The making of a musician

I started university with the thought of becoming some kind of scientist -- maybe a physicist -- but abandoned the idea when I realized what that required at the university level. Music had come easily to me. Though I started studying music at the age of ten, fairly late among serious musicians, I pursued piano and composition quite passionately as a teenager. At Harvard University I majored in music composition and after graduating went to Paris on a generous scholarship. I studied composition with Olivier Messiaen and conducting with Charles Bruck, Hungarian by birth, but a long-time French citizen. He was a protégé of Pierre Monteux -- his assistant in the 1930’s -- and passed on first-hand knowledge of the Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky masterpieces that Monteux championed.

Messiaen's class was fascinating. He was such a profound and gentle man. Studying composition has given me insight into the minds of composers, sympathy for how they work, and real enthusiasm for new music. I don't compose any more. When it comes to looking at a blank page in the morning... well, it's hard enough to look at a page filled with notes. The blank page challenge gives me tremendous respect and admiration for writers of all sorts.

When I returned to the States, I studied piano with Leon Fleisher, with whom I had studied in high school. He was a very strong influence on me, connecting me with the German tradition that stretches back to Beethoven through Schnabel, Liszt and Czerny.

After a few years in graduate school I got my first job: assistant to Mstislav Rostropovich at the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington DC. Working with Slava immersed me in Russian repertoire and his unique visceral, emotional approach to music making.

While an education that included the French, German and Russian traditions was vitally important, I also had the benefit of inspiration from Leonard Bernstein, who was a visiting scholar at Harvard when I was a student there. This broad musical background helps explain my wide-ranging repertoire and fascination with different musical styles.