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.
This year we featured Aaron Copland. Our orchestra tech person, Yvonne Caruthers, had more material to use than ever before, simply because she could use audio and visual excerpts that featured the composer—unfortunately, Beethoven, Brahms and all the others we had done, left only their compositions. I have truly enjoyed doing this series and might try something similar in Detroit.
On the first Sunday of the month, John Williams led the orchestra for a Gala fundraiser. Martin Scorcese and Steven Spielberg joined him. Has there ever been a composer whose works are more instantly recognizable to more people in the world? For the final encore, John allowed me to conduct the march from the Indiana Jones films. It is still a special feeling when you perform a work and the composer is standing right there. Well, perhaps not so special if you don’t like the music, but John is such a cut above so many. It was a memorable evening.
And the following week saw no let up. The NSO gave its first performances of David del Tredici’s monumental Final Alice. This was a work that changed the course of American musical composition, and, perhaps, the way composers dealt with their own feelings. There is not one unexpressive bar in the entire 70 minutes and the tunes are unforgettable. I was very pleased to work with the remarkable Hila Plitmann. This is one extraordinary artist. Fortunately, I will be recording the piece with her in Nashville next season. She is not to be missed.
Also joining us was Baltimore native Hilary Hahn. She played the First Concerto by Paganini. To say that her technical achievement was almost perfection would be an understatement. But she also brought an almost classical approach to this piece, emphasizing structure over virtuosity.
Also during this week, the conductors participating in this year’s Institute were around. We would meet after each rehearsal to discuss what worked and what did not. They are an eager lot, and I am very curious to see how they actually do when it is their turn to stand in front of the orchestra next month.
Then it was off to Barcelona. For the past couple of years (and into next season), I have been going to cities where I have either not been in a long time, or have never conducted the local bands. Barcelona was always a destination for me when I was on tour with various orchestras. But this time, I worked with the ensemble that plays there year-round. I had no idea what to expect. But the level was very high and the whole week was a true pleasure. I will not go into the dining except to say that it is possible to gain a lot of weight eating seafood.
To end the month: it was back to Nashville to close out the season. My good friend Joseph Kalichstein was the soloist. I have known him since our days at Juilliard and was reminded of what a fine artist he is. The orchestra also hosted a convention of music librarians. This is one hard-partying lot. To help them celebrate, we played an orchestral version of Copland’s only band piece, Emblems, as put together by the librarian of the Nashville Symphony, D. Wilson Ochoa. He did a great job of keeping the textures clear, and it is possible that this edition could make the rounds of orchestras. There can never be enough Copland.
Also this month, my son celebrated his 14th birthday. Among the gifts, all of which he asked for, was some equipment for a new found hobby, D-Jaying. Now if I remember correctly, a DJ was simply the person who played the records on the radio, and a turntable was meant for playback purposes only. You were not supposed to scratch the records, merely listen to them. Am I out of touch or what?
June will be very emotional, as it is the last month of my tenure in Washington. Life is about to be quite different.
See you next month,