Slatkin: Where are the young American guest conductors at U.S. orchestras?

 

In Thursday’s (1/9) Huffington Post, Leonard Slatkin, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s music director, writes about his recent conversation with Teddy Abrams, who is currently serving as an assistant conductor at the DSO and was recently appointed music director of the Louisville Symphony. “Teddy pointed out something that had not occurred to me before. Virtually no American orchestras were engaging guest conductors from our own country under the age of 45.… A little research proved Teddy correct.… Just think about this list: James Levine, James Conlon, Michael Tilson Thomas, David Zinman, Andre Previn, Gerard Schwarz, Lawrence Foster, Dennis Russell Davies and myself, among many others, were highly present on almost every orchestra’s podiums. And we all did this well before the 45-year-old barrier.… What has happened? Were we that much better than the young Americans of today? Is the attraction of a foreign accent still in play? Mind you, I am certainly no fan of the quota system when it comes to musical decisions.… What can or should be done? … Perhaps it is also time to consider our own homegrown talent.… Some encouragement for the new kids on the block is important. We must not leave the younger generation of American conductors behind.”

So there are only 9 (living?) American conductors over the age of 45 that are worth considering to guest conduct an American orchestra. Slatkin, whom I respect, inadvertently brings to light the exclusive older than 45 conductors’ club. The young conductors have plenty of time to guest conduct. How about the many other older, seasoned, experienced American conductors? Are we the forgotten majority; not rich enough to afford the dues of this silly old man’s club. Leonard, if its looks like discrimination and smells like discrimination it certainly IS discrimination!

Me and Wolfie

Me and Wolfie go back a long way. I first made contact with his music back in the 20th Century when I was in high school in Brooklyn. My band teacher, a former bass clarinetist with the Pittsburgh Symphony, introduced me to his clarinet teacher, David Weber, then principal with the New York City Ballet Orchestra. I took lessons for several years with Dave in his studio adjacent to Carnegie Hall. A… 16-year-old kid could not get more inspired. Dave was famous (or infamous) for many things like walking out of a Philadelphia Orchestra audition because Stokowski wanted him to play the excerpts first but Dave wanted to play a portion of Mozart’s clarinet concerto first.

He was more favorably known for his beautiful bel canto tone, so pure and dark but more French than German. Hearing him demonstrate the Mozart for me while I listened in awe and then foolishly trying to play the same passage has stayed in my mind forever. Dave’s playing of the Mozart during my lessons was like being at a free concert with a master. Dave recommended that I purchase a recording of Karl Leister of the Berlin Philharmonic playing the Mozart which I did immediately after one of my lessons. I was amazed once again with the beauty of tone and the consummate cantabile quality of Leister’s playing. Then I began to think, was the concerto great or were these clarinetists great or did this concerto make these clarinetists great? Leister also recorded Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet (string and clarinet) and Dave had a recording of the Trio for clarinet, viola, and piano, both recording gems.

I struggled for so many hours back when I was 16 years old to sound just like my teachers playing Mozart. Oddly enough, it wasn’t the two rollicking fast movements that were difficult to play, it was that gorgeous Adagio middle movement that caused me to think about another line of work. The hours I spent attempting to play the opening melody smoothly, connecting each note perfectly so that the melody moves forward with such great ease and with great song, prevented me from leaving the confines of my basement practice room for at least 10 years. Wolfie, Dave, and Karl . . . all three of you taught me about song and about beauty. But guys . . . let’s face it . . . it was Wolfie who invented song and beauty.

TCHAIKOVSKY AND DVORAK

I always loved the music of Tchaikovsky, his ballet music, the violin concerto, the first piano concerto, his later symphonies. But I began to have an intense interest in his life as well as his music when I was studying the music of one of Tchaikovsky’s early mentors, Anton Rubinstein.

I recorded Rubinstein’s 3rd and 5th Symphonies and performed the 3rd with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic some y…ears ago. I was privileged to use the same podium that Tchaikovsky used when he conducted. I also visited the St. Petersburg Conservatory which Rubinstein founded. I remember seeing an honor roll of students and Tchaikovsky’s name was on top. I conducted in Russia several times and it is easy to get the Tchaikovsky bug when you are there. He was and still is considered a national treasure. Since my travels to Russia, I developed a new appreciation of Tchaikovsky’s music.

His life is like a continuous soap opera with all the drama, story twists, love affairs, intrigue, and pathos one can handle. One cannot properly perform his music without knowing something about Tchaikovsky’s personal life. His fourth symphony speaks volumes about his personality, his restlessness, his inner conflict which was never resolved while he was still alive. We are so fortunate to have at our disposal thousands of letters that he wrote to his patron, Madame von Meck, whom he never met officially. Tchaikovsky dedicated “our symphony” to his patron. But his life was always in turmoil. He married and a few weeks later left his bride and fled. What was this force of destiny that is portrayed in the opening of his Op. 36? Who was the real Tchaikovsky? Even today, this question is still debated. Was life so unbearable to him that he tried to kill himself by drinking untreated water? As Rubinstein was tormented throughout his life by anti-Semitism in 19th Century Russia so was Tchaikovsky, as a homosexual born into an intolerant high society. What we do know is that the Fourth Symphony represents the maturing Tchaikovsky. A work full of beautiful meandering melodies…restless melodies…always searching for an answer to an elusive question. He writes of the last fiery movement, “If you can find no impulse for joy within yourself, look at others.” A melancholy joy..Tchaikovsky, the alcoholic, the party boy, the creator of melodies that knows no time barrier. Dvorak’s Carnival Overture, part of a trilogy and originally entitled, Life, and published a few years before Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 makes a great companion opener for this program.

As stated in the Henle edition, Carnival “portrays a carnival mood of merriment and a spirit of youthful revelry with care-free abandon”. Tchaikovsky often escaped into an underground world of “merriment” as well as finding solace in Nature. Carnival’s slow middle section is bucolic and actually quotes one of the other overtures called, Nature. Melodies in the Fourth Symphony and some in the Dvorak work often intersect stylistically and sound very, well, Slavic. The sheer happiness in Carnival is obvious. Tchaikovsky’s music can be happy at times but such happiness can often be tinged with a certain profound sadness written by a man with a conflicted and troubled soul. The Fourth Symphony gives the audience a snapshot view of a complicated but passionate composer. Music, he writes, has often saved is life.

The Language of Music Revealed: Reviewed By Public Schools Music Educators.

Barry Araújo Kolman, author

http://www.amazon.com/The-Language-Music-Revealed-Anyone/dp/1612331289/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1388766759&sr=8-1&keywords=Barry+Kolman

“GOOD JOB, Barry! I didn’t have time to read every word on every page, but going through the Table of Contents, Introduction and Chapter 1 Toolbox, it is obvious that this is a textbook that has been long awaited for the music lovers who want to take the first step towards becoming perceptive music consumers. The cool icons and straight-forward language (you grew up in Brooklyn, right?) help connect the abstract terminology and concepts with familiar ideas. I will lend the book to our high school AP Music Theory teacher and then to the 3 middle school music teachers (the choral and two instrumental teachers all teach General Music).

~joseph rutkowski, Instrumental Director at John L. Miller Great Neck North HS since 1991″

“I like the book a lot – it is a concise, yet comprehensive explanation of everything the average person could want to know about music theory. User friendly – A great resource!

~Dr. Janine Robinson, Choral Director/AP Music Theory Instructor at the John L. Miller Great Neck North HS since 2012, Choral Director/General Music Instructor at the JF Kennedy Elementary School in Great Neck since 1995″

From CNN.com: 13 stories we can’t forget: The year of the personal essay

http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/23/living/irpt-personal-essays-yir-2013/index.html

Year in Review

“The professor who fought his child’s bullying with music

Virginia teen Mano Kolman is often treated as “not very cool,” as her father gently puts it. She has high-functioning autism and walks and talks a little bit differently from other kids. Tired of the teasing, her parents came up with a plan: Her dad, Barry, a music professor, would give Mano clarinet lessons.

A year and a half later, Mano is a proud member of her middle school band. Her parents can tell from the way she brags about being a member that it’s made a world of difference in her social life, and they say the lessons made her more focused in school, too. They shared their story on iReport in hopes of helping other children with autism.”

 

We are humbled by this honor as we read all the other emotional and heartfelt struggles and stories written by our global neighbors. The power of making music should never be underestimated as well as what our children can potentially accomplish. Music found Mano and Mano found music. They will be buddies for life; powerful buddies.

Conducting Jean Valjean

 

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Ivan Rutherford and myself beaming after a most incredible concert.

Last weekend, November 19 and 20, 2013, I had the privilege and honor to share the stage with a great talent, Ivan Rutherford. Ivan has performed in the Broadway show, Les Misérables, in different capacities for 14 years. He played Jean Valjean over 2000 times.

The Shenandoah Symphony Orchestra which I conduct played flawlessly. We had two full houses and the audience was enthralled. Michelle Ponder sang like a pro, sharing the stage with Ivan.

For me, it was a great thrill as someone who loves movie and show music (see: http://www.amazon.com/Steiner-M-Treasure-Sierra-Brigade/dp/B00487IR7E/ref=sr_sp-btf_title_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1384623169&sr=8-7&keywords=Barry+Kolman).

Good music is good music, whether a Symphony of Beethoven or a intensely emotional song like “Bring Him Home.” It is the love of music that is important and if you have that deep love for such an elusive but always giving art, then you can appreciate great works.

The ability to conduct a variety of genres is certainly special. To see greatness in all things music, then and only then you can call yourself a musician.

Thanks to the very talented musicians of the SSO and Ivan and Michelle, and to my most loyal audience. These are the magic ingredients that make memorable performances.