Bye Bye Birdie–a great success!

Bye Bye Birdie closed last Sunday in Lexington, VA.. I not only conducted the show, but also played clarinet/saxophone in the pit. The performances took place in a 250 seat “black box” making the shows very intimate. We had six sellout crowds for each show. The leads, especially Albert, Mr Macafee, and Rose, stole the show. Because of budget constraints, the pit band contained 12 very talented musicians instead of a full orchestra that the score calls for. I enjoyed the challenge of conducting and playing at the same time; my first time! Though the show itself is somewhat dated, this did not bother the most appreciative audience watching our very enthusiastic and professional cast.


Morality and Music

A June 18 concert scheduled at Tel Aviv University featuring selections from Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, to be led by Israeli conductor Asher Fisch, was called off after angry protests erupted. The University claimed to have not been fully informed about the program and its presenter organization, the Israel Wagner Society.

Give me a break! Wagner at a Tel Aviv University?

English: Leigh Engineering Faculty Boulevard, ...

English: Leigh Engineering Faculty Boulevard, Tel Aviv University Photographed by Ido Perelmutter (Ido50). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t we conductors think about our audience when we plan our repertoire? A little sensitivity here in a world full of violent insensitivity is a no-brainer and is called for. Of all the composers to be chosen to perform, Wagner was chosen? Art must triumph over all! Who knows the real story, but with factions of the world in religious turmoil, can’t music be an oasis, albeit a temporary one?



My answer was posted on:

If only today’s audiences would show the same raw emotion…


What a difference 100 years makes!

THE RITE OF SPRING,” or (“Le Sacre du Printemps”), Igor Stravinsky’s historic shocker of a ballet that shows and celebrates a human sacrifice, will be 100 years old next May. 

Though it created a near riot in Paris when it was premiered, it was actually Diaghilev’s choreography that caused the audience into a mob rather than Stravinsky’s music itself as many believe. The music could hardly be heard over the outcries of scandal. “Things got as far as fighting.” Stravinsky told his friend.

Today, Stravinskys third ballet for the Russian dancer is part of the repertoire.  No riot; maybe a lot of coughing but that occurs for any piece.

Boy what I wouldn’t give for today’s audiences to show a little bit of that same raw emotion; maybe not a riot but at least a little episode of being slightly upset!

Image: “Shocker Cools Into a ‘Rite’ of Passage” – NY Times [Music]

A Story of Tenacity. There is nothing you cannot accomplish if you are willing to work hard for it!

One of the great perks of being a conductor and a teacher is having the opportunity of meeting some incredible people along the way. When I was in China, I met a group of young musicians first starting out playing in an orchestra. I had the thrill to work with them for several weeks. Then there was the time when I was conducting in the old Soviet Union (many years ago) and I muttered to myself, after a long rehearsal, “Boy, I wish I had a beer.” The next day one of the percussionists of the Orchestra, definitely not a rich man, laid a case of beer on my podium.

There have been times of great inspiration as well–where one particular young woman comes to mind.

She was 17 when she arrived in the United States, but due to some personal circumstances, she came to this country without any documents of the years of hard (music) work she produced while in high school. This alone would have frustrated most of us to just give up. Not to mention that her English was minimal to boot. What she did in the next 18 months is nothing short of astounding.

She needed to learn English first so she found a local free ESL class and went to class on a regular basis and before long learned English, just like that. This studious Latina from Brazil had bigger dreams; to attend a University in the United States, but she had no diploma or grade transcripts to show what classes she took and excelled in. Though this would be a roadblock to many, it was not one to her. She took the G.E.D. exam and went to a community college for a year. Still not enough for her, she had a dream and was determined to fulfill it. She applied to several major Universities after studying for and eventually taking the incredibly difficult and ominous S.A.T.s.

With all that behind her, she is now living her dream. Presently she is a full-time second year student at the prestigious University of Virginia with hopes of being accepted into their world-renown School of Business.

I might also mention that this bright, highly motivated young woman is my daughter!

Gabriela, the best of luck to you as you embark on this wonderful journey! I am in awe of what you have accomplished in less than two years; your family loves you and is so very proud of you.

Hopefully, others will read this story and realize there is nothing you can’t accomplish if you are willing to work hard, show great tenacity and have a burning desire to be the best.

Post Script to Marvin: We’ll continue playing HIS song

In this season of political rancor and of foreign governments attacking their own citizens, it’s a good time for all of us to step back  and take a deep breath and seek out something that will whisk us away, at least for a little while.

Marvin Hamlisch–The Man and His Music— is what is right with life. His melodies will live on even if the man himself is gone. I was appalled regarding how little time was spent by our news markets in commemorating this man’s great contribution to making our lives that much better; he was a real Mensch.

I was one of the fortunate fans who met Mr. Hamlisch in person. Several years ago, he presented a solo performance at a neighborhood venue and I was lucky enough to be in the audience. It was just an empty stage, a grand piano, a hand mike, and Hamlisch. He played his music, played other people’s music, bantered back and forth with the capacity audience, and showed his relaxed personable side while performing flawlessly on the piano. His arrangements from film and theater were full and romantic, but music of the stage in particular was certainly his forte.

About halfway through the program, he stopped suddenly, and blurted out, “Wait a minute, I hear a certain song!” Then after two piano chords, two local college students literally flew out of the wings of the stage, crossed downstage and much to the surprise and joy to all of us, began singing Hamlisch’s own award-winning They’re Playing Our Song.” The improvised choreograph was professional and the crowd loved it. I knew these two musical theater majors and after the show I went backstage to congratulate them and to meet Mr. Hamlisch. He truly was “the real thing” on AND off the stage; sincere, funny, and charming. A great night for me.

I mourn his passing; we have lost one of the Greats. He had so much more to show us.

Thoughts on Conducting

Nonverbal communication…is that what conducting is all about? Or are we just the composer’s advocate as Leinsdorf professes in his landmark book? As someone who has been on both sides of the podium, the conductor’s role is more complicated. You ARE the music, you ARE the inspiration behind the music; and you ARE the teacher whether the conductor is in front of a student orchestra or a group of seasoned professional musicians.

A great conductor should be of course a great musician but he/she also part problem solver, part therapist, part inspirational leader, part ballet dancer, part teacher and part fund raiser…always keeping this primary goal in mind; to bring out the best in your players, to give your audience a special experience and a good reason to leave the security of their homes to come out to hear live music.

Live music. Whether a listener or a player, there is something special in hearing, feeling, sensing music. Can’t you just feel Beethoven’s struggle in his Third Symphony. Who is the hero here? Napoleon or Beethoven for choosing the road to live and to not to give up.  Or the struggle of Shostakovich or Tchaikovsky problematic life hiding his homosexuality. Can we figure all this out by just hearing the music? By watching the conductor? It depends on who is conducting.

What an awesome responsibility to be a conductor. When the opera begins, the musical begins; it’s all in the hands of the conductor.

My philosophy about conducting? Know thy art and know it well. Know your orchestra; know the musicians by name; look at them and understand their point of view. Be fair and honest. Be demanding but never forget that those are people in front of you are not just a sea of strings or wind players but PEOPLE. Have an vision artistic vision for the orchestra; where should we be in 5 years, 10 years? And most importantly, share your vision with everyone and LISTEN to your players, your Board, your audience.

Today’s music director looks much different than a generation ago. The days of conductors flying in for a few rehearsals, a couple of handshakes, perform the concert and then fly home on the next flight out of town. The music director is the public face of the Orchestra. He/she should be an integral part of the cultural tapestry of the community. The Maestro needs to be seen shopping at the local mall, attending other concerts or theatrical production, or just seen walking around town with his family.

I recently met somebody face to face who told me that that she has recently become a loyal concertgoer and this was the first time she has seen me not in tails and not from behind. You just don’t know what an positive impact a music director has when he steps off the podium and just becomes part of the community, meeting folks one on one.

As part of the Orchestra team, music directors need to be fully immersed and involved in fundraising and making certain the Orchestra is in good financial health. The seats must be filled and the musicians must be paid a fair and equitable wage. Through innovative and thoughtful programming, the underserved population, the nontraditional concertgoer, and young people must all feel welcome to the concert hall. Young people in particular should not be intimidated by all those people on stage dressed in black. With the assistance of the artistic team, the conductor should provide opportunities in and outside the concert hall for these constituencies to hear and see their orchestra; their friends and neighbors who have this special talent to create something so universally beautiful. The orchestra belongs to people of all ages and from all walks of life. It’s a challenge but it’s a challenge I have embraced here in Virginia and I am proud to say my audience is a diverse as my concerts.

As a conductor who has travelled a great deal, I always learn something new with each rehearsal and performance I conduct. Each experience is unique and I love each experience. I am happiest when I am on the podium, creating something from black notes on a page with people who share the same love I have for this very special art.