to let you know how a work like this comes to life on the stage.

    Prior to arriving in Santa Fe, there was a nice, leisurely drive to Breckenridge, Colorado. With no airports or baggage claims to worry about, all I had to do was program everything into Gladys, my navigation system partner. From Detroit, it looked like an eighteen-hour journey. Of course, it was not possible to anticipate side trips.

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  • JULY 2010

    After last month’s blog version of War and Peace, I thought it would be a nice respite for all of us to have a shorter and less scattered web posting. And since I will be on the road, literally, it will be a bit tougher to write towards the end of the June.

    As it turns out, getting home was just what I needed. Europe was wonderful, but after almost six weeks on the road, I was very tired and it felt good to be amongst my own pots and pans for 21 days. It was not so good getting on the scale. Although I did not overeat, I ingested more fat than necessary, so now it’s time to get back to the program. Thus, no more sauces, desserts, or red meat.

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  • JUNE 2010

    May was an uneventful month, if you count getting a new job, conducting seven different orchestras, and dealing with volcanoes as uneventful.

    Perhaps it is best to start at the top. For the past couple of years, I have been thinking about simplifying my professional life. It has been wonderful to be on the road but as I get older, this has become tiring. Don’t get me wrong, I have loved working with all the different orchestras, getting to know parts of the world I had never visited and experiencing a great deal of personal, cultural and social pleasure. But my sole position with a non-American Orchestra, in terms of a directorship, has been with the BBC Symphony. Now it seemed like a good time to complement my work in Detroit and Pittsburgh with either a European or Asian orchestra, which would then become my second base of operation.

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  • MAY 2010

    To say that April was an interesting month would be an understatement of immense proportions. Many of you probably wondered why I did not continue the reportage of my Met assignment. I know this because the very site you are visiting crashed a couple of times due to the number of hits I was taking, literally.

    At this moment, I have chosen to stay out of the fray. There is no point in commenting now, as it could lead to more misunderstanding and misinterpretation. Suffice it to say that there is more than what was reported. There will come a time when I will discuss what happened, at least from my point of view. However, I did continue to keep a diary of the events and they will most likely appear in a book I am currently working on about the conducting profession.

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  • APRIL 2010, Part 2

    Days and Nights at the Opera (Part II)

    March 22: It was a dark and dreary day in Manhattan. The beautiful spring weather of the last week is a thing of the past. Rain and wind took its place. This did not forbode well for the second week of La Traviata rehearsals.

    I arrived at the Met in plenty of time to figure out that the pit was just a few feet away from the dressing room. As opposed to concert halls, all the conductors share one space, but we each have individual lockers. It is as if we were preparing for a sports event. I suppose that in a way, we are, but we don’t compete against each other. Well, most of the time anyway.

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  • APRIL 2010, Part 1

    Days and Nights at the Opera (Part I)

    Winter has not wrought its harsh attack on Michigan, at least not yet. The closest it came was during the first week in March, when I had nothing to do. Safely nestled in my apartment, fake fireplace ablaze, I continued to cook a healthy lifestyle for myself, trying to cheat as little as possible.

    In the meantime, there was one final subscription week at home. For two months I had to be replaced by substitutes. This time it was Jimmy Galway’s turn. Seems he had fallen down a set of stairs in Lucerne and broken both of his arms. Screws were put in to stabilize things and it looked like recovery would get him to Detroit in time for the March appearance. But a screw came loose (insert own joke here) and he simply could not be ready in time to support the instrument, subsequently resulting in his cancellation. We were all saddened, me for personal reasons as well as musical.

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  • MARCH 2010

    February may be the shortest month of the year, but perhaps because of the missing few days, it also feels like the busiest. I barely had time to think, much less take it easy.

    The Detroit Symphony had been nominated for a Grammy with the album we made featuring Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer and Zakir Hussein. We lost to Yo-Yo Ma and Friends. This was not unexpected. But as usual, there were commentaries in the press regarding the lack of meaning for these awards. Yes, the process is laborious, and it is hard to justify some of the categories in which some recordings are placed. Personally, I mourn the elimination of the “Best Polka Album of the Year.” But ask anyone who has been up for one of these and you will find that they all feel honored to have been selected.

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  • FEBRUARY 2010


    These are not usually words I have heard, or seen in print when journalists speak about me. But each of those terms appeared following my first appearances in Washington and Detroit. It made me wonder how I had really looked prior to the heart attack.

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  • JANUARY 2010

    Hanukah is over, Christmas approaches. Since I am taking it easy for the next few weeks, it seemed like a good idea to write a bit earlier than usual. It also gives me the opportunity to give some unusual musical suggestions for last minute holiday giving, plus a short follow-up to that fake news release of a few months ago.

    It is very rare for me to have an entire month free of conducting, much less two. Clearly the first one, this past November, gave me no choice, what with having the heart attack and recovering. But the surprise was how willing I was to let go and take the second month off for purposes of recuperating.

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  • DECEMBER 2009: Happy Holidays

    Hanukah is over, Christmas approaches. Since I am taking it easy for the next few weeks, it seemed like a good idea to write a bit earlier than usual. It also gives me the opportunity to give some unusual musical suggestions for last minute holiday giving, plus a short follow-up to that fake news release of a few months ago.

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  • DECEMBER 2009

    No complaints this month. In many ways, I am lucky to be writing anything at all. But with the enforced vacation, due to a heart attack on November 1st, I have had some time to reflect about many matters, most having very little to do with music.

    But here is what happened:

    During my week of rehearsals and concerts in Rotterdam, I had started to feel a bit out of breath, especially walking over to the hall. Being somewhat overweight, this was not out of the ordinary, but once in a while, I actually had to stop. This should have told me something.

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  • NOVEMBER 2009

    We ended last month with the Cardinals winning their division, the Tigers still in first place, the Lions on a one-game winning streak and the DSO in great shape.

    Three of the four collapsed quickly. The orchestra remained in first place.

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  • OCTOBER 2009

    Finally! A chance to spend more than one week with the DSO!

    Music directors are supposed to be working with their orchestras on a regular basis. In the previous season, since my appointment in Detroit happened rather quickly, I was only available for five subscription concerts. So, in most ways, this 2009/2010 season is truly my first full year. It is a time of settling in with the new band, getting familiar with how we will work together, and for me to immerse myself in the new environs.

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  • SEPTEMBER 2009: Change Is in the Air

    “Harsh booing at the gala opening night of the Metropolitan Opera—where strong negative reactions are rarely heard, at least in comparison with European opera houses—was still ringing in the ears of the opera world on Tuesday.”
    — The New York Times, Sept. 23, 2009

    The Detroit Symphony has announced plans for a completely revamped season, starting with its concerts this week. The programs will not be changed, at least the ones advertised, but the manner in which the works are performed will be altered.

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  • SEPTEMBER 2009: Special Edition

    Usually I am content just to write about the past months activities, with no stopping off for side trips. But since 65 seems to be one of those special occasions, and since it turned out to be unique, I have decided to share it with everyone a bit earlier than usual.

    For three days, I have been part of a Festival in Dubrovnik which is called “Julian Rachlin and Friends.” Boy, does he have a lot of friends. Our pictures are plastered on posters distributed all over town. Julian had invited me to work here and I readily agreed, knowing that the milestone birthday would occur in this beautiful Croatian city.

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  • SEPTEMBER 2009

    Egad!!! I am 65. Some folks have said that this is the new 45, but I don’t remember that time as being so great either. In any event, August was a fine month before I officially hit old age.

    Wrapping up the week at Tanglewood was a concert that helped kick off the celebration of Sir James Galway’s 70th birthday, which is not for another five months. Jimmy and I have been longtime collaborators and there are few musicians who are easier to work with. And the jokes between movements … don’t get me started.

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  • AUGUST 2009

    This month’s installment will be quite a bit shorter than most. The reason is simple: I took most of July off.

    As with last summer, my son Daniel and I took three weeks to visit various baseball parks around the country. Our time was divided into the West Coast stadiums and then Chicago and St. Louis. It was at the latter that I attended my first All-Star Game. We had a terrific time and are trying to figure out what we will do next summer to top this trip.

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  • JULY 2009

    One can feel it in the air. The end of the concert season is close and various forms of time off are near. There is a physical letdown and the best you can do, after the ardors of a tough season, is to take little vacations along the way.

    Such was the case at the beginning of the month of June.

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  • JUNE 2009

    On the road once more. This time for six weeks. Groan!

    Now that I actually have a physical place of residence, it seems more difficult to be away. All those boxes that need to get unpacked, getting used to a new kitchen, and those pesky tools that I need to stay away from.

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  • MAY 2009

    Many people tell me that I work too hard. There are probably some who don’t think I work hard enough. All I know is that I have just spent one year during this past April. So hang in with me. This is not going to be short.

    It started with a return to Detroit, doing about eight things at once. There were subscription concerts, with what might be characterized as the first substantive programs I conducted as Music Director. Of course that would be unfair to the three programs I had done earlier, but in fact, we had not played a work labeled “Symphony” on any of those concerts. This program was the only one where there was not a living composer represented, nor an American.

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  • APRIL 2009

    For all the weather ills that befall us at this time of year, March is in many ways my favorite month. Baseball is back. Four and a half months of withdrawal are at an end. All is right with the world. More on this later.

    I was very fortunate that the first two weeks of this period had me on vacation in two favorable climates, Los Angeles and Florida. The first was not planned in my original thoughts. But I found myself intrigued with various aspects of the motion picture industry, based on the week when I conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic earlier in the year. A few days out in La-La land would give me the chance to connect with several people who are involved in the music scoring aspect of the movie industry.

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  • MARCH 2009

    A great deal of February was spent in teaching mode. First up was a trip to Interlochen, which was not my idea at this time of year. Checking the weather became a fixation as the day of arrival neared. It is at least 10 degrees colder in that part of the world than in Detroit. None the less I arrived to chilly but not unbearable temperatures.

    The Interlochen Arts Academy is one of the only schools devoted to the arts that has a national, and indeed, an international presence. I suppose most people know it from the summer program, but they go pretty much all year round. There were several reasons that compelled me to do this at this time.

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  • FEBRUARY 2009

    After two very intense weeks in Detroit, I thought it would be a simple matter just to go back on the guest circuit. After all, no administrative responsibilities and all I had to do was just conduct.

    Naturally, it did not work out quite that easily.

    First stop was Dallas, where I had not conducted in almost 20 years. I arrived on Monday, January 19th. When I got to my hotel room and switched on the television, I realized that we had a problem. Inauguration day was less than 24 hours away, and with the one-hour time difference between Texas and the East, the orchestra would miss the ceremony.

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  • MID-JANUARY 2009

    It is only halfway through January of the new year but there is so much to write about that I thought it best to get a head start.

    A quick wrap-up to the Taipei visit gets us going. I spent an hour in the hospital. Nothing serious. As it turned out, some good friends of violinist Cho-Liang Lin invited me for dinner. Regular readers of this column know about my recent fixation with Reflexology, so I was extolling its virtues to my hosts. On the way to the restaurant, I learned that one of them is the leading plastic surgeon in town and when she heard about my plantar fasciitis troubles, she suggested a trip to her hospital. I protested, saying it really was not that bad, but she said that they had a whole section devoted to orthotics.

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  • JANUARY 2009

    Greetings from Taipei.

    The final two weeks of 2008 have been spent in Asia: the first in Tokyo, and the current one in Taiwan. It has been eight years since I last conducted any resident orchestras here in the Far East. Most everything has been on tour with American and English ensembles.

    The NHK Symphony is the oldest in Japan and has always had a fine reputation. Many of the countries that were being exposed to Western symphonic music had imported primarily German-based conductors in the early years. The idea was to keep repeating the same repertoire over and over again, until the orchestras became totally familiar with the music. The same principle applied to the public as well.

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

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

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  • DECEMBER 2008

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

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

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  • NOVEMBER 2008

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

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

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  • OCTOBER 2008: Far East Diary

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

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

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  • OCTOBER 2008

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

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

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  • SEPTEMBER 2008

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

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

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  • AUGUST 2008

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

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

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  • JULY 2008

    And so it ends.

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

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  • JUNE 2008

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

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

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  • MAY 2008

    Home at last!

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

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  • MID-APRIL 2008

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

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

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  • APRIL 2008

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

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

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  • MARCH 2008

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

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

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  • FEBRUARY 2008

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

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

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  • JANUARY 2008

    Happy New Year!

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

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  • DECEMBER 2007

    Another whirlwind month has come to a close. There are times when I am not sure that it is possible to keep up with the calendar. And traveling these days is certainly not one of life’s greatest pleasures.

    The first two weeks of November were spent with the Royal Philharmonic. For the first time in my career, I did a concert at Albert Hall in London which was not a Prom. To fill the 5,000+ seating area, the programs have to be more popular than usual. In this case, Holst’s Planets paired with Walton’s Belshazzar. The concert was recorded and is available on iTunes.

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  • NOVEMBER 2007

    Well, October was certainly a busy month. In Washington, at the NSO, we began the subscription season. Beethoven 9 was up first. It is amazing how my thoughts of this work have changed over the years. Time was when the last movement was the only one worth listening to. But now, the drama and tension of the first, the sarcasm and explosiveness of the Scherzo, and the joyous cry of thanksgiving in the slow movement take me to places much closer to the composers intentions. And that Finale still is not bad.

    We also premiered a new piece by Jefferson Friedman, a composer I have been interested in for the past four years. Very bright and concerned with the representation of outsider art. The visuals come to life in his music, which is a blend of exotic sounds and hymn tunes. Hard to categorize his works, but look for his name.

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  • OCTOBER 2007

    By now, most of you will have learned of my recent appointment as Music Director of the Detroit Symphony. Between the positions that I am completing and the ones that are coming up, it is even confusing to me. So let’s summarize.

    I have just ended my three-year stint at the Hollywood Bowl; my 12-year tenure with the National Symphony ends this June; last year was my first as Principal Guest Conductor of London’s Royal Philharmonic (four weeks a year); I just began my semester residency at Indiana University (two weeks per year); and, next September, I become Music Director in Detroit (14-16 weeks) and Principal Guest Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony (three or four weeks).

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    Originally, I had only planned to write once a month, summarizing activities that had occurred previously. But the first few weeks of September have had a couple of nice surprises that I felt were worth sharing early.

    The recording industry has been in something of a downturn, but there are signs that the situation may be improving. I certainly cannot complain. During the 80’s and early 90’s, my own discography usually saw 5 to 6 discs a year being issued. But recently, I have been quite active both in the recording studio and through archival material.

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  • SEPTEMBER 2007

    The summer season is winding down and orchestras all over the world are gearing up for a busy fall.

    For me, most of August was spent in Aspen, Colorado. Having been a student there from 1964, I have certainly seen not only the city, but the School and Festival change dramatically. What were once small, intimate and quiet entities are now players on the world stage. During the course of nine weeks, one can see and hear most of the great artists of our time.

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  • AUGUST 2007

    Greetings from Aspen, Colorado! It is lovely here, as usual, but with a bit more rain that expected.

    July turned out to be a very exciting month. In my position as Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl (a Guinness record for length of titled position), I spend almost three weeks in Los Angeles. This was my hometown and the Bowl was where my father performed for many years. So it is always a treat to return to the orchestra I grew up with.

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  • JULY 2007

    The month of June has been quite exciting for me. First, we wrapped up the subscription season of the NSO with the premiere of a harp concerto. The soloist was the orchestra’s principal harpist, Dotian Levalier, who played with great feeling and panache. The piece is by Mark Adamo, who is primarily known as an opera composer. The lyrical elements would certainly bear out his reputation in this field, but his use of the orchestra was outstanding, and I believe many harpists will want to take up the work.

    The following week saw the conclusion of the eighth National Conducting Institute. The four conductors who debuted with the orchestra each showed flair and talent. It still amazes me that different musicians can stand before the orchestra and each one produces his or her own sound. The more individual the conductor, the more personal that sound can be. It also provides the players with a keener understanding of the inner workings of the conductor’s art.

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  • JUNE 2007

    Two years have past since we launched this site providing immediate access to an array of information pertaining to my concerts, recordings and activities, yet it does not seem complete without your first finding a greeting or note of welcome from me. So, here’s my first try at it.

    Let me thank all of you who have visited. This is the place to look when you want to find out where I will be performing. For the most part, it is accurate. The venues, programs and soloists are all here. And when there is some news, we share it with you as soon as possible.

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