Scarsdale High School

This past weekend I went back to Scarsdale High School. 12 graduates, myself included, were being honored as distinguished alumni.

It was quite an honor. The list of alumni from SHS is long and distinguished. My co-honorees were amazing and impressive. I couldn't help but feel that my award was premature - I am proud of my accomplishments, but I am a work in progress, and I hope the next 40 years brings greater achievement and accomplishment. This is the third year the Scarsdale High alumni group has been selecting distinguished alums, and the thought that I am in the first 36 blows my mind.

The weekend was lovely. On Friday, I had an opportunity to meet with some students, and observe what they are doing in the classroom. Walking through the school - up and down the stairwell, in the music tower, around the grounds - brought back very distinct memories of being younger. I don't have memories of high school often, so this was pretty cool. The music faculty at the high school is clearly doing a fabulous job. The students speak of them with reverence and admiration, and the creativity of method in teaching kids music is very impressive.

Saturday was the big event. We were each introduced and given a chance to say something to the fairly large gathering of parents, teachers and friends. All but two of us were able to attend (the two absentees were Carolyn Strauss, the President of programming at HBO, and Eve Ensler, who wrote "The Vagina Monologues" - they had good excuses!). Some of the themes were shared by many of us - the support of teachers and parents, the encouragement to pursue our dreams, the high quality of our education (I still feel that I got a better overall education at Scarsdale High than at Harvard College). But the variety of personal stories and journeys, from the STEP student from Mississippi, who now teaches in Arizona, and serves as advisor to the Gates Foundation; to the near high school flunk-out who is now a distinguished playwright and one of the world's preeminent scholars on Shakespeare; to a man who has devoted a lifetime to helping at-risk kids through his own charity, Jimmy's Boys; to one of America's pioneers in forensic medicine; artists, journalists, historians, philanthropists.....what an august group to be a part of!

One of the themes of my short talk was how grateful I am to the teachers who have invested themselves in me - completely, and selflessly. Many of them are well-aware of my gratitude. Some are no longer with us, and I regret never telling them. Shame on me.

So... to Mrs. Brenneman, Ms. Fahey, Mr. Minard, Mrs. Spiegelman, Mrs. Spillman, Charity Bailey, Mrs. Goodman, Mr. Ladensack, Mr. Kaye, Mr. Baron, Mr. Maloney, Ms. Silver, Mr. Haseltine, Mrs. Cantor, Mr. Husted, Mr. Lokietz, Mr. Feig, Ms. Oksner, Dr. Mantz, Msgnr. Reid, Mr. Ehret, Dr. Albright, Ms. Simon;

...Reuven Grodner, Benjamin Yablock, Avi Schwartzmer;

...Tison Street, Lewis Lockwood;

...and of course, Baruch and Drora Arnon, Otto-Werner Mueller, Keiko Sato, Michael Friedman, and Edward Aldwell;

...and to the many others whom I have sorrowfully omitted due to nothing other than my own dotage:

Thank you.

HSO Masterworks #2

It was a very good weekend for the Harrisburg Symphony.

I came into the weekend with some nervousness. Nielsen's 4th Symphony - "Inextinguishable" - is a very difficult piece, to play and to conduct. It was my first go at it, and I knew that the same would be true for most of the orchestra. Add to that that the piece is a challenging one to listen to, not because it is not a great work (it is undeniably), but because long sections of it are dark and intentionally unpleasant. Of course, the work is ultimately about the triumph of the human spirit over the greatest adversity, so it ends in unbelievably majestic fashion, but the journey is often rough. Furthermore, it takes an excellent performance to get the piece across. How would the orchestra play, and how would our audience respond? And how would I do? (Yes, even conductors face self-doubt at times...)

Well, I will leave assessment of my own performance to others, but I can with all honesty say that the orchestra played gloriously. The rehearsals were especially hard work. The first run-through of the symphony on Thursday was a mess, and even Friday night we were all still at sixes and sevens with one another. But Saturday morning suddenly things began to click, and by Saturday night, the orchestra seemed to really get the piece. And this orchestra played (as they always do) with total commitment and passion. The piece flew by for me, which is usually a good sign. And the audience response was very strong and sustained (although I know that the length of the ovation was perpetrated by less than everyone present). Today's (Sunday's) performance was at least as good, and I feel probably even better than the night before.

I knew the first half of the program would be a big hit. Poulenc's "Suite française" opened, with its quirky yet tender neo-Renaissance flavors. The winds and brass were wonderful both in individual playing and in ensemble. And "The Four Seasons" is money in the bank as far as audience reaction, even with a mediocre performance, and Odin Rathnam and the strings gave a beautiful reading. The Harrisburg audience loves Odin, and the response to the Vivaldi was deservedly thunderous.

The success of the Nielsen, I believe, speaks to the universality of his theme and also the similarity of the world we live in to the world he lived in. Like Nielsen in 1914, we are in a very volatile world capable of great violence and inhumanity. Indeed, there is a constant specter of the possibility of the world annihilating itself. The inextinguishable human spirit is a very powerful image in times like these.

In the end, though, it is the brilliance of the work itself that carried the day. I have truly enjoyed getting to know this work in my studies of it. I'm very glad to have it in my repertoire, and I'm honored to have been able to conduct it.

Especially with an extraordinary group of musicians like the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra.

On a side note, we had a group from the Harrisburg Young Professionals at the concert today. I had a chance to socialize with some of them after the concert. I was pleased at their reaction to the program - again, overwhelmingly positive. So much energy is devoted in the professional orchestra world to attracting younger audiences. My interaction with the members of HYP only reaffirmed what I have always believed. The way to build the audience of the future for orchestral music is to get young people in to the performance hall once and give them something to be excited about. And what could be more exciting than beautiful, stirring and thought-provoking music performed passionately. These are intelligent, sophisticated people, some of whom have simply not come to orchestral concerts before. I grant you that some will not like it. But many undoubtedly will, and they will return. And some of those might just get hooked.


Podcast #7 - Nielsen's Symphony #4 ("Inextinguishable")

A bit of discussion about this World War 1 masterpiece - the final work of our second Masterworks program.

Podcast #6 - Vivaldi's The Four Seasons

I discuss our featured concerto, and one of the most beloved works in the repertoire.

Podcast #5 - Poulenc's Suite française

I talk about about this delightful neo-Renaissance work which opens our second Masterworks concerts.