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Welcome to the personal website of conductor Levi Hammer, a musician of remarkable range and versatility who is invigorating the world of classical music today.   Here you can follow Levi's diverse activities, learn about his life, read the latest written by and about him, and stay in touch with him through the web!


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The majesty of Saint-Saëns's Organ Symphony is ringing in my ears after playing its piano part with the Konzerthausorchester Berlin all last week. There are swift scales and a celestial four-hand part, which I played with the fabulous Christina Domnick. I also had a private rehearsal with Vesselina Kasarova on Haydn's Arianna a Naxos, making Vesselina the third great mezzo, after Susanne Mentzer and Michelle DeYoung, with whom I've done this odd piece. And lastly, Haydn 82 ("the Bear") is hilarious...the world needs more Haydn! May 29, 2017

Am rehearsing the Schubert gem "Der Hirt auf dem Felsen" (The Shepherd on the Rock) with soprano Talya Lieberman and clarinetist Luise Sachse. To make such sublime music with friends is a joy, and perhaps most importantly, fun. FUN in music is underestimated, but our Schubert isn't lacking in it! May 22, 2017

This week the whole of the Komische Oper is uniting for the premiere of Aribert Reimann's Medea. Six months ago I thought I would never - not in a 1000 years - comprehend this music, but I've just played two runs of the whole show and the piece feels somehow normal, though it makes Berg sound like Brahms or Haydn. This is the thorniest atonal music I've ever done and I don't think I'll ever again be daunted by Modernism. But aesthetics aside, this is viscerally great THEATER. May 15, 2017

I'm methodically learning the libretto to Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) in preparation for this summer in Cincinnati. Whereas every German boy and girl knows this piece in childhood, I'm first doing it now. I had no idea how racist and sexist this piece is! The language presents challenges for the nonnative German speaker, and the libretto is full of words like "Frauenzimmer," not a "room for women" but an antiquated obscenity for "woman," approximately equivalent to "hussy."  May 8, 2017

At the recommendation of my friend, the great John Moriarty, I read The Gallery by John Horne Burns. Set mostly during the American liberation of Naples in 1944, it's incredibly evocative of time and place. Burns is so intuitive that I feel like I'm inside each character's head. This is not a novel of heroic battles; it depicts - sometimes beautifully, sometimes brutally - the reality of the conquered as well as the conquerors. His musical erudition is opulently on display, and he never falls into sentimental patriotism in the often savage depiction of his fellow Americans. One triviality that I took great delight in is the use of the word "Cicisbeo," which is also in Mozart/Da Ponte's Cosi fan tutte. Coming across this word felt like discovering a choice gold nugget in an already rich pile of silver. May 1, 2017

Preparing a recital with baritone Stephen Barchi. Song literature of Schumann, Mahler, Ibert and Ravel. I'm especially enjoying learning the poetry of Eichendorff in Schumann's Liederkreis, Op. 39. April 24, 2017 

Recovering from a fun week in Berlin with my best friend, conductor Sameer Patel, with whom I can always nerd-out on everything esoteric and musical and silly. April 17, 2017

Just reread Daniel Barenboim's Music Quickens Time and I'm astounded by his insight into harmony, counterpoint, musical perception, Bach, Schumann, Fürtwängler, Boulez... No one else in the entire history of Western music has Barenboim's authority. I'm humbled and inspired, and I might even read Spinoza now. April 10, 2017

Back in Berlin from Salzburg and Zürich, where I met the AMAZING Barbara Hannigan. She conducted AND sang Berg's Lulu Suite and her performance of Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements was stellar. Incidentally, I think the Symphony in Three Movements is the first of Stravinsky's American works - you practically HEAR New York skyscrapers in the music! April 3, 2017

I was inspired by President Obama's conversation with author Marilynne Robinson to read her Gilead, set in my home state of Iowa. Written from the perspective of a dying clergyman, it's a cross-generational story of family, as well as a work of theology and uniquely American history - both epic and personal. I was deeply moved. Here are two of my favorite quotes: "A man can know his father, or his son, and there might still be nothing between them but loyalty and love and mutual incomprehension." (page 8) "I don't know why solitude would be a balm for loneliness..." (page 21) March 28, 2017

In Wiesbaden and Frankfurt, where I stumbled across a Hammer Museum. My carpenter Grandpa Hammer would have loved this. March 20, 2017

I've been working on another funky Komische Oper production. This Carmen is in five(!) languages - French, German, English, Spanish and Berlinerisch! It's refreshing to see a radical take on this warhorse. March 13, 2017

Our Don Giovanni at the Komische Oper Berlin is wacky! The overture comes AFTER the second number: "Fuggi, crudele, fuggi" dovetails directly into the overture. Opera in Germany is usually referred to as "Musiktheater," and this is certainly great theater. March 6, 2017

Just finished Gide's The Immoralist. It's scandalous subject matter isn't as shocking as the manic virtuosity with which he writes. Nietzsche and Wilde lurk behind Gide's shoulder. It must have shattered Belle Époque sensibilities. February 27, 2017

I've been exploring the origins of the Protestant tradition I grew up in by reading Martin Marty's "Martin Luther." I admire Luther's "wrestling with God" and his commitment to reason and scholarship and music. And the ambiguities of his legacy are such that, even putting his life in its historical context, he calls to mind the dangers of extremism. Perhaps my favorite detail is the time Luther stormed out of a church service when the congregants failed to improve their bad singing! February 20, 2017

I am overwhelmed by John William's (the author, not the composer) Stoner, which is "simply a novel about a guy who goes to college and becomes a teacher," according to Tom Hanks. Quintessentially American in its plain and sad language, it captures the silent struggles we all face. In my copy I've copiously underlined passages like "The person one loves at first is not the person one loves at last, and...love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another." And the poetic epiphany the young Stoner experiences with Shakespeare's 73rd Sonnet directly parallels my own teenage musical epiphany with Copland's Appalachian Spring. February 13, 2017

Maurice Ravel’s L’enfant et les Sortilège is absolutely PERFECT. It conveys – all in 45 stunning minutes – childish tantrums, maternal tenderness, math lessons, American ragtime, copulating cats, cruelty, compassion, brashness, sophistication, lusciousness…in short, it conveys everything! Ravel – ever the chameleon – can imitate the music of other cultures, improve it, and somehow simultaneously make it 100% French. Lots of music is great, but not much is perfect. Mozart also regularly achieved perfection, and perhaps that’s why Mozart and Ravel go so well together. L’enfant, like his Mother Goose music, reaches deep into the soul of both the adult and the child. Or perhaps another way of saying this is that through this piece the adult finds his innocent child-like core, and the child perceives a previously undiscovered profundity and sublimity in the universe. If I had to choose my favorite music, this poignant piece may well be it. February 6, 2017

The original version of Petrushka (from 1911) was quintessentially Russian, and should be played as such. Stravinsky’s revision (from 1947) is really a new piece, filtered through his stylistic evolution (neoclassicism) and his geographical displacement prompted by world events (he moved to America.) Like in his Symphony in Three Movements from 1945, I hear a uniquely American incisiveness. Thus Petrushka 1947 is both a Russian and American piece. Such are my thoughts from the pit of the Komische Oper! January 30, 2017

I’m immersed in the absolutely perfect sound worlds of the Komische Oper’s production of Petrushka and L’enfant et les sortilèges this week. This is glorious programing at its best. January 23, 2017

I was called at the last minute to play a Mahler 2 rehearsal at the Konzerthaus for Ivan Fischer, one of my musical and humanist heroes!  Fortunately I know this music well, and the challenge in rehearsal is refrain from weeping during the last two movements. January 16, 2017

I’m saddened by the passing of Rayna Barroll Aschaffenburg, a beautiful person who gave everything of herself to her students. I’m grateful for her friendship and her artistry. January 9, 2017

I’ve been working with the singers of the Berlin chapter of “Opera on Tap.” It’s a fun way of sharing opera and having a great time…all while sipping beer! I’m particularly excited for excerpts from Der Freischütz and I Capuleti e i Montecchi this week. January 2, 2017

I’m using the holidays to rest, and am engrossed in Patti Smith’s memoirs “Just Kids.”  The writing is so beautiful that tears flowed down my face for entire chapters. I can empathize with her early struggles and the sacrifices one has to make for art and beauty.  It also makes me want to immerse myself in more American music of the 60s and 70s…Smith herself and Dylan especially. December 26, 2016

Got called at the last minute appear in a film about Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, the Leningrad. The super cool actor Florian Panzner plays Shostakovich, and I play the hands of Shostakovich!  December 19, 2016

Like a lot of great – and popular – works (Beethoven 5 is the supreme example) Boheme never gets easier. It moves so fast that the slightest lapse in concentration can wreak havoc! December 12, 2016

Am conducting a new production of Boheme with Puccini’s Toaster, a wonderful company here in Berlin. So nice to come back to this old friend of a piece, and with such an awesome cast and creative team.  December 5, 2016

Back from the Gemäldegalerie. My eye always lingers on paintings of musicians.  November 28, 2016

Visit to Charlottenburg Palace. The Watteau paintings were amazing. My obsession with Watteau began simultaneously with my obsession for Verlaine, French poetry and the exquisite art of the French mélodie.  November 21, 2016

A sober visit to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial. Poigant. November 14, 2016

Visited Potsdam and Frederick the Great's music room at Sanssouci where old J.S. Bach improvised on the "royal theme" (devised by C.P.E Bach?) that eventually became the Musical Offering.  November 7, 2016