Off the Record: Interview Series

In Music

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The worst thing that ever happened to me became the best thing that ever happened to me.

The Met Orchestra was my fist orchestral audition and the only orchestra I wanted to play in. I was still in school and pursuing a solo career when I won the position, and in April of 2005 with a performance (with no rehearsal!) of Don Giovanni at the Metropolitan Opera house, I embarked on an unknown path. The learning curve was steep because I hadn’t played a single opera before my first day with the MET and to develop the physical and mental stamina that was necessary to play eight plus hours a day was no walk in the park. On top of the orchestra’s full schedule, I was preparing for my lessons at Juilliard, running to concerts and rehearsals with The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and gigging with a jazz quartet. Some nights at midnight when the opera finished, I ran downtown to jam on my electric violin with my rock band.


I didn’t even have time to think about all the things I was doing because I was so busy doing them. All I knew was that I didn’t want to become the stereotypical orchestral musician: complacent, jaded and bitter.
Days, months, years, then seven seasons passed. Operas, singers, and conductors came and went. I wasn’t running around like a chicken with its head cut off like when I started because that kind of schedule is not possible to sustain (unless you are Valery Gergiev… more on him, someday). My life felt stable, secure; I was content and satisfied. I loved it of course, but surely there were days when I didn’t…

In the fall of 2012, during a performance of Aida, everything came to a screeching halt. I couldn’t move my neck and the excruciating pain that radiated down my shoulders was unlike anything I had ever felt. I couldn’t finish the show. The next day I couldn’t lift my arm.
Another day went by, then another, then weeks, then months.

My recovery was a slow and emotional journey, one that forced me to look for a deeper meaning in life. I thought my career was over. I felt confused, lost, and absolutely terrified. Music and violin were not just my life, but my entire existence. I didn’t remember a time I didn’t play the violin and I couldn’t even begin to imagine life without music. It’s like oxygen, water, food. So when it was stripped from me, I had to tear my soul apart to articulate and define what they MEANT to me.

Fast forward to the first day of the 2013-2014 season. My first day back. I had slowly been working up to be able to play for a couple of hours at a time, but I hadn’t really played for over nine months.

That day, I can say now, was the first day of the rest of my life.

I can write pages and pages about this process and I look forward to sharing it all with you, but for this post, I want to talk about why I started my Met Orchestra blog column Off the Record in which I interview conductors who come through the MET.

I’ve always been interested in the relationship between an artists’s work and their humanity. To appreciate someone’s craft and creativity is one thing, but to understand them as a human being and how that affects and shapes their art is fascinating. One of my favorite works by Gustav Mahler is his 10th Symphony. It was his final composition and he left it unfinished, except for the first movement.

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He wrote this work knowing that his heart was failing him, physically and emotionally. He was very ill, with an infection in the heart and he had discovered his wife, Alma, was having an affair. The book, Letters To His Wife, a collection of letters Gustav wrote to Alma throughout their marriage, sheds light not only on their tumultuous relationship, but on his life as a musician. Can we enjoy his symphonies without knowing anything about him? Of course, but you feel so much more if you can feel what he felt as he was writing them.

I am honored and humbled to be a part of one the greatest orchestras in the world.  Every single day I am surrounded by artists whom I can learn from. How lucky am I? It is easy to take things that you are used to for granted; And it is frightening how quickly we get used to things. The fire that burns inside me today would have never been ignited if not for those nine months two years ago. Days don’t just go by anymore. I know that it can all disappear in the blink of an eye: music, people, life itself. I’m inspired by the notes I play, the melodies I hear, the rhythms I feel, the people I meet because I am constantly searching for that energy, the spark, the passion that makes life worth living.

Add life to your days, not days to your life. Read the interviews here:

David Robertson
Pablo Heras-Casado
James Conlon

Coming soon: Marco Armiliato, Louis Langree, and others.

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