Popular entertainment has changed so much in recent years. How about the symphony?
What is best about symphonic music is that it doesn’t change and it is changing all the time, both the music itself and the business of performing it. To succeed we need to invite people we haven’t invited before and once we get them into the hall, we need to connect with them.
What is the New Hampshire Symphony doing to invite new people and connect with them?
We’re playing in more cities and more halls. And I’m speaking from the stage, offering pre-concert presentations, interviewing the guest artists. It’s not that different from a pre-game show for sports, talking about what the challenge is for the day, what’s the game plan. That way, when people listen, they know who we are and what we are trying to achieve — and if we succeed or not.
Is symphonic music misunderstood?
There’s still an image of the orchestra projected by the late night TV host with the foreign accent and the candlelight and the smoking jacket. That has put off a lot of people and has nothing to do with classical music. Classical music is simply extraordinarily great music, done by people who really want to share it with others.
Can you describe the experience of conducting a symphony?
All artists live in the spiritual realm and in the technical realm. When everything comes together technically, something happens spiritually. Time slows down, and it’s like a great play on a ball field when there’s this supreme focus, the crowd becomes a blur and magic happens.
What kind of baton do you use?
For a while I used handmade batons made by a man who plays tympani in the Metropolitan Opera. Now I use machine-made ones from Mollard Baton Company. Everyone uses something different. Mine has a nice handle and is made of cocobolo wood, but mostly I look for balance — right by the fingers where the hand holds it.
Is there a Stradivarius of batons?
No. The fact is that you could use a balsa wood stick. It’s a tool.
What are some of the more amusing moments that you’ve experienced while conducting?
I remember the first time I conducted the Jerusalem Symphony, they were performing the Schumann symphony. I started to conduct the rehearsal and no one played. Just awkward silence. I took a deep breath. Once again, I gave the downbeat and no one played. It turned out that I was conducting Schumann number 4 and they were playing Schumann number 2. So I’m about to conduct something loud and stormy and they were about to play something soft and wispy. There was such a disconnect that they couldn’t play.
That qualifies as an amusing moment?
Well, there was the time that my cummerbund popped off during a concert and hit my first flutist.
You’ve been a conductor in a variety of places. Are audiences here different from New York or Jerusalem?
Audiences are different everywhere you conduct. In New Hampshire the loyal audience is fairly sophisticated. It’s small, but has refined ears. The peculiar challenge here is geography. People have the sense that a 20-minute drive is too far, a concert in Concord is for the people in Concord. It’s really helpful to have people who have a broader view of the state. So we’re decentralizing this year. For instance, we may play only one night in Manchester and then repeat the performance in Concord and Portsmouth.
Does a healthy symphony ensure a healthy cultural life for a state?
Yes, but mostly we need people, the individuals and corporations of the state, to step up and take responsibility for the cultural life of New Hampshire. It needs to be an ongoing investment. It doesn’t help to be the flavor of the month. Every state in the union has more than one orchestra and one of them typically has a statewide image and mission. We’re trying to be that for New Hampshire. We’re committed to use the best local players and we also bring in some of the greatest players in the world. NH
This article appears in the November 2004 issue of New Hampshire Magazine