This has been a wonderful few years for you professionally. What’s next on the horizon?
I’m very excited about all the projects coming up! I’m moving to San Francisco in a few weeks, where I’m starting as the Resident Conductor with the San Francisco Symphony and Music Director of their Youth Orchestra. It’s going to be a great new challenge!
For the last two years, I’ve been the Conducting Fellow at the New World Symphony in Miami, assisting Michael Tilson Thomas, and leading and curating several orchestral concerts. Among those were the PULSE Concerts, education concerts for where the hall is transformed into a nightclub, education concerts which were broadcasted globally online.
I just came from Tanglewood in the Berkshires, where I was leading the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra in many concerts, among them a performance of Shostakovich’s 14th Symphony. This past season I was thrilled to conduct in Germany again, where I led the Munich Chamber Opera in Mozart’s La finta semplice, and the Meininger Hofkapelle. Recently I premiered a special work written for traditional Turkish instruments and the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz addressing the European Refugee Crisis and which was part of efforts to bridge cultures through music.
What was your path to conducting?
There has always been a lot of music in our household. Singing, playing piano or clarinet in smaller or bigger ensembles.
I’ve always been drawn to making music with others. And even in the intimate setting of chamber music, I often had musical ideas that I felt comfortable communicating to my colleagues. Working with an orchestra has some similarities, since my job is to facilitate collaboration between groups of musicians. But it became immediately apparent to me that I wanted to conduct when I first got in front of an orchestra. To lead an ensemble, it requires my full engagement. In order to embody the music, and clearly communicate musical ideas, it demands all of my attention – no thoughts on myself, or personal preoccupations. I have to be fully present. And that’s the goal of a musician, to be present and living in the music.
Besides the fact that the vast variety of musical colors only an orchestra possesses excites me!
Was coming to the US always of interest to you? What are some of the differences in musical life and culture that you experience between the US and Germany?
I visited the US several times throughout my childhood, traveling all over the country, and that’s when I began learning English. I loved it and always wanted to come back at some point. The reason for studying in the States was simple: what you need as a young conductor is podium time in front of an orchestra. The best American schools offered a lab orchestra each week for conducting lessons, that’s something that wasn’t offered anywhere in Germany, at least not every week. I felt I could progress faster if I studied here.
There are several differences in the approach to making music between the US and Germany. There is a difference in Mozart and Haydn, for example. There’s a certain lightness and intimacy to it, which I think is also because in Germany there are many, many chamber orchestras where those works form their core repertoire. In America, the focus is on the big symphony orchestras, which is thrilling, but often missing one step, the chamber music. In my work with orchestras I always search for the spontaneity and ensemble playing that I grew up with and love.
Do you have a certain repertoire that you consider your specialty?
I like to soak up repertoire of every genre, but I feel a close relationship to Haydn, Mozart, Brahms and Mahler. Currently, the music and life of Shostakovich fascinates me immensely. I recently finished rehearsals for his devastating and touching 14th symphony. Here, at LAMF, I have the pleasure of leading his monumental 5th symphony, and in San Francisco with my Youth Orchestra I’m going to perform his more playful 6th symphony. I love immersing myself in one composer’s music.
How would you describe the work that a conductor does? What are the best things a conductor can bring to an ensemble?
A conductor needs to be able to bring out the best music making from the musicians. My role as a conductor is to facilitate the musicians in their ability to listen and make music with each other. A conductor ultimately makes interpretive and technical decisions and needs to have the scope and journey of a work clearly mapped out. The musicians are the ones actually playing and making the music, so the conductor must tune in, listen, guide and inspire.
What are your hobbies outside of music?
I have a lot of hobbies: reading, going to performances, art galleries and museums; playing soccer and going to the gym, although all of my hobbies circle back to staying fit, healthy, grounded and inspired for this demanding job.