Tell us what you are up to now! What is a typical day like for you?
My favorite days are when I can compose first thing in the morning. That is when I am the freshest and when ideas flow. When I have an entire day free, that is the ultimate, as I can work from 8 or 9am until 3pm, take a break, and return to work after 5. Most days, however, are divided between the various aspects of my life which include: producing the Cutting Edge Concerts New Music Festival, teaching (both private lessons and a course at Nyack College), preparing lectures, studying scores, traveling, conducting, and spending time with my family.
Which project are you most looking forward to working on right now?
At the moment I am involved in three big projects: an oratorio about Moses for bass soloist, double bass player, chorus and orchestra, commissioned by The Choral Society of the Hamptons which will premiere it this summer; a concerto for trumpet and brass ensemble based on Theodore Roosevelt and written for Mark Ridenour, which will premiere in Chicago at Roosevelt University in the fall; and an opera based on Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels with librettist Stephen Greco and designer/director Doug Fitch.
As the first woman to be awarded a doctorate from Juilliard’s orchestral conducting program, what advice would you give to aspiring conductors?
Conducting involves so many skills that it is important to allot adequate attention to each aspect of the profession:
- Score preparation is essential. My teachers encouraged me to solfege through each instrument in a score, line by line, and I do that to this day in addition to analyzing the harmonies and phrase structure of the work I am studying.
- Perfecting the physical part of conducting takes time, and although gestures can be refined in the privacy of your studio, the ability to communicate your intentions through gesture can only be accomplished in front of an orchestra of live musicians. It is difficult and often humbling, but there is no shortcut. We learn in front of our colleagues, and constructive criticism from them can be a valuable tool.
- Familiarize yourself with every performance of the work you can through listening to recordings and attending concerts. By doing this, you get a composite of many interpretations and can start to form your own.
- Be prepared, alert, and in the moment at rehearsals. I find that players appreciate a conductor who has done his/her homework, knows what he/she can accomplish in a given time, and creates an atmosphere of relaxed concentration.
- Record your concerts whenever possible: both audio and video. It is very educational to listen back to performances and analyze whether or not you successfully accomplished what you set out to do.
What inspires you now about your field?
Music is a constant source of inspiration. Working with great musicians is endlessly stimulating, and I like to surround myself with people of imagination, energy and a positive outlook on life. I choose my projects to reflect topics I find life-enhancing and that have deep personal significance to me. My life is always evolving and changing and I am never bored.
What is your favorite opera and why?
If I had to pick just one opera out of the many that I consider my favorites, it would be Le nozze di Figaro. It is dramatically solid, funny, and profound, with real characters that have depth and who develop throughout the course of the opera. The music eloquently characterizes the personalities of each cast member in the simplest and most elegant way. Each instrument in the orchestra has something beautiful and challenging to play so that every single part of this complex entity is fully engaged and meaningful. There are no dull moments and there are no extraneous elements.
Do you have a favorite compositional style?
My compositional style has evolved from being a composite of all my favorite influences to becoming a more organic whole that represents my own musical language. I have absorbed so much from all of the conducting I have done, and feel as though I have been my own “composer-in-residence.” I have had the opportunity to work closely on the orchestral and operatic repertory and have learned so much from the experience. My favorite life saying comes from the great Louis Armstrong, who said, “you blows what you is.” That, to me, summarizes my musical style!
What is one of your fondest memories of Juilliard?
It was my senior recital and I was conducting Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.” We had rehearsed exhaustively, and at the concert, we seemed to merge into one single organism, breathing as one and shaping the intensity of the music. We were relaxed and exhilarated at the same time—a moment of extreme ecstasy that I never shall forget.
What was your greatest challenge while you were enrolled?
My greatest challenge during my years at Juilliard was to find enough time! There never seemed to be sufficient hours in a day, and I constantly made lists of what I had to do. I worked late into the night and got up early in the morning, seldom getting enough sleep. I think I have learned how to manage my time better now, but in those student days it was a big challenge.
Tell us about your most influential teachers and mentors.
My most influential teachers at Juilliard were Jean Morel, Sixten Ehrling, Roger Sessions, and Herbert von Karajan. Jean Morel set a high standard for learning a score. He was so thorough and meticulous in his preparation, and I borrowed his scores and copied down all of his markings. I learned so much about conducting opera from Sixten Ehrling, who was the master of organizing rehearsal time. He gave me the opportunity to conduct many of the staging rehearsals of the operas he conducted at Juilliard, and as a result, I had the great fortune to work with the legendary Tito Gobbi on Falstaff. Roger Sessions taught me so much about compositional form and structure, and he made me aware of the importance of musical transitions and how they shape a work. Herbert von Karajan taught me to listen intensely, as though I were both conducting and listening from the back of the hall. He was a relentless perfectionist, and his focus was like a laser beam.
What are some words of advice you'd like to share with current students?
Juilliard is a great resource. Learn how to manage your time so that you maximize your ability to take advantage of its gifts. Organize your day so that you can work in a relaxed and focused way, take competition in stride, and maintain a friendly relationship with all of your colleagues. I have found that the contacts and friends I made at Juilliard are people I continue to work with throughout my life.
Describe your ideal day off.
I love to be out in nature. One of my favorite activities is hiking. Nature is my inspiration and provides me with the living presence of the Divine.