Born: I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up in Berea, Ohio, a small college city 15 miles south of Cleveland.
Resides in: I live in Marin County in Larkspur, which is centrally located between my three orchestras.
Favorite Food: I love Asian food; Chinese, Thai and Japanese, with Chinese perhaps having a very slight edge.
Favorite Book: There’s no one favorite. Much of my reading is about the composers whose music I’m studying. Jan Swafford’s biography of Brahms is great fun to read because he really brings Brahms alive to a degree many biographers don’t. I also love mythology, real or imagined, which is why I enjoyed Joseph Campbell’s writing and am a huge Lord of the Rings fan.
Favorite Composer: I fall in love with the music of each composer I’m working on at the time. Each has such a unique voice, just as every performer does. My most regular favorites would include Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler and Ravel.
Relationship Status/Children: I’m married to Pamela Martin, a conductor and pianist who works a great deal with ballet. But she’s also Assistant Conductor and principal pianist for the Vallejo Symphony. I have a son, Adam, from a previous marriage, who is working as a personal physical trainer in Southern California. His older sister Lia passed away in 2001 at the age of 23, shortly after becoming the first women to be in San Jose State’s disk jockey program.
How long have you been the conductor of the Vallejo Symphony? I became Music Director of the Vallejo Symphony in 1983 after being one of four candidates to audition for the post.
When did you hear music for the first time? I grew up hearing the sound of the violin and the piano from the time I was born. My parents were both amateur musicians, my father on the violin and my mother on the piano.
What did you listen to as a teenager? I was drawn to jazz piano and jazz vocal groups as a teenager including Bill Evans, Dave Bruback, Amahad Jamal, the Hi-los. This was a temporary detour from classical music, which I listened to avidly from the age of four on, and I returned to it as my primary listening source from age 20 on.
What do you listen to now? I have so much music going on in my head all of the time that I often go to PBS and NPR to clear my head and catch up with what’s going on in the world. I still enjoy listening to jazz. For classical, since my work is with orchestra, I’ll change pace and listen to chamber music, especially string quartets and strings with piano.
What's the first music you remember hearing? My parents had a huge record collection of symphonies and concertos, which we listened to a great deal. When I was four they began taking me to concerts by the Cleveland Orchestra every Saturday. I was absolutely mesmerized, and immediately fell in love with the sound of the orchestra.
What is your musical training? I began studying piano and music theory in the preparatory division of the Cleveland Institute of Music at the age of five, and continued studying piano through high school. I took an educational detour for a BA in history and Political Science at the College of Wooster (Ohio), then started pursuing the goal of becoming a conductor. After doing three years undergraduate studies in piano and beginning graduate studies in music Theory at Baldwin Wallace College (Berea, Ohio) and the Cleveland Institute of Music I earned a Master of Music in conducting at Temple University in Philadelphia, almost finished a DMA in orchestral conducting at The Juilliard School. I also won scholarships to attend the conducting seminars at the Temple University Music Festival, Aspen Music Festival and Tanglewood. I left my studies at Juilliard to accept the post of Assistant Conductor with the San Francisco Symphony, which simultaneously expanded my training and made me a professional conductor.
What is the training/education to become a conductor? It starts by mastering some form of music performance, usually an instrument. A conductor doesn’t have to be a pianist, but if one’s primary instrument is something else having some skill on the piano is very helpful. A complete understanding of how music is built, including harmony, form and each composer’s musical language are vital. Equally important is developing skill in sight reading (especially orchestra scores) and training one’s ear to hear each instrument separately and all of them at once simultaneously to have a very clear aural picture of what is happening within the orchestra and how closely it matches what is on the page. Finally, developing the physical skill to communicate clearly to the orchestra what you believe the composer wants and knowing how and when to explain it when gestures aren’t enough. Fortunately there are many more places to study conducting now then when I started
What instrument do you play? My first instrument was the kettledrums, self-taught. By listening to my parents’ records I learned by ear the timpani parts to approximately 30 symphonic works and performed them with the records. After that my primary instrument is the piano, although I don’t perform in public any longer.
Why conduct? First, I’m a conductor because I love the sound of the orchestra. Second, because I love working with orchestra musicians. It’s the ultimate collaborative experience. Many people think that a conductor dictates everything that happens in a concert. There is constant communication going back and forth between the conductor and the musicians, and among the musicians. The shared energy of people loving to give a performance of a great piece and sharing it with an audience is an ultimate high.
If you’re not listening to classical music, what are you listening to? As I mentioned earlier, I often listen to the news to tune out, but when I’m listening to music it’s often chamber music or jazz.
Is there music you listen to that might surprise us? Recordings of Take 6, Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin
What are some highlights of your tenure with the Vallejo Symphony? Our performance of Hannibal Lokumbe’s African Portraits. Performance of Mahler’s 5ht symphony during my 25th anniversary season
Why do you think classical music endures? The beauty of classical music is timeless, and the emotional response it draws from people has a special depth and emotional health.
How do you learn a piece you’ll be conducting? What process do you go through to prepare yourself for rehearsal? I start with the large structure, learning the form, main melodies and harmonies, phrases. Gradually I work down to down to the small details, including the involvement of every instrument. Then I build it back up like a mosaic so that I have the full musical and emotional shape of the piece with all of its parts. Finally if there are particular physical challenges showing the rhythms or shapes to the orchestra I work those into my body. The gestures need to become second nature so that they don’t interfere with my hearing every detail of the score and what the players are giving.
If you weren’t a conductor, what would you be? I would probably be involved in work with nature or with animals in some way.
What is on the program for March’s Vallejo Symphony concert? We’ll be doing three pieces. First is Rossini’s brilliant and witty overture to his opera Semiramide. Second is the beautiful meditative Pavane by Gabriel Faure, which will be conducted by our Assistant Conductor Pamela Martin. (This piece may be familiar to viewers of Masterpiece Theater). Finally we’ll close the program with Brahms Symphony No. 4, which is his summing up of everything he knew about symphonic writing. It begins thoughtfully, becomes dramatic, then joyful, finally somber, then meditative and closes dramatically.
How are pieces chosen for the Vallejo Symphony season? Each program is a musical journey, and I try to provide a variety of contrasting styles and moods. Currently I also have to consider the Vallejo Symphony’s budget very seriously, to see how large an orchestra we can use, and what pieces the orchestra can prepare well with me in two rehearsals.
Your wife is a conductor and musician. Who performed at your wedding and what song did they play? We had a string quartet playing at our wedding. They brought us in with “Here comes the bride.”
Can you tell us about your work with the youth orchestra Young People’s Symphony Orchestra? YPSO is made up of 100 young musicians between the ages of 12 and 22 who play professional level symphonic music. They are amazing young people! We give four concerts a year of very challenging music, and every few years we do an international or domestic tour. In recent years we’ve been to China, Australia, New Zealand and Alaska. This summer we’ll be performing in Prague, Bratislava and Vienna.
The Vallejo Symphony has revisioned, retooled and rejuvenated…how has the organization changed as a result of the recent financial challenges!
The Vallejo Symphony has had to reduce its season temporarily, but is also re-assessing its priorities. We are developing programs that will combine our full orchestra concerts with appearances by smaller groups in a variety of settings in Vallejo and Benicia. We are learning to be more flexible. We want to do more to support the musical education of young people in our communities, because the evidence is very clear that students involved in the arts become better students and better citizens.