Saturday, November 14, 2009


July 17, 2009

Following the performance of MUSE at the Conductors Retreat, pianist Lorin Hollander sent his greetings:

"I was deeply moved by the power of your performance.

"David Katz has created a remarkable evening - powerful, poignant, thought-provoking and very moving. MUSE of FIRE is aflame with creative inspiration. An unforgettable experience."

—Lorin Hollander

Friday, October 30, 2009


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Conductors Retreat at Medomak, near Liberty, Maine, northwest and inland from the breathtaking coastal village of Camden, is a summer camp for conductor training run by the estimable Maestro Kenneth Kiesler, director of orchestral studies at the University of Michigan. Only two weeks earlier, after receiving a flurry of emails from our office, he had extended an invitation for me to perform MUSE for his students.

I had not known Ken previously (except by reputation) and was not only delighted to accept his invitation, but moved that he was a person of such open mind and heart as to eagerly welcome the story of another great conducting mentor into “the very heart of his kingdom.” Few maestros would so willingly (or so confidently) offer to their students a differing approach to how it’s done.

The Conductors Retreat at Camp Medomak is an idyllic location for study and contemplation. The facilities are not lavish—just cabins and a lodge under the pines, with a meadow across the road. No stage nor stage lighting for this performance of MUSE. I constructed my compact white and black set directly on the floor of a classroom that doubles as a rehearsal space—placing Bruck’s chair and platform (the focal point of the action) not five feet from the first row of seats.

At performance time, the hall was packed. It seemed as if every student at the school was there, along with Kiesler and famed pianist Lorin Hollander (a mutual friend from my old Opera Maine days.) 

On tour, I have discovered that once my set is in place and the lights are focussed, it does not really matter if the hall in front of me seats 90 or 900. I do adjust my vocal projection to suit the environment, but once the play begins, the set (not the auditorium) is my home. I simply tell my story to friends I cannot see sitting out in the dark.

Medomak felt a little different. Performing at audience level, with the ceiling lights in the room left on, I did not have the usual comforts of a stage on which to “hide” nor stage lights to “hide” behind. I could see everyone, and I could tell how every second of the play was being perceived. (The audience could not “hide” either. When, during the play, Maestro Bruck roars at hapless conducting students, those seated in the front rows reared back as best they could, squirming, trying to avoid the flood of saliva flying from my mouth.)

I loved the intimacy, and so, apparently did the audience: the standing ovation at the end was immediate.

Best was the give-and-take following the performance. Some students were horrified by Bruck. Others (especially students from Europe) recognized a familiar pedagogical method. It became clear, whatever Maestro Kiesler’s teaching may share in intensity and commitment with Bruck’s, it is absent screaming or sarcasm. “There are going to be some changes around here!” Kiesler remarked to the assembly afterwards, and everyone laughed, to which I added, “Hey, Ken, our plan worked!,” which made everyone laugh harder.

Ultimately, the play left some students shaken, others thoughtful; virtually all, I would say, had been moved, and entertained.

Upon leaving, I again thanked Ken for the uniqueness of the opportunity. “Bruck is an important part of the legacy of conductor training in America,” Ken said, deflecting my praise. “The students need to know of him.”

Driving back down the dirt driveway, leaving the camp behind me, I glanced at the school banner on the road. “Discovering the nature conducting,” it read. Perfect sentiment. Perfect place.

And also this: at Medomak, when the urge to find a bathroom strikes, simply select your composer: PUccini or PISton. Here's proof (click on the photo for a larger version):

Monday, July 13, 2009


The set for MUSE of FIRE came out of storage on July 2nd for two weeks of intense preparation in Hat City Music Theater’s rehearsal space. (Hat City is the non-profit producer of the play.) Even after many performances, there are always things to be polished and revised—in the staging, in the script.

Today, the set was loaded into my Behemoth (a blue Ford Expedition, actually, license plate MUSFYR, of course). The vehicle was purchased expressly to hold the set, props and other equipment necessary for the play’s many on-the-road performances. (MUSE of FIRE most recently toured northern Maine, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in February, and returns to Midcoast Maine for more performances now in July and again in September.)

When I went to purchase the vehicle, I arrived at the Ford dealer with a tape measure—to be sure the rear opening was big enough to handle the largest of the set pieces, a collapsible 4x8 flat with an attached projection screen, used to show the images of music, conductors, locations mentioned in the script, providing an additional visual element for a play that is so much about listening, about feeling.

The furniture and props are all colored either black or white (like notes on music paper.) Even a pair of crash cymbals, which make their appearance near the end of Act I, are painted one white, one black. (I can imagine my friend and colleague, Gordon Peters, former principal percussionist of the Chicago Symphony and an alum of the Monteux School, cringing at the thought of cymbals with paint on them. He attended and praised the very first performance of the play—and immediately offered to give me cymbal lessons!) Actually, the paint helps dampen the sound of the cymbals, (a good thing for the audience), for the moment when I imagine placing Bruck’s head between the two clanking plates, after he’s insulted me once too often.

Now, I'll hit the road to Maine. But before I do, I need to consider all the details: extra copies of the script for the light and sound tech, and for me to check my memory. (I am always revising, so I keep the script close at hand, to be sure it is right—and I am, too.) I pack the playback rig and multiple copies of the cd of specially-selected classical music that is a key component of the play, contracts, cell phone, chargers, clothes—walk around clothes in addition to the costume I wear—a cooler for water (my only on-the-road drink) and intermission pick-me-ups, like nuts and power bars. I try to take everything with me. Less expense, and less worry.

There have been phone calls and emails from the venues, today, too, with last-minute details of their own. I will check all my lists (more than twice), in the hopes nothing key will be forgotten.

I'll say some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I'll sleep. (pace DT).

Sunday, July 12, 2009

BEGIN FROM HERE: A Play's Progress

In 2005, I wrote, and first performed, a one-man play called MUSE of FIRE, about the world of the orchestral conductor. MUSE of FIRE is the only play I know to focus exclusively on the secrets of the conductor’s art; the only one to have as its protagonist, the legendary (and legendarily difficult) Maestro Charles Bruck, Master of the Pierre Monteux Conducting School in Maine. The play was shepherded, and then directed, by my good friend, (and Tony Award-winner) Charles Nelson Reilly.

Since I first premiered MUSE in July 2005, I have performed it approaching fifty times, in cities as large as Chicago, Baltimore and Halifax and as small as Middle Musquodoboit, Nova Scotia and Sherman, Connecticut, in venues as intimate as the H. D. Moore Parish Hall in Steuben, Maine and as magnificent as the nine-hundred seat Imperial Theater, in Saint John, New Brunswick.

MUSE of FIRE is for me a labor of love—I will perform it practically anywhere—but it is also a business, one I could not be happier pursuing. I start my blog now because the play goes on the road again this week, with performances in a number of cities in Midcoast and Northern Maine.

Now, I begin to recount "A Play’s Progress", its writing and evolution, the searching out of more opportunities to perform it (I do much of the booking myself) the response of critics and audiences, my reaction to venues, communities, individual performances and to audiences.

Who do I hope will follow my blog, in a world where it seems everyone’s every move is chronicled on the web in intimate detail? It is surely for those who have seen the play, or plan to see it in the future, desiring to know more; it is for family, friends and colleagues who have followed my career since I made my professional debut as a conductor and composer more than thirty years ago; it is for alumni of the Pierre Monteux School and students of Charles Bruck, who want to compare my experiences to their own; it is for conductors interested in the thoughts of a fellow traveler; it is for classical music lovers, who are intrigued by the mysteries of the conductor's art; it is also for aspiring actors, playwrights and arts entrepreneurs, interested in how I wrote, promote, price and schedule the play—and what it feels like to tour it “under the radar,” without significant financial resources or many “famous” connections; This is a blog of how I keep my dream alive—a cliché, to be sure, but only because it is true.

To be honest, every blogger also writes for himself, and for posterity, as if to say to all who will listen, “this is who I am, and this is what I did.” The gifts we are given—whether by God or biology—are as unique as we are as individuals. We are here only once and we must make the most of the talents and time that we have on this earth.

“Tell the Truth, but tell it slant,” Julie Harris said with a twinkle in her eye while performing as Emily Dickinson in The Belle of Amherst, the most famous play directed by my beloved departed Charles Nelson Reilly. And that is what I aspire to do, with your kind indulgence.

Look for more soon. In the meantime, background, synopsis, bios, photos and more can be found on the website: