On Levi's Desk

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, 2016Back from the Philharmonie, where Simon Rattle and the Philharmonic played an incredible program of Schoenberg, Weber, Berg and Brahms. So great to hear the Berliners put the Second Viennese School in its proper historical and expressive context. October 31, 2016

Am planning a day-long walking tour for Jamie and some friends from Ohio (Rich and Renee Dee.) We’ll start at the Reichstag and gradually make our way down Unter den Linden. Rich and Renee will go to the Komische’s smash hit production of the Magic Flute and Jamie and I will go to a concert performance of Barber’s Vanessa. In some alternate universe I would happily be a tour guide! October 24, 2016

Playing chamber music this week with Berlin Philharmonic principals and my old pal Moky Gibson-Lane. They play every note with SCHWUNG and perfect precision! October 17, 2016

My soul is awash in the sounds of Haitink and the Berlin Philharmonic playing Schubert’s Unfinished and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde.  They play Mahler just right: like chamber music.  October 10, 2016

German can be hilarious. I just learned the word “Bauarbeiterdekoltee,” which apparently means “plumber’s crack.” October 3, 2016

Reading “Berlin Now” by veteran German journalist Peter Schneider.  In a city with such a rich history, it’s nice to get an overview of where Berlin and Berliners are today. September 26, 2016

I’m the proud owner of the Rick Steves guidebook for Germany. I appreciate his old-fashioned, American perspective and common sense. September 19, 2016

Moving across the world – even to a sophisticated western country in which I more or less speak the language – can be hard!...and easy to lose perspective. It’s a good thing that I have supportive friends and colleagues on this journey. September 12, 2016

On my desk: Meistersinger!!!  I’m working on the big ensemble scenes.  The “Prügelfuge” at the end of Act 2 is insane.  HOW did Wagner do this? Stravinsky 50 years later seems tame by comparison. I’ve been firmly converted to the cult of Wagner. September 5, 2016

My god, Wagner is formidable. I love the new musical universe that is opening up to me.  I’m reminded of the old adage “nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring.”  Where did we get the idea that fast = good and slow = bad???  That seems like a very modern idea.  In this case, I have no choice other than to learn Meistersinger (and the universe contained therein) slowly. August 29, 2016

Collaborated in an opera workshop for some cool kids coming to the opera for the first time. We staged a scene from Barbiere and even recomposed a beatbox version of Rossini. Amazing mix of beautiful people from all over the world: Afghanistan, Syria, India, Turkey, Bosnia, Greece, Russia and elsewhere! August 22, 2016

This is a “social media” production of Barbiere with Rosina and the Count communicating via Facebook. “Se il mio nome” was originally conceived in the clichéd popular style of the day, and the Komische Oper has updated it into a modern pop hit. August 15, 2016

It can be easy to dismiss a warhorse like Barbiere. This is my third production, and the ingenious details keep revealing themselves! August 8, 2016

Getting ready for BERLIN!  On my desk: Nine (Nein!!!) operas to learn.  I’d be lying if I didn't admit to being daunted by this.  One note at a time… August 1, 2016

Going through a CCM tradition memorizing all the metronomes of the Beethoven symphonies in preparation for my upcoming comprehensive exams.  The scherzos are the confounding ones! July 25, 2016

Still drilling Mozart recitatives. I'm playing mind games with myself to make the text and music crystal clear in the mind and ear and hands and mouth! July 18, 2016

Working on Mozart recitatives. The text must be firmly in the mind and dripping off the tongue. Le parole in bocca! So much of our work is drilling and contemplating...drilling and contemplating. It's easy to forget to contemplate, but that is the essential part. July 4, 2016

Just read Zweig's novella Chess Story, which I received as a very sweet gift from my lovely Cincinnati friend Atarah Jablonsky, who was born in Jerusalem in 1927. She's a Zweig fan, as am I. Check out her inscription in Hebrew. June 27, 2016

Recovering from the premiere of Fellow Travelers. In addition to Greg Spears's amazing music, I met Thomas Mallon, the author of the novel on which the opera is based. June 20, 2016

Following the Orlando massacre I'm even more thankful for our work on Fellow Travelers. As our stage director, Kevin Newbury, put it in rehearsal, art has the power to change lives. And this piece - performed with conviction and power and pride - is a heartwrenching statement that love is love is love... June 13, 2016

Just finished watching The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. So fascinating how this one man draws together so many threads of American society. Now I'd like to read Jeffrey Toobin's book and I'm looking forward to the upcoming ESPN documentary. May 30, 2016

Back in Cincinnati for the first rehearsal of Greg Spears's new opera, Fellow Travelers. What a pleasure it has been studying this piece. Can't wait to hear it for the first time this afternoon. May 23, 2016

Reading Fellow Travelers by Thomas Mallon, the novel on which the new opera is based. Am about half way through, and already I feel now my blood pressure rise with anger and now my eyes well with tears. It's smart, poignant, affecting writing that stimulates the mind and the autonomic nervous system. May 16, 2016

Working up the Judenquintett from Salome again. Strings may have their Don Juan audition excerpts, but we have our Strauss too! I'm trying to give each of the five Jews an individual character and motivation. My favorite line is the screaming "Sie sind nicht einmal beschnitten!" May 9, 2016

Reading a lot of Bill Bryson, my fellow Iowan, who - like my dad - was born in Des Moines in 1951 (This is the subject of his memoir.) I've whizzed through it as well as A Short History of Nearly EverythingShakespeare: The World as Stage, and The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way. Such fun reading! May 2, 2016

Relearning Boheme on short notice. Every time I come back to it, the fast music gets easier and the love music never fails to make my heart swell. April 25, 2016

How fun to return to Pierrot Lunaire! It was my first big foray into the second Viennese school, and now it feels like old hat. And I take gleeful pleasure in connecting with Schoenberg's remarkable grandson on Twitter! April 18, 2016

Fulfilling a Mahlerian adventure. For months I've been studying Das Lied von der Erde and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, both in Schoenberg's arrangements for chamber orchestra. I quickly overcame my former ignorance about Das Lied, and now I just wish I had more time to live with its beauties, its profundities, its humor, its tears, its dualities, its Ewigkeit. I pray that fate allows me to one day conduct Mahler's original. April 11, 2016

Studying Handel's Israel in Egypt in preparation for Queen City Chamber Opera's production with the fabulous Isaac Selya. What a masterpiece, and what joyous colleagues to make music with. April 4, 2016

Studying the Butterfly duet in preparation for a coaching. Puccini is so justifiably popular! And he deserves credit for his absolutely perfect orchestration. It's on par with that of Debussy, Ravel or Stravinsky. March 28, 2016

This week I'm surveying accompanied recitatives of Mozart. Each one is a tricky little challenge...the most important thing is to perfectly memorize the text. March 21, 2016

Working again on The Cunning Little Vixen for the final stretch of this production. I am constantly amazed at this stunning music - it's a magical sound-world like no other. March 14, 2016

I'm taking a beginning ballet class. I'm embarrassingly untalented, but I'm enjoying learning about new ways to move and the body awareness that comes with it. March 7, 2016

Amazing the vastness of the repertoire! I've somehow never done the Fledermaus Overture and the Sprecherszene from Magic Flute. Now I'm learning and memorizing them in a jiffy!...one does what one must... February 29, 2016

Working on the opening scene of Rosenkavalier - up until Baron Ochs's entrance. I want to lick and taste this music...so delicious! February 22, 2016

In New York for some meetings, but am planning to see some sights too! Heading to the Guggenheim now. February 15, 2016

I have loved Shostakovich's first symphony since I was a teenager, and now I'm getting around to actually studying it and learning the tricky little piano part. February 8, 2016

Recovering from Salome! This was the perfect way to learn my first Strauss opera...gradually over many months with a cast dedicated to perfecting every detail, even in the glorious Jew Quintet. The more intricate Strauss becomes, the lighter - Mozartian - it must be played. An extraordinary experience through which I've learned enormously. February 1, 2016

I risked a mid-winter drive to Atlanta to hear Runnicles conduct the Missa Solemnis. It's glorious how Beethoven can shock the ear after 200 years! On the drive home I was caught in a Kentucky blizzard and spent 24 hours stuck in my car - mostly listening to a very cool jazz station. January 25, 2016

Back from a quick trip to Ann Arbor to visit Martin Katz. Martin occasionally whips my fingers back into shape and keeps me artistically honest. I really count on the continued guidance of great mentors. January 18, 2016

After long languishing on the back of my desk, The Guilty Mother finally got read: it's the least giocoso of Beaumarchais's Figaro Trilogy but delightful nevertheless. The characters are so real, so human! Susanna, Figaro, the Count and Countess...I feel that I know and love them.  And the scandal between The Marriage of Figaro and The Guilty Mother - the brief, furtive affair between Cherubino and the Countess resulting in an illegitimate son - makes them all the more empathetic.  January 11, 2016

As a recreative artist, there's still plenty of room for creativity.  I'm weighing many viable "solutions" to performance problems in the Finale of Act 2 of Le Nozze di Figaro.  Now I need to execute it with complete conviction.  January 4, 2016

Norman Del Mar on Richard Strauss is certainly opinionated!  He calls Salome and Elektra "stage tone poems," and the chapter on Heldenleben is called "The Decline of the Tone Poems"!  December 28, 2015

Kurt Masur's death was made all the more poignant for me by the quote that appeared on his website.  The prayer of St. Francis of Assisi perfectly captures Masur's spirit: Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.  Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.  O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.  December 21, 2015

Finally reading Zweig's memoirs, and I've started by translating the Goethe poem placed at the top of The World of Yesterday.  A lot of unfamiliar German vocabulary, but it was worth taking a few minutes to crack this nut!  December 14, 2015

I'm learning about Eubie Blake, a late and great manifestation of the ragtime era.  I called Bill Bolcom to discuss the man he considers his "last great teacher," (after Milhaud and Messiaen!)  Bolcom credits Eubie with finally getting him to play with a steady tempo, since he "always had problems rushing.  Eubie would say, 'Use your foot!  Use your foot until you're ready to get away from using your foot!'  Then you've internalized the rhythm."  Blake was probably the greatest practitioner of urban, stride ragtime.  What a personality!...What a pianist!  December 7, 2015

Untangling the knots of King Herod in Salome.  It's amazing how Strauss captured in music the perversity of Wilde's play.  November 30, 2015

Reading Martin Katz's truly complete The Complete Collaborator.  I so wish I had had this treasure trove of practical experience when I started to reduce opera scores, though I suppose I learned something through each painful mistake along the journey.  I think my dogged persistence was only fueled by my love for the art form.  Opera is truly addictive!   November 23, 2015

After confounding me for years, Mahler 7 is finally making sense to me, though in the last movement I still feel like I've been thrown in the middle of a vast Hapsburgian ocean!  November 16, 2015

This has been a charming production of Merry Widow.  Even though we did it in English there's plenty of Viennese whipped cream.  November 9, 2015

Georges Bizet spoke the truth when he said: "Ah, music!  What a beautiful art!  But what a dreadful profession!"  Not dissimilar to Elaine Stritch: "Yeah, well, it's like the prostitute once said - it's not the work, it's the stairs."  November 2, 2015

I just played William Bolcom's Graceful Ghost Rag for the composer himself.  We had an interesting chat about if and how much to swing his rags, and classic ragtime in general.  He compared it to notes inégales in Couperin's music.  What a thrill!...the man is a genuine genius.  October 26, 2015

Charles Rosen wrote that harmony and counterpoint are essentially the same thing, even though we think of them as contrary concepts.  This makes sense from a certain perspective.  I think that pitch and rhythm are - in essence - also the same.  October 19, 2015

Bizarre - and wonderful - to be working on Janceck and Couperin these days.  Both are - in completely different ways - foreign to me...like visiting unknown lands where exotic tongues are spoken.  October 12, 2015

Learning about a minor master of Ragtime, Charles L. Johnson.  A lifelong Kansas City resident, his biggest hit was Dill Pickles Rag, a lovely little piano piece!  October 5, 2015

The Italian language is so beautiful!  Case in point: words for "wind": vento, venticello, arietta, brezzolina, zeffiretto, brezza, zeffiro, rovajo, aura, refoio, corrente, bora, ponenino, alito, spirito, turbine, raffica... the list goes on!  September 28, 2015

Lots of reading on Joplin and the ragtime era.  So fascinating!  Another analogy: The rag and the cakewalk are to Joplin what the mazurka and the polonaise are to Chopin.  September 21, 2015

Prokiofiev is at his best in smaller forms.  He's a master of great tunes and awesome piano writing, but he was (mostly) out of his element with larger forms.  Maybe that's why he's such a great ballet composer...great tune after great tune for dance.  His first symphony is truly great: it's just four really short pieces...not really a symphony.  And even though his orchestration is sometimes colorful, I still feel it's like half-baked broadway orchestration...  September 14, 2015

Another analogy: Debussy is to Monet as Fauré is to Cézanne as Ravel is to Matisse as Poulenc is to Dufy.  Composer-painter analogies may be tenuous, but - for me at least - it helps clarify a milieu.   September 7, 2015

My analogy of the day: Mahler is to Klimt as Schoenberg is to Schiele.  August 31, 2015

As I begin The Merry Widow, I'm thinking back to playing Lehar's music on Lehar's piano in Lehar's house in Bad Ischl, Austria.  August 17, 2015

My Cunning Little Vixen score just arrived.  Such haunting and stunning music.  I'm new to the world of Janacek and I can't wait to explore it.  August 10, 2015

Returning to a classic - Zen in the Art of Archery - in search of focus and inspiration.  August 3, 2015

Summer reading continues with the Figaro Trilogy of Beaumarchais.  July 27, 2015

Now that I've just read Prosper Mérimée's subpar novella Carmen, I'm content to stick to Bizet's masterful opera.  July 20, 2015

I'm delighted to be working on a production of Rossini's first opera, La Cambiale di Matrimonio.  July 13, 2015

My mind's palate is salivating at the thought of summer reading!  With some time on my hands, I'm also studying French this summer.  Verlaine is making more sense, but I still couldn't order a baguette!  July 6, 2015

Finally reading Goethe's Faust -- in the Walter Kaufmann parallel translation.  June 29, 2015

Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16.  Boy oh boy do I have a lot of notes to learn...  June 22, 2015

Starting to memorize the libretto of Salome.  Still scandalous after more than a century, it's shockingly graphic even aside from the striptease, beheading and necrophilia!  Had to look up "brünstig," the German word for being "in heat."  Nasty!  (And fabulous.)  June 8, 2015

Drilling archaic Italian for Il Trovatore with Cincinnati Opera.  Mi Vendica!  With a dream cast!  May 25, 2015

Brahms's First Symphony.  A triumphant and incredibly bittersweet culmination of my tenure with the Akron Youth Symphony.  I will deeply miss these amazing young musicians.  May 12, 2015

Putting the finishing touches on my script for Aesop's Fables - my theater piece told through the music of Bizet, Beethoven, Mozart, Debussy and Ravel.  Looking forward to these 16 concerts for 3000 kids!  May 10, 2015

Warhorse of warhorses!  Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto with AYS concerto competition winner, Kyle Shin.  At 13 years old, Kyle has both the chops and the heart for this beast of a piece.  May 3, 2015

Le Travail du Peintre.  Another song cycle that combines music (Poulenc,) poetry (Éluard,) and art (Picasso, Chagall, Braque, Gris, Klee, Miró, Villon.)  Poulenc was one of the most literary of composers.  (Schumann, Britten and Rorem come to mind as a few rivals.)  And he was certainly THE most visual of composers.  April 30, 2015

There are a lot of (incoherent?) notes in Hindemith's Concerto for Woodwinds, Harp and Orchestra.  He could really churn it out!  I'm reminded of my teacher Günther Firlinger's childhood maxim from shortly after World War II: "Hindemith - weg damit!" (Hindemith - away with it!)  April 13, 2015

Months of work are culminating this week in Cry, the Beloved Country - the semi-staged, cantata-like version of Kurt Weill's Lost in the Stars.  Especially gratifying is the reunion with my beloved cast of our Porgy and Bess.  April 6, 2015

Studying Elgar and Stravinsky for a Link Up concert with the Akron Symphony.  Alex Cha, my principal cellist from the Akron Youth Symphony, is featured in the Elgar concerto.  We're thrilled to share symphonic music with 2000 public school students this week.  March 30, 2015

At the piano again.  Practicing the d-minor concerto of Mozart.  This is Mozart at his most Beethovenian...anachronistic, I know!  And I'm planning some slapstick antics for the Farewell Symphony.  The world would be a better place if we all had more Papa Haydn in our lives!  March 22, 2015

COSÌ FAN TUTTE!!!  I adore Mozart's every note and Da Ponte's every syllable.  I could spend my whole life in the perfection of the operas of Mozart.  March 16, 2015

Covering a great program of "Four Rivers" for Christopher Wilkins this week: Blue Danube, Moldau, Ellington's The River, and the mightiest river of them all, the Rhine!  Conducted the Schumann in rehearsal last night at 10 minutes' notice!  March 12, 2015

Preparing to work with a top notch youth orchestra in Rochester.  Berlioz, Stravinsky, and my first time doing Brahms Academic Festival Overture.  I can't hear this music without smiling.  March 2, 2015

I'm captivated by presidential memoirs these days.  The 90s seem like ancient history in Bill Clinton's My Life. His troubled youth in Hot Springs is beautifully touching.  And Obama's Dreams for My Father is as eloquent as it is candid.  Bravo, Mr. President!  February 23, 2015

Scenes from Fidelio and Peter Grimes. Britten's storm scene is terrifying!  "Old Joe has gone fishing..."  February 16, 2015

Studying for a surprise "valentine" for the ASO audience: Elgar's sweet and sincere Salut d'amour, with just the right dose of rubato.  It musn't be maudlin!  February 9, 2015

My beloved youth orchestra's winter concert is coming up.  A piece for each family, then a showpiece for the whole orchestra: Brandenburg 3, Mozart c-minor Serenade, Fanfare for the Common Man, and Kodaly's Hary Janos.  I'm planning some choreography for the Bach!  February 2, 2015

On my desk today are Apollinaire's poetry and Dufy's woodcuts in preparation for Poulenc's Le Bestiaire.  What a magnificent amalgamation of words, visual arts and music.  January 26, 2015

Reading Alan Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country in preparation for Weill's Lost in the Stars.  I was delighted to learn that Stephen Sondheim shares my opinion that Weill's American (Broadway, Gershwinesque) music is better than his German (mondernist) period.  January 19, 2015

Getting chills working on the score of Dvorak's Cello Concerto.  And I can't wait to hear Jonah Ellsworth play it this week.  Dvorak's best piece?  Superlatives like "best" are hollow, but it's certainly the most transcendent music he ever wrote.  January 5, 2015

Enjoying the holidays reading Hesse's Siddhartha and Schnitzler's Dream Story and Night Games.  December 29, 2014

Nutcracker this week with the Akron Symphony and Ballet Excel Ohio.  And Akron Youth Symphony members join me for their professional solo debuts!  December 16, 2014

Two piano concertos - Bach and Ravel - in one day.  This is a first for me!  November 16, 2014

Prokofiev 5:  like Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev is always a ballet composer, never more so than in this symphony...and no one wrote better tunes than those two!  Oh, and Josh Bell isn't bad either!  November 8, 2014

Working on Weill's Mahagonny Songspiel.  Music sometimes so perfectly captures a time and a place, in this case Baden Baden 1927.  October 20, 2014

Always refreshing to return to Appalachian Spring.  This time around the mixed meters feel as natural as a folk song.  October 18, 2014

Brahms Hungarian Dances and Waltzes four-hands with Mark Gibson.  I love the way conductor-pianists play: always with conviction and authority, and they make the best song accompanists!  Gibson's quote of the week: "Besser Spaß zu haben als Kunst zu machen."  ("Better to have fun than to make art.")  September 16, 2014

Ives Variations on "America": the epitome of delightful quirkiness.  September 8, 2014

Debussy Petit Suite for orchestra.  Why isn't this piece programmed more often?!  So colorful!  And such lascivious inspiration in the Verlaine poems!  August 23, 2014

Reading Messiaen's analysis of Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin.  "...the palpable modesty with which Ravel allows a glimpse of a neutral seventh or ninth chord.  He stays on the edge of the picture and dreams of the castle into which he dare not enter..."  WOW!  July 31, 2014

Haydn 88: both rustic and metropolitan, witty and serious, effortless yet complex, confounding yet reassuring.  And the second movement is SUBLIME - no wonder Brahms wanted his 9th Symphony to sound like this!  July 21, 2014

Study retreat at the home of Joe and Connie Tasker in Rappahannock.  June 30, 2014

Returning from the League of American Orchestra's conference in Seattle with a renewed gratitude for the industry that makes our art possible.  June 6, 2014

Unable to sleep after the Cleveland Orchestra's stunning Cunning Little Vixen.  My jaw was on the floor for the entire performance. May 19, 2014

Conclusion: Dvorak's New World is NOT a symphony of triumph; it is NOT a "Siegensymphonie."  The shift to major comes too late, and it's still inflected with sorrow - see the high melodic minor sixths in the first violins!  A sense of melancholy remains even in the smile of the final wind chord.  April 28, 2014

Prokofiev Classical and Poulenc Babar tour with the Magical Theatre Company.  Check out the cast!  April 21, 2014

Beethoven 5 never gets old, always feels fresh.  And the scherzo's phrasal twists and turns feel like Beethovenian M.C. Escher.  And Rossini's Stabat Mater - what a masterpiece!  April 7, 2014

Quickly reviewing Schumann 4 in anticipation of Dohnanyi's rehearsal in Cleveland.  March 24, 2014

Beethoven's Seventh this week.  I rarely do this, but I'm following an inner, invented program: First movement - Creation of the cosmos, the pervasive rhythmic motive is the dancing of the gods. Second movmement - Somber and sublime, the scene focuses on earth.  Third movement - The mind of the genius; Beethoven's schizoid scherzo.  Fourth movement - Enter the humans (us!), a rustic hoedown.  March 17, 2014

Am with Runnicles and Spano in Atlanta this week, and after years of studying it, the Rite of Spring now feels like a (towering and foreboding) old friend.  Instead of fearing it, I now revel in Stravinsky's perversity.  March 10, 2014

Beethoven on my desk, but looking forward to funk band Get On Up tonight.  Beethoven can be funky, right?  March 4, 2014

Dug up the 18th century "Gypsy" tunes that served as Kodaly's models for Dances of Galanta.  February 21, 2014

Reading Barzini's The Italians and came across this fabulous passage: "Italians on their death beds, in rooms facing especially noisy squares or streets, are known to have renounced leaving their last wishes and advice to weeping relatives, being too weak to make themselves heard."  February 12, 2014

Starting off my re-study of Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream by re-reading the Shakespeare.  February 4, 2014

Kodaly's Dances of Galanta...a distinctly Hungarian joie de vivre...I love this music!  January 6, 2014

I've fallen in love with the little E-flat Serenade of Mozart!  December 21, 2013

Arias of Donizetti, Mozart, Offenbach, Rossini and Strauss.  November 19, 2013

Shakespeare's As You Like It and Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis.  November 4, 2013

Fauré and Ravel Pavanes, Puccini and Mascagni Intermezzi.  October 28, 2013

Spending much of this week with Sibelius 7.  The complexity and beauty and rightness of this work astounds me.  October 21, 2013