It was a real treat in St. Augustine last Saturday night when Music Director Gerard Schwarz conducted the Mozart Orchestra New York. They performed Mozart’s great last three symphonies, No’s 39, 40, and 41. The 41st, known as the Jupiter Symphony, is my favorite. Mozart composed this great trilogy in a remarkably short time between June 26 and August 10, 1788. After he completed these, no more followed in the three and a half years which remained of his short 35-year life. It is a mystery why Mozart would be motivated to write three symphonies in such short order with no evidence of a commission for any of them. He died in 1791 as a pauper.
Fifteen years ago, at a charity auction, I won the Golden Baton award entitling me to conduct the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra. Although I played clarinet in high school and college, I had never conducted. Maestro Sidney Rothstein suggested the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony 25. He taught me a lot in just a few sessions, and he said I was ready to raise the baton and conduct. The live rehearsal broke the ice and showed me it was actually possible to conduct not just an MP3 on the home audio system, but real people — professional musicians. It is the people who make all the difference. The key question for me was whether the musicians would accept me as their temporary maestro. No doubt, the question on their minds was whether I had learned enough about conducting to not embarrass myself and the orchestra, or would they have to stare at the floor for fear my conducting would distract them from playing the music properly.
The Saturday afternoon of the concert day was the last rehearsal, and in preparation, I took my baton once more and did some “armchair conducting” with Mozart. Hours of doing this enabled me to memorize the piece. I watched videos of several famous conductors. The live rehearsal went fine but more importantly I got there a bit early and was able to get to know some of the musicians. The concertmaster told me about her four children, a cellist told me about the music class he teaches, and another cellist told me he had read my blog. Some of the musicians teach tens of hours per week traveling from home to home helping create the next generation of professionals. The orchestra was a highly diverse group of people, and each brought a wealth of cultural and musical experience.
When it came time for the concert, I felt ready. Jeno Herceg Clothier & Formal Wear tailored my tuxedo with tails, Tate Newland had provided a beautiful baton, Sidney had taught me the basics of conducting, and most importantly, the musicians had accepted me as part of their team. I was as ready as I going to be. The musicians had warmed up, the concertmaster came out amidst applause, and tuned the orchestra. Sidney was behind the curtain ready to tap me on the sholder to signal me to the stage. I have been on a stage hundreds of times to make speeches about “The Future Of The Internet”, but never before to be part of such an incredible team of professionals. I gave a small bow to acknowledge the audience, shook hands with the concertmaster, and took my position on the box.
I smiled at the musicians, and they smiled back. We were ready to perform together. As Lawrence Welk said, “a one and a two”, and off we went. We started together and we ended together. It was the most exciting time of my life. The audience seemed happy, but not as happy as me. I took a bow, and then turned and motioned the musicians to stand. After I had turned to take another bow to the audience, I turned back and saw the orchestra applauding me. I felt a lump in my throat and very blessed to have had the opportunity to be a guest conductor.