Strawser Interview Part 1 - Spartacus Suite

Dick and I discuss the upcoming HSO Masterworks performance of Khachaturian's Spartacus Suite #2.
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Strawser Interview Part 2 - Billy the Kid

Dick and I discuss the upcoming HSO Masterworks performance of Copland's Billy the Kid.
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Strawser Interview Part 3 - Don Quixote

Dick and I discuss the upcoming HSO Masterworks performance of Strauss' Don Quixote.
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Rabbi Eric Cytryn's Invocation at LVC Award Ceremony

Here is the text of Rabbi Cytryn's beautiful invocation this past Tuesday.

Our God and God of our Ancestors,
To whom all life is precious and dear,
Bless our Founders Day Convocation today
With your gifts of wisdom, grace and peace.

O You Divine
Who create the world
With vibrating substance,
Help each of your creatures
To hear the music we make,
The personal truths we share,
The divine wisdom you reveal;
Open our ears, our minds and our hearts
That we may become better listeners
To the breathtaking cacophony of Your world.

Continue, please, to bless Lebanon Valley College
With wisdom, insight and prosperity.

Continue to bless all campus service organizations
Who contribute to the well being of the student body
And the greater Central Pennsylvania community
With the energy only college students seem to exhibit.

Continue to bless our honoree,
Maestro Stuart Malina and his family
With all that is good;
May he continue
To practice the gifts you grant
And inspire us to greater appreciation
Of the good vibrations
That fill Your universe
With Your songs.
The Bible teaches us
To Sing a new Song to God;
May Stuart Malina’s creativity
Be infused with Your energy
And reflect our divine purpose,
To draw near to You
Through our love and our actions.
May his family,
His fellow musicians
And his community
Continue to benefit
From his great love for people
And for music.

God, Bless the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,
These United States of America
And all your creation, everywhere,
With Liberty and Justice,
So that we may wisely embrace
The truth of our diverse paths to each other
And to You.

Amen.
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Lebanon Valley College Founders Day Award

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Yesterday, I had the great honor of receiving Lebanon Valley College's Founders Day Award, for character, leadership and community contributions demonstrating the qualities of the College founders. It was a wonderful ceremony, beginning with a beautiful invocation by my rabbi, Eric Cytryn, and including a charming and beautiful piece for a cappella chorus by my colleague Scott Eggert.

Here are my comments upon receiving the award from Stephen MacDonald, President of Lebanon Valley College. I hope to soon include Rabbi Cytryn's words as well.

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President MacDonald, members of the Lebanon Valley College faculty, staff and student body, family and friends –

I am profoundly honored to be receiving the Founders’ Day award today. Being recognized for one’s accomplishments is always gratifying, but to be a musician honored by Lebanon Valley College, which for many years has been a center not only of higher learning, but particularly and proudly of musical learning, is very special indeed.

It is also humbling to be surrounded by people of enormous accomplishments, in music and in every other field of learning, as well as by a student body that will be the next generation of movers and shakers.

More than anything, though, I am filled with feelings of deep gratitude. As proud as I am of what I have done with my life, I am crystal clear on the many advantages I have had – advantages that I had no part in creating other than sheer luck.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent book, “Outliers”, the author examines the lives of many very successful people, ranging from professional athletes to Bill Gates, and finds that in most every case there were circumstances surrounding each one that enabled the person, with lots of hard work, to succeed.

My life has been full of those fortuitous circumstances. Starting with my parents, here with us today, who created an environment filled with love of the arts. Music in the home, concerts, ballets, operas, and plays were part of my upbringing, and gave me a love of music that led me to want to excel at it. They have been unwavering in their support of me, and there aren’t words enough to thank them for that.

I was raised in Scarsdale, NY, an affluent community with excellent schools, where students were encouraged to take leadership roles in ways that one rarely sees anymore. We were taught that we could accomplish amazing thing if we were given an extremely long leash. I was the music director for school and community musicals at age 13…. And I was not the only one. The directors, choreographers, set and lighting designers, and costumers were also kids. Many of them have gone on to big careers – some of them are giants in their professions.

I could go on and on – from my nurturing piano teacher to the woman my mom played tennis with who led me to my first professional orchestra job. The end result was that I found myself able to spend my working life making music – some of the greatest music ever written.

Over the course of my career, I have developed a few principles that have guided me. I thought today I would share some of them with you.

The first is that musicians will play well for you if they feel respected. I strive to treat the talented musicians in the orchestras I conduct with the utmost respect. This includes being prepared, being cordial, never insulting musicians publicly, being open to their musical ideas, staying humble, and always sharing the glory. The audience is applauding their work as much, if not more than mine.

Of course, this could easily apply to just about any profession – certainly any management profession – but it is often conspicuously lacking in mine.

Second, every audience is important. I have been fortunate to conduct at some of the most esteemed venues in this country. It is crucial, if one is to be a performing artist, to understand that the audience at the Harrisburg Forum is every bit as deserving of a spectacular performance as the audience at Carnegie Hall. And, believe it or not, they are every bit as sophisticated. When I conducted at Carnegie Hall, the experience was certainly exciting. What made the experience best, however, was having hundreds of family members, friends, and Harrisburg audience members there, cheering me on. Too many artists don’t get this – phoning in performances at the “unimportant” venues and saving it for the big cities. What a travesty. That is the death of art.

Third, I try to make whatever situation I am in into the perfect situation. It is so easy to constantly gauge your life by comparing it to others. I did this for many years. Some of my friends have had careers much more glamorous than mine. The grass was always greener. The change happened when I was able to really assess what was important to me. This came, not coincidentally, right about the time that I married my wonderful wife, Marty. Music, yes, of course is important. But certainly not as much as my family and the quality of our lives. As it turns out, the work maintaining the green grass on the other side of the fence takes an enormous toll, and the dandelions in my lawn are kind of beautiful. What I am most proud of in my work here in Harrisburg, as well as in Greensboro before that is the balance of my life. I have a great orchestra and a wonderful, sane family life.

Along a similar line, I believe that an audience wants its music director to be devoted not just to his job, but to his community as well. Ownership is the name of the game, and it’s very hard to create a sense of ownership for an orchestra in a community, when the leader of the orchestra shows little ownership of it himself. This is a time when many music directors are juggling multiple orchestras. While it is definitely not impossible for an orchestra to thrive under those circumstances, I feel safe in saying it has been a boon for the HSO that I have made my life there, not just my livelihood.

Finally, great music, performed enthusiastically and skillfully, speaks for itself. There is no need to apologize for great art. This is a hard one to remember. We’re living in a time when orchestras are foundering, and the word on the street is that classical music is dying with its aging audience. We are constantly looking for new ways to bring in audience – this is a necessity. But we cannot be messing with the product itself. My theory is get the people in the door and then give them a great performance.

The late, great choral conductor, Robert Shaw, said that every time you perform a piece of music, someone is hearing it for the first time and someone is hearing it for the last time. It is a powerful bit of wisdom. The first time hearer gives you an enormous opportunity. In fact, you will, by definition, never have the opportunity again. We must make the work come alive, we must in a sense make a case for the work’s worthiness. We want the listener to fall in love with the music. The listener who is hearing it for the last time presents us with a similar, but slightly different responsibility. Here, the performance must be worthy of all previous performances., somewhat of a culmination. As artists, we must keep that huge responsibility in mind. We owe it to the composer, and most of all we owe it to the audience.

Having said that, the concert experience needs to be a welcoming one. I always speak to the audience, at least briefly, to break down the barrier between performer and listener. I don’t want people to feel that the music is beyond them, or that the concert experience requires any advanced esoteric knowledge. It doesn’t. All it requires is an openness to the experience. And of course, a compelling performance. I am so fortunate to have an orchestra in Harrisburg where the members play every piece like their lives depend upon it.

The proof is, as they say, in the pudding. Things are going well for the Harrisburg Symphony at a time when many orchestras are failing. I cannot take all of the credit for this, but I do believe it all starts with an ethos throughout the orchestra of making orchestral music with passion and love.

I will end with a piece of music. I have selected a wonderful Prelude by Claude Debussy, called “The Sunken Cathedral”. In it, Debussy depicts a ruin of a cathedral, which comes back to life in its full splendor, only to once again become a nostalgic memory. In my mind this so beautifully describes the live concert experience, during which a work of art comprising a composer’s notes on a page comes to life in vivid majesty, but only for an instant, after which it is again nothing but a memory, albeit a joyful one.

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