Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Two young conductors causing a stir

Before I recently took on a position at The Hartt School, I have had several conducting students work with me privately. Two in particular have made the news in very interesting and provocative ways.

John Axelrod worked with me during my time in Southern California with the Pacific Symphony. He had been in the "A & R" business (Artists and Repertoire) and was just then embarking on a career in conducting. This was nearly twenty years ago, and he was a young man in a hurry. Never have I encountered a student with more energy, or more passion, for what he does. Everyone with whom he came into conduct told him to "slow down, take it easy," and he didn't listen to any of them. The proof is in the pudding.

Now he has an orchestra in France and another in Italy, and has just come out with a book in German, Wie gro├čartige Musik entsteht ... oder auch nicht ("How great music is made . . . . or not").

You can read an excerpt of it on Norman Lebrecht's blog at

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Another young conductor of considerable gifts is Colin Britt. While I was music director of the Hartford Symphony, Colin studied with me in the basement of my home in (at that time) West Hartford. One day he brought a composition to a lesson; years later, I would see him conduct the Hartt Chamber Chorus in one of his own works. His conducting was accomplished, and his music was extremely well received. Since that time, I have seen him work as music director for theatrical productions ("Chicago") and cabarets (some featuring my daughter, Carolyn). Presently he is assistant conductor to Rick Coffey and the Hartford Chorale. (Word has it the singers adore him.)

Earlier this year, with Arianne Abela, he created a short film on "what choral conductors say." (For anyone who has sung in a chorus, you will get a big laugh from this video, now up to 90,000 hits: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DF5gTF0oZ_E )

More recently, he arranged a popular tune by Carly Rae Jepsen, "Call Me Maybe." On Labor Day Monday, he called upon his friends to play, sing and record his shimmering arrangement, all in about 90 minutes. On the top floor of Hendrie Hall at Yale -- where I have so many fond memories of music and dance classes -- Miss Abela conducted a small chorus and orchestra. Call Me Maybe was already a summertime hit, and Colin's arrangement soon skyrocketed to over 1,000,000 hits. The "Today Show" took notice, and invited Colin and his friends to come down to sing and play it on the morning program. The bus picked them up in New Haven at 4 in the morning, and they were back home before noon. Now it's over 2 million hits. Not bad for a production featuring chorus and orchestra!


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John and Colin are finding their own way in a rapidly changing world. John was presenting Carmen and La Boheme with his Orchestra X in night clubs years before it became de riguer to do so. Colin has taken a pop ditty and given it a classical sheen.

I've very proud of these two young men, and can only wonder what will come next from them. One thing for certain: Even though they are shaking things up, both have an undeniable love for the art of music, and for music making.

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