I approach music-making from a perspective grounded in spirituality, particularly the traditions of Buddhism. As a Buddhist I firmly believe that the ultimate purpose of making and listening to music is to experience transcendence. This experience is singular, and might be called many things other than transcendence: joy, calm, bliss, etc.
In order to create an atmosphere that allows for the possibility of transcendence I expect certain things from the repertoire that I program, from myself as a conductor, from the orchestra and from the audience.
When selecting repertoire for a concert, I look first and foremost for music that speaks to our deepest nature, music that touches our hearts and allows us to open fully to the present moment and to one another. I have no prejudices regarding nationality or century; I tend to shy away, however, from music that is too cerebral, pieces that guide the listener towards strenuous mental activity rather than towards quieting the mind.
As a conductor, I seek to master the scores that I conduct so thoroughly that in the act of conducting I do not have to think about what is coming next or how I am going to “interpret” a particular passage. I view score-study and conducting ideally as an ego-less experience; rather than seeking to “interpret” music in one fashion or another, I aim to remove my ego from the equation and allow music to speak through me in the most natural and authentic fashion possible.
I expect the same commitment to mastery and openness from musicians in the orchestras with whom I work. I expect musicians to achieve a level of technical mastery on their instrument and thorough knowledge of their individual parts, so that during rehearsals and concerts they are not distracted by the technical demands of playing the instrument. Free of these concerns, they are instead able to focus on the sounds coming out of their instruments, the sounds around them, and the people with who they are sharing the music-making experience.
Finally, I expect audience members to come to the concert experience open to the sounds. This entails arriving to the concert hall with a mind free of prejudices, distractions and divisive opinions. We can encourage audience members to do this through education, outreach, and through leading by example. If the audience member is willing and able to open his or her mind, ears and heart to the musical experience—and if the conductor and musicians are doing their job as described above—he or she will be able to have a joyful, transcendent experience in the concert hall. Moreover, he or she will have this experience together with every other listener present, as well as with the musicians on stage. In this way music does not merely “serve a community,” as it is often put, but in fact acts as a catalyst for community—it brings people together and reminds us of our shared humanity. In the experience of transcendence, the barriers that separate us from others and from our world are razed and we experience an intense sense of togetherness and compassion.
Yes, I resoundingly affirm, music can do all this.