George Bernard Shaw scored a classic musical distinction: Those that can, perform, those that cant, conduct. Shaws sentence wouldnt be so good, if it were merely a bon mot to understand conductors. Behind this witticism is the employees eternal mistrust of his superiorthat is, one who works with his hands stands in opposition to the intellectual who doesnt. And Shaws sentence is only half the truth. Quality leadership, charisma, authority, and personality are truly important characteristics of a conductor, which hardly even in the framework of the best conservatory could anyone hope to acquire. All these qualities are useful when linked to a musical competence, which includes a good ear.
The American conductor John Axelrod from Houston, Texas, must neither fear Shaws biting assessment nor the capabilities of orchestral musicians. Whoever sees him conduct senses immediately that here is not only an artist with baton technique to burn, but an authority on the work, all of which has the power to overturn the skepticism of orchestra musicians. The good impression, which the conductor made recently at the Music Festival at Colmar, doesnt just happen by accident. In truth, John Axelrod has culled the teachings from the good old days and equally from the present day cultural situation; that is, as it was previously considered customary to first build a repertoire in the provinces, its now more urgent today to acquire a comprehensive knowledge.
Whoever contemplates his resume, must gain the impression that here is an omnivorous mind that knows that there is nothing one cannot use for this profession. He is a successful Harvard graduate, having studied piano, composition and conducting in America and St. Petersburg, taken courses at Bostons Berklee School of Jazz, assisted Leonard Bernstein in musical theatre preparation, founded his nonprofit ensemble, Orchestra X, in his hometown to cultivate new audiences, in the meantime has given conductor courses at the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute, is an active producer for pop recordings, and is an event consultant for the Mondavi Winery in California.
Since last season, hes been music director of Sinfonietta Cracovia in Cracow and an indefatigable guest conductor in Europe -- very much so in Germany with the Bamberger Symphony, the Radio-Philharmonie Hannover, of the Duisburg Philharmonic, of the MDR Symphony in Leipzig, as well as with ensembles in Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, and Halle. Is this mammoth schedule inevitably too taxing? Yesterday he began rehearsals for a concert with Berg, Mahler, and Franz Schmidt for the Niedersächsischen Music-Tagen. Not only here but also in Lüneburg, Hof, Nürnberg, and Frankfurts Old Opera will one yet be able this year to pass judgment on that. Then perhaps his name will appear on the list of candidates for music director positions available in this country. It would be good for the direction of our musical life.