Conductor  James  Judd

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


British conductor James Judd is internationally acclaimed for his remarkable versatility, unique musicianship and charismatic demeanor on and off stage. He is known for his exceptionally communicative style and compelling concerts and his regular performances in concert halls from Vienna to Tokyo are testament to his excellent contact with the public and musicians. His wealth of artistic activities have led him to cooperate with renowned orchestras like the Berlin Philharmonic, Rotterdam Philharmonic, Orchestre National de France, Gewandhaus Orchester in Leipzig, Royal Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, English Chamber Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo and orchestras in Dallas, St. Louis, Baltimore and Montreal.

Judd is a prominent interpreter of British orchestral music and has recorded Elgar’s Symphony No. 1 with the Halle Orchestra, which has brought him wide recognition from Elgar admirers. He has recorded extensively for the Naxos label in cooperation with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, where he was later appointed as Honorary Music Director. His recordings of works by Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Beethoven, Bernstein, Copland and Gershwin have been very well received. He has conducted the works of Gustav Mahler on international stages and his recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 was awarded the Gold Medal by Diapason in France and by Toblacher Komponierhäuschen for Best Recording of the Year. Maestro Judd has also recorded extensively for Decca, EMI and Philips.

Apart from his concert activities, James Judd is a regular guest on opera stages like the English National Opera, Wexford Festival and Glyndebourne Opera Festival, where he has conducted opera productions of Il trovatore, La traviata, Rigoletto, The Barbier of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro and Cinderella. Between 1993 and 1996 he was Artistic Director of the Florida Grand Opera where he presented Don Giovanni, The Masked Ball, La BohèmeMadame Butterfly and others. Besides staged opera productions, he has conducted the concert versions of Tannhäuser, Fidelio and La clemenza di Tito. He has also participated in recording the complete opera works of Meyerbeer and Donizetti.


After completing his music studies at London Trinity College he became Lorin Maazel’s assistant in Cleveland. After two years in the USA he returned to Europe where he became Executive Director of the European Community Youth Orchestra, whose Chief Conductor was Claudio Abbado.  He accepted the position of Music Director of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra for a period of eight years, and during this time contributed immensely to the artistic development of the ensemble and gained recognition on international concert stages. Under his leadership the orchestra undertook its first concert tour of Europe, performing in renowned halls like the Concertgebouw and Royal Albert Hall.

Past positions have included Music Director of the Israel Symphony Orchestra, Principal Guest Conductor of the Orchestre National de Lille in France, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, and a groundbreaking 14 years as Music Director of the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra. During his tenure, this regional ensemble became an orchestra of note. Thanks to the introduction of innovative programs, the positive public response and support for its especially successful summer festival, the ensemble enjoyed significant artistic growth. Together with the Florida Philharmonic he made recordings of the works of Walton, Bernstein and Mahler which received numerous awards.


In addition to his international conducting career, James Judd has led the orchestras of the Juilliard School, Curtis Institute of Music, Manhattan School of Music, Guildhall School, Trinity College of London, Aspen Music Festival and the National Youth Orchestras of Australia and New Zealand.

Since 2007, he has been Principal Guest Conductor of the Asian Youth Orchestra, an ensemble of the most gifted musicians from mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Korea.

In 2008 he established the Miami Music Project in Southern Florida which received generous support from the John and James Knight Foundation for the enhancement of education and training, providing performing opportunities for hundreds of children from different social backgrounds and underprivileged communities in the city. The Miami Music Project, inspired by the Venezuelan model El Sistema, opened a music academy for teaching in the Miami communities Doral and Little Haiti and is planning to open another academy in Little Havana and Liberty City. The project provides talented young musicians with the opportunity to practice and play orchestral works with the Miami Youth Orchestra.

Recent concert highlights have included performances of Britten's War Requiem at the Festival George Enescu with the National Radio Orchestra  in Bucharest, staged performances of Carmina Burana at the spectacular desert ruins of Masada, a concert with the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra at the Palais Princier in Monte-Carlo, a tour in Asia and Europe with the Asian Youth Orchestra, concerts in Sarrebrücken and Frankfurt with the Daejeon Philharmonic Orchestra etc…

In September 2016 he was appointed Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Daejeon Philharmonic Orchestra. In November 2016 he conducted the opening concert of the Slovak Philharmonic as part of the Bratislava Music Festival.

From the 2017/2018 concert season James Judd is the Chief Conductor of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra. He conducted seven pairs of subscription concerts and the opening concert of the 2017 Bratislava Music Festival.

--  Biography from Danthois Artists Management (with slight corrections)  
--  Names which are links in this box and below refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  


Judd was in Chicago in August of 1999 to lead two performances at the Grant Park Festival.  Valentina Lisitsa was the pianist, and the program had music of Mozart, MacDowell, and Bartók.

We met at his hotel on the day before the first performance, and, like The Walrus and the Carpenter, we spoke of many things, including the future of music education and transmission.  As this interview is being prepared for presentation on the internet (in October of 2019), it is fascinating to remember what was being considered twenty years previously . . . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   You seem to be flitting all over the world from Europe, to America, to New Zealand.  How much havoc does that play on your body clock?

James Judd:   Not much, because I don’t sleep much anyway.  [Laughs]  One of the cures for jet-lag is not sleeping generally, so for me it’s quite a lot of travel, but it’s really just overnight.   New Zealand is just overnight from Los Angeles, and I get a lot done.

BD:   Do you also sleep on the plane, then?

JJ:   Yes, and I go from Miami to London a lot, which is overnight the other way.  So, I’m kind of used to it, and you can take care on the flight to do all the things you are supposed to do, which means most of them.

BD:   Catch up on correspondence?

JJ:   No, I rest quite a lot.  I study, or read books.

BD:   Do you study scores?

judd JJ:   Yes, sometimes.  I study those all the time, so on the plane is a great opportunity.  I usually watch at least one film, and read books, and try to sleep just a bit.

BD:   Is this something that’s important for a working conductor
to get away from it all a bit, and stop, and just rest?

JJ:   Yes, it is.  But it’s incredibly refreshing going to different places, different environments.  Even when you are feeling a little bit tired, then all the energy and all the concentration is focussed on the music, and I find it works pretty well.

BD:   Do you get enough time to study new scores, and make sure you know what you’re going to do when you wave the stick?

JJ:   Yes, but even if we have a whole lifetime of just studying, it’s not enough time because you’re always constantly rediscovering stuff.  So, it’s also my hobby.  My fascination is to be studying scores all the time, and thinking about them after I’ve studied them, and re-evaluating them.  I wish I could do more new music.  It’s always difficult to get new music programmed, even with your own orchestras.  But when that opportunity arises, I enjoy that challenge enormously, and spend a lot of time on these pieces.  As a music director you get sent a lot of scores, and it’s our duty to at least try to sniff through as many of them as possible, and look for opportunities to perform them.

BD:   I’m glad you’re working for the living composers.

JJ:   Yes, I just wish we could do more.  It’s certainly not enough.

BD:   Are you optimistic about the kinds of things you’re seeing in the new scores?

JJ:   Yes.  I think there are more new scores today than ever before, actually.

BD:   Too many?

JJ:   Probably there have always been too many, but it’s not for me really to say.  But I do find it difficult to evaluate, and there’s no question that that the body of professional musicians is not that interested in new music.  We fight a battle within our own body as well, when trying to transmit it to people, trying to enthuse lay people and audiences about music.  There are many battles to fight, and my sympathies and respect are certainly with the composers.  They’re the geniuses.  They’re the real people we serve as musicians after all.

BD:   Without naming any specific names or pieces, are we getting orchestral pieces that are on the level of the masterpieces?

JJ:   Oh, yes!  I think we are.  I know that history judges them often in a different way after fifty years, but I do think there are great works that I’ve enjoyed, like John Corigliano, whose Symphony we’ve done in two different seasons in Miami.  It’s important that some new works are presented, like Barenboim does here.  He believes very much in repeating works, bringing them back so that they don’t just become freak shows.  If we really believe in the pieces, then we have to perform them.

BD:   [Trying to be helpful]  We should create an orchestra to give just the second performances.

JJ:   I thought of doing that.  Also, for competition winners, because so often everybody wants the prize winner, and then sometimes the career falls by the wayside.  There are too many competitions, too many first performances, and so many composers-in-residence who get their one chance, their one performance.

BD:   A lot of composers tell me that the first performance is not particularly difficult.  It’s that second, fifth and eighth...

JJ:   It must be so frustrating for them, yes.  I can appreciate that.

BD:   What advice do you have for the composer who wants to write orchestral music as we plunge into the new millennium?

judd JJ:   I don’t know that I would want to particularly offer advice, because, as I said before, one does really respect composers.  Advice from a practicing musician is just to give us material that’s as clear as possible, with your intentions clearly stated.  We have too little time to rehearse things today because its so costly.  So, the advice is mostly all practical things.  Orchestrate well, learn the fundamentals of the business, and then write what you really feel and think.  Audiences respond, so don’t write down to audiences.

BD:   Assume intelligence on the part of the public?

JJ:   Yes, definitely, because the public is like children.  I have a five-year-old daughter, and I relearned and I am relearning through seeing her grow up.  We have values instilled in us, even if we are not yet sophisticated in terms of educating to articulate what it is that moves us, or what these values are.  First of all, people always apologize saying,
I’m sorry, I don’t know much about music, which is ludicrous because music’s not written for us professional musicians.  It’s written for everybody, and I always say not to worry about that.  An audience that comes might never have heard a Mahler symphony before, but if they have an open mind, they will know whether the performance was real or not.  Great composers of the past and of today have that incredible truth, and that’s why we know that in Mozart’s time, Beethoven’s time, and now, there are lesser composers.

BD:   Do you program some lesser composers, as well as the great ones?

JJ:   I’m sure I do.  Do you mean from other times, because there are endlessly fascinating things.  Sir Thomas Beecham used to turn up some pieces that might not be great works, or find composers that were known for one piece to have other pieces that are sort of nice, and like so many beautiful things in nature, not perfect but full of beautiful things.

BD:   They’re a pleasant diversion.

JJ:   Yes, and who are we to judge?  Sometimes it’s nice for the public just to be informed and to hear new things.  Here at Grant Park, you have been doing Holst’s Choral Symphony, which is a piece we never get to hear in England, or hardly even know it exists.  It’s lovely to have an opportunity to discover those things and, perhaps, there are works that rightly don’t get performed very often.

BD:   Does that put the idea in your mind that, maybe you’ll do it in Florida?

JJ:   When you hear of such an important place giving an opportunity for that, it means that I’m going to go back and certainly look at it, because it’s a piece that I’ve never seen or never heard.  [Laughs]  I’m ashamed to say that.

BD:   From the vast array of the standard orchestral literature, how do you decide, yes you’ll program this, or no, you won’t program that?

JJ:   That’s a complex issue.  With my orchestra in Florida, coming down to a more mundane level, where we have to start from is the fact that we’re dealing with different audiences.  My coast is from Miami up to Palm Beach, and we play five times the same program to audiences that almost seem to come from different countries.  We have sixty per cent Spanish-speaking in Miami, and we go up to Palm Beach where we have a more elderly audience.  So, to program for all of these tastes is very, very hard.

BD:   Wouldn’t it be better to program a different group of pieces in Miami than you do in Palm Beach?

JJ:   It would, but how do you rehearse that?  You’d need a budget of three times what we have.  Time is so valuable, and we do vary the programs to some extent.  We can be a little more challenging in Miami than we can in Boca Raton, for example.  We have to be a little bit careful, but basically, I program with a long time-span in mind.  Every year, somebody will complain that they didn’t see Composer X or Composer Y, but you have to figure that over a long period of time
say five yearsyou’re going to give a reasonable view of the world of music.

BD:   How many concerts are there in a Florida Philharmonic season?

JJ:   We do about sixteen classical programs in two different kinds of series.  One is a little bit more ambitious than the other.

BD:   Have you also conducted in New York?

JJ:   No, but I’ve conducted at the Manhattan School in New York.

BD:   There are so many New Yorkers that retire to Florida, they should come and see you now, and then remember you when they retire a few years later.

judd JJ:   Yes, I see what you mean.  That would be nice, and it works both ways because in Florida we have all the snowbirdsall the very sophisticated people have been listening to orchestras in the north and at festivals.  I was in Aspen last year in the Grand Teton Festival, and now I am here at Grant Park.  Probably there will be people who spend the winter in Florida.  It’s ironic, because we do a Beethoven festival in Florida in July, at a time when people said we would never find an audience, and we actually get sixty per cent non-subscribers, full houses with lots of young people.  It’s terrific.  It’s our third year now.  Most of our patrons and most of the Board of the orchestra are all up in Tanglewood or in Aspen [laughs], so we have to tell them about the success of the festival.

BD:   Just show them the bottom line.  They’ll understand!

JJ:   That, they’re very happy about.  [Much laughter]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   How much should the Music Director, who thinks about the musical sounds, be involved in the mundane, the bottom line, the office-part of running a symphony orchestra?

JJ:   There is a distinction between the Music Director and the Conductor in the U.S.  As Music Directors in this country, the way things run dictate that we should be involved, and we need to be involved.  The conductor, the musician, really should not be involved.  Obviously, it’s so ferociously difficult to just be thinking, and to try to be honest to the music, so any time that’s taken away is really not productive.  An organization hires a conductor for those skills really should be demanding that of him or her.  However, I’m a little afraid that we are changing the expectation of what a conductor should do.  Sometimes the musical depths and the musical focus are only considered part of the job, and a search for a conductor only considers that a part of the responsibilities.

BD:   Does it make you schizophrenic?

JJ:   Not schizophrenic.  I just think that sometimes the expectations of us in that other area is quite enormous.  I come from a situation in Florida where I had to get very, very involved at one point, because it looked like we were going to lose the orchestra.  The Board at that time was going to cut $3 million from our budget.  We’d done so much good work that I had to step in.  I stopped conducting for four months, and became the Chairman of the Board.  Some of the board resigned, and we then found lots of those good folks stayed.  We were able to strengthen the Board, but it’s taken a long time.  That was an extraordinary process for me which, once I decided to do, I quite enjoyed, but that’s the extreme.  I lived the extreme, and there I am in a position to be able to speak from inside that experience, and say that I think it’s best to use a Music Director as much as possible for what he does best, and what he was trained for, which is music-making.

BD:   Then have a General Manager who is just a business person?

JJ:   Oh yes, of course.  We’re very lucky because people like to meet us.  I would like to see more emphasis not only on the conductor, but the musicians of an orchestra as well.  We conductors are just one.  For example, tomorrow night I’m conducting a piece called Concerto for Orchestra, not Concerto for Conductor.  It’s always the conductor listed in the program even before the composer.

BD:   So, how do you make sure that’s it’s not Concerto for Conductor?

JJ:   I can’t make sure about it, but I always try to emphasize the musicians in the performance.  As Music Director, you’ve got to try to give back some of the independence and individuality to the musicians through acknowledgment.  It’s probably more so with the great orchestras, like Chicago and New York, where you know the principal players.  That’s also something that’s very important for all communities
to get to know their players, and to give them a sense of self-respect and pride.

BD:   And give them solo concertos where you can?

JJ:   Yes, and chamber music.  I like to do that, but there are limited opportunities.  There’s wonderful literature that soloists from the orchestra can play.

BD:   In each of your orchestras, do you encourage that they form string quartets and wind groups?

judd JJ:   Yes, and then you have the challenge of finding time for them to do that in their very busy schedules.  How do you organize that?  The great orchestras are all chamber ensembles anyway.

BD:   Is the best music-making chamber music?

JJ:   Oh, yes!  I often find myself actually doing it and feeling like apologizing to every orchestra, because the job of the conductor is so ridiculous in many senses.  Most of the time when it
s functioning really well, it’s just to assist the orchestra to make music for itself, and to listen to one another.  That’s when you can really conduct musicwhen everybody is reacting to one another, as in chamber music.

BD:   [With mock horror]  You’re a conductor who wants to stay out of the way???

JJ:   [Smiles]  I’d love to.  I don’t know if I’m very good at doing it, but it’s my belief.

BD:   It seems like a unique concept.

JJ:   No, I learned it from experience.  I was very lucky to be Assistant at the beginning of my career in Cleveland with Lorin Maazel.  All the great players there were looking after a very raw conductor who came straight from college in London.  I must have been making horrible mistakes, but I learned from them what they spoke so much about.  Maazel had said this of orchestras, and you feel it very much.  In the greatest scores, giant Schoenberg scores, or Mahler scores, or Strauss scores, most of the time music is soft.  Most of the time it’s one instrument featured as a solo, with a quartet of some sort going on somewhere.  That’s all it is, and when the great orchestras play, it’s always chamber music.  The greatest conductors you see working with the great orchestras, there’s that wonderful freedom, and give-and-take that goes on that makes for the miraculous performances.

BD:   You enjoy making music with these various orchestras?

JJ:   Oh, yes!  It’s always a different challenge.  It’s asking a lot for us to arrive and face a hundred new people, and in a couple of hours create an intimacy.  With some exceptions, the best results inevitably come
when a conductor can get close to an orchestra, and where you start to develop a physical technique with the musicians which is all about shaping music and not about eating time.  That comes from a relationship built over a period of years.

BD:   Is all of this shaping done in rehearsal, or do you leave something for the spark on the night of performance?

JJ:   Always.  Rehearsals are there for work, and your rehearsals are inevitably boring for many people.  During rehearsals, you have to make sure everything is there, but I can’t imagine performing at rehearsals how you perform in a concert.  Once you know that everything is in place, you don’t try to do something extra.  But it’s inevitable, if you know the music well.  You feel the music within the evening.  There’s only one time that you can give so much to make it really come alive, and the fun of performance is the unknown, and the risk-taking.

BD:   You don’t want to dispense with the rehearsals completely, do you?

JJ:   No, no, you have to have the rehearsals to get the technique to take the risks.  But if rehearsals are all about already showing what the risks are going to be, then there’s that mystery and that excitement, which one misses in the evening.  I don’t know what risks there are going to be.  Some great conductors give incredible performances that are more or less the same time as the rehearsals.  That’s one way, and it’s marvelous, but I can’t do it that way.  I never know what’s going to happen myself, and yes, I’m constantly feeling the ideas which occur to me.  Whether it always works I can’t say, but that’s just the kind of philosophy I feel.

BD:   Is there ever a performance where you get it all right?

JJ:   No, no!  [Both laugh]  It would be awful, wouldn’t it?  The challenge is so great for us, and I always think this concept of ‘all right’ or ‘definitive’ doesn’t exist.  We have wonderful recordings, for example, of Stravinsky conducting his own music, or Elgar leading different performances of the same works.  Even from the 1920s, Elgar and Stravinsky are especially meticulous with all the instructions they gave to the conductor, and they’re quite different when you hear their own performances.

BD:   So which is right?

JJ:   One performance can only illuminate so much of a work.

BD:   But which is right
the notation on the page, or the performance on the recording?

judd JJ:   Neither, because the notation on the page as it exists is such a vague language, and the metronome marks for that day, in that room, are fine, but in another place, they don’t work.  Or suddenly a composer’s idea about his music changes.  Isn’t it wonderful when we listen to great performances from the past, such as a Beethoven symphony with Toscanini, with Klemperer, or with Furtwängler?  You can’t say one is right and one is wrong.  It would be ridiculous.  You hear so many things in the sense than the composer himself would find incredible richness and rewards.  The music is so beyond any single performance power to embrace it all.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   We’re dancing around it, so let me hit the question straight on.  What’s the purpose of music?

JJ:   For me, it is a very deep one.  The purpose of music, the purpose of great culture, is to teach us about ourselves, to teach us to communicate with one another.  Great music can have a profound effect on people, and if we and governments choose to ignore that, then we see the madness around us today.  How can you have this gun culture and try to have people interested in music?  How can you have people just killing each other with this craziness that we live in today, where culture is Walt Disney, and everybody can own a gun, and little children pick them up accidentally and shoot one another?  That is not the background to foster great culture.  It’s very difficult for us to build audiences when the sensitivities are being knocked out of us by this fear and awfulness around us.  So our jobs as musicians, and the job of music, is to heal, and if people would just trust great music, the real deep spirit of great music, and the emotion of great music, then the world’s going to be a very different place.

BD:   This is your job
to make sure that it’s as good as possible?

JJ:   Yes, and that comes back to the point that an audience will really know when something is really, really good and when music is really deep and powerful.  It can change lives, and it can change whole communities.  Music has a very important part to play in all of the arts, and maybe the most important part.  How is it that wherever you are in the world pretty much, if you play a minor triad and a major triad, even in different cultures it’s going to be an understanding of what is sad and what is happy?  Think of the destructive power of music.  This is not to knock popular culture at all.  I enjoy it.  I’m happy my daughter listens to all kinds of music, but some of it is evil.  When you listen to some of the destructive rap music of today, you know that music can be used
as it’s been used in warin the most awful ways.

BD:   So I assume you would immediately reject something that comes across your desk entitled Concerto for Shotgun and Orchestra?

JJ:   No, I probably would do it to make a point.  I was visiting Tanglewood, and in a gallery that a friend of mine has, there was a little sculpture done by a very intelligent lady, of a little girl standing innocently in a little dress, with a gun in her hand.  I thought I’d like to take that and put it in every concert hall, to have people think.  How can you talk about culture?  How can these things live side by side?  It’s inconceivable to me.

BD:   [Sighs]  And yet, the world is living that way today.

JJ:   Yes, but at what cost?  What would Beethoven say?  What would Mahler say?  What would Bach say?  What does John Corigliano say?  Which artist believes that this is the way society should be?

BD:   Yet all of these composers had to suffer whatever political crises and wars came up in their lives.  They had to either write for it, or write around it, or write against it.

JJ:   Yes!  That brings us back to John Corigliano, and with good reason.  The Symphony No. 1 is for the victims of AIDS.  The first time I did it in Florida
we do it in five cities, or five venuesand in one of the venues John came and talked to the public about the work, and what it was standing for.  Not only was it about AIDS sufferers and general sufferings, but he also chose to make comments about how, at that time, the government and the church were dealing with this crisis, which is quite proper.  This is what art is about.  It’s supposed to be dealing with issues, and we got fifty letters from subscribers saying that they were going to write to the newspapers, and they were going to take away their subscriptions.  So, I thought about what they are doing when they listen to Beethoven.  They’re probably just listening to familiar sounds, and not understanding the blood and sex in it.

BD:   You got fifty letters condemning you.  Hopefully you also got 150 new subscribers.

JJ:   No, but we programmed it again in the same place the next season, and there were no complaints the second time.  The music is so honest and powerful, and that’s what great art is about.  It’s not just entertaining sounds.  There’s a danger today that we’re trying to turn it into an entertainment.

BD:   Let me ask a balance question, then.  In these concerts that you give, how much is art, and how much is entertainment?

judd JJ:   It’s entertainment in so far people turn up to a place of entertainment.  You can call it entertainment, but it goes so much deeper than that.  There is something more in great classical music.  [Laughs]  We call it by this horrible name, but we’ve got to call it something, so let’s call it classical music.  There is something much, much deeper than in the best Andrew Lloyd Webberwhich I like as wellor in the best musical.  They’re great!  There’s nothing wrong with them.  I go to see those things myself, but we musicians who love music know that there are other, deeper levels.  As performers, we are fighting a little bit today against those who would turn it just into a competing entertainment, which is silly because that is perversely the elitist argument.  Music is not elitist.  It’s for everybody, and everybody in their livesespecially todayis looking for spiritual things, and rewards, because the world’s so materialistic around us.  In my view, we should be marketing much more about promoting the idea of deeper qualities of music, because, actually, people are all in contact with that, and want to be in contact with it.

BD:   So, great music is an oasis?

JJ:   Yes.  After all, it’s a real true fact that when most composers are in touch with the values of the child, all those wonderful feelings we had with the spontaneity and the honesty as children, that’s what’s in great music.  When we have these incredible feelings of nostalgia when listening to great composers, where is it from?  It’s from those memories of youth, and the music reawakens the sensibilities and the real values.

BD:   I wonder if it’s a feeling of safety, too?

JJ:   Maybe that, and sometimes provoking.  Are we coming onto safe ground, or are we not?  We’re living through our experiences, and then great music reaching up, too.  Then there is great music of great composers which is deliberately more entertaining and less profound, and so it serves a different purpose.  After all, Mozart was writing sometimes simply to entertain.

BD:   His Divertimenti are wonderful fun.

JJ:   That’s what they’re supposed to be, and so with Bach.  Sometimes it was written for the pub, not only the church.  [Both laugh]  There’s nothing wrong with that, but we tend to be a little shy of those other values.

BD:   I’d be afraid, though, to have 1,500 people behind you all hoisting one while you were conducting!  [Much laughter]  Now here at Grand Park you’re conducting outdoors.  Does that make a difference in what you play and how you play it?

JJ:   I don’t think so.  I’ve never been here before, and I was rehearsing today, asking for them to play softly and softer.  I asked the concert master if it was all right that we play normal dynamics, and she said yes because of the amplification out there.  Of course it’s different because you hear so many sounds while you’re straining to hear the orchestra.  [Laughs]  You sometimes hear more noise coming from the street, so it is different, but we try to produce the music in the way that we would normally.

BD:   If you are going to return, would you purposely plan things that maybe don’t require so much subtlety?

JJ:   I don’t think so, because all great music has subtlety.  With the amplification, if we try to just play louder, or faster because it’s outdoors, then we’re on a road to disaster.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Do you only play
great music?

JJ:   [Smiles]  Oh, I don’t know.  No, I don’t only play 
great music.  You sometimes play ‘Wellington’s Victory’ [both have a huge laugh], and even Beethoven himself would admit that’s not great music.  The word ‘great’ is very difficult to define, but over the years you assemble pieces that mean more to you.  Your eyes and ears are always looking for new thingsnot only contemporary things, but works of composers you love but you don’t yet know.  You also assemble a family of works around you that you feel are very important, and therefore you can say probably more about them.  Someone else will have a different family of works, and so just to try to do everythingwhich is fun at the beginning of lifeeventually becomes less rewarding.  There’s a core of works that mean so much to me that I find very rewarding to repeat, because simply they mean so much.  They’re pieces that have changed the world, and can change people’s lives, and I want the audiences to be enthusiastic for those works.

BD:   As the core gets bigger, does it push everything else out?

JJ:   No, it doesn’t push everything out, because it’s always a balance.  When you have an orchestra, you can’t play the same works over and over.  I try not to repeat, but we have done some.  I’ve repeated some works over eleven years in Florida, but on the whole, we’re doing new literature most of the time.  We’re adding new literature, and it’s wonderful to have time to study new works
.  Now that I’ve been spending more time in American, I am expanding my understanding of American works.  But there’s a whole load of British composers coming along which I really have fallen way back and behind on.

judd BD:   Is it your responsibility to know every piece of the orchestral literature?

JJ:   No, but it’s my responsibility to keep in touch with what’s going on.  I talk to friends in the business, and publishers I trust, and ask what’s good, what I should be listening to, what I might think of doing.  You get people who recommend works to you, and go and listen to them, and look at them to see if they’re pieces you want to take on.  It’s just important to be willing to do new things, and I certainly am willing to.  I enjoy doing new things.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You’ve made some recordings.  Do you play the same for the recording microphone as you do for a concert hall?

JJ:   I’m a believer now in live performance.  Because of what I was saying earlier, it’s in line with my philosophy to believe that there is no definitive version, and if we’re in a studio chasing a perfection, I have a feeling the audience has got a bit bored with that clinical perfection.  For me, when I’m listening for my private enjoyment, I find I listen with much more interest to live performances.  When we were making the recordings with the Florida Philharmonic
the Mahler recording, for examplewe did very, very big takes.  I’m much less interested in everything being perfectly together than in having something happen.  After all, music exists from the mind of a composer to the mind of a listener, and it’s going to be different shifting all the times we describe.  So, when you’ve done it once, it’s gone.  When you do it next, it’s another performance, and a retake is another performance.  To try to recapture exactly what you were thinking five minutes ago is a lie.  It’s still a lot of fun, though, because you have the opportunity to go into a studio and claim to get things right.  It teaches you so much.  The listening experience at a recording session is also very good for an orchestra.  They have to be right on every single moment because it’s such expensive time, and no one wants to make a mistake, to be the cause of having to re-do a section.  So, it really does breathe differently.  In London, the orchestras are incredible at that, because over the years they have existed by having a lot of recording work, so they become so careful.

BD:   But doesn’t that breathe in a certain timidity in terms of not taking risks?

JJ:   Yes, possibly.  With the live performance you have to get through a certain brilliant ‘auto-pilot’.  When I ask to try it much softer, nobody’s going to turn down the volume in the studio.  There is little risk-taking, and gambling, and stretching, and just reacting to one another in a free way.  Recording is becoming more and more difficult because of the costs.  The business is shifting a lot.

BD:   I assume you’re pleased with the recordings you’ve made so far?

JJ:   Yeah, though I find it very, very difficult to listen to something I’ve done, because the moment you hear it, you realize it could be better.  For example, take the Mahler One we did in 1995.  I just did it again with my orchestra, and I think it was much, much better now.  I listened to a tape we made for the radio, and I wished that it could take the place of the disc, although it was a live performance.  For the future, if I had my choice, and if some recording company would descend from On High and say, “What would you like to do?” I would say, “I would really like for you to record live performances when we’ve had an adequate rehearsal.  Maybe do a series of live performances over a quarter of a season, and we will find things that were rather interesting, that can communicate something, and let’s issue that!”  It’s a document of an event.

BD:   [Looking into the future of technology]  Maybe set it up like computer software
license each particular recording that is out, and then issue a new version to update better recordings.

judd JJ:   [Laughs]  These days it’s a great idea.  The means we receive music is going to be so different soon anyway, isn’t it?  We in the orchestra business are so rightly concerned now about education, especially in line with the sociological problems that we see around us which we were discussing earlier.  So, it’s more and more important that we reach children at the age of three with classical music, and do this with parents.  We’ve got to get music to them, and what better way than to do it through the computer?  My three-year-old was using computers before I was using computers...

BD:   Do you want to be the first MP3 conductor?

JJ:   I’d love to be, but then you’ve got to fight through all kinds of problems which are out of my control.  Whichever orchestra gets its act together, and says that’s what they’re going to do
and gets the musicians to agreeit won’t matter if they’re in the United States or in New Zealand, or Kuala Lumpur.  Some orchestra is going to get it off the ground, and start to shove out rehearsals around the world on the web, and have interaction with its audience.  Think of it!  It’s wonderful miracle of opportunities available to us today to meet our audience, to meet young people, and not just do it in school concerts, but be in their homes.

BD:   I can imagine if you’re in New Zealand and the rehearsal is on the web, you can just turn to no one in particular and ask,
Did the oboe come out? and someone in Chicago can reply, Yes I heard it fine.

JJ:   Yes, that’s right.  [Both laugh]  I know those things have started to happen.  Great teachers have been doing lessons via tele-conferencing.  Even country to country, that must be marvelous.  The parents can see the teacher of the young child there, and have interaction.

BD:   [Being Devil
s advocate for a moment]  I can understand doing it if you have a doctor in one place and a patient half-way around the world, but is it right to do this in the arts?

JJ:   Take, for example, the State of Florida, which I know.  It is such a long state.  There are some other orchestras in Florida as well as mine, but there are so many inaccessible places.  Many school communities never have a chance to come to a concert, or receive great music, or have lessons from great teachers.  We’re sitting here, and we can feed that.  We can go everywhere.  Think of what we can do for people who don’t have the opportunities that we have.

BD:   Someone in Key West (at the extreme south end of Florida) can actually attend the Royal College of Music in London?

JJ:   Yes, why not?  Really, that is possible today, so in that sense we can access it all.  We can reach out in the hope that people will then want to come to us to hear the real live performance, which always will stay fundamentally important.

BD:   Will the live performance always be there?

JJ:   Oh, definitely.  On CNN a few months ago, there was an item about people now buying pens and writing paper in vast quantities.  People will always go to sports events.  The great thing about the live concert is the sharing of that emotion at one time, and when you’ve been in concerts where things are going well, and there’s absolute silence, and you know that everybody in that hall.  The performers feel that total circle with the audience, and they are in touch with that same feeling.  It
s indescribable in words, and at the same it is so beautiful when you’re sharing that you can never replace it.  Just look at the new concert halls going up all over the world.

BD:   That’s true.  You’ve opened two!

JJ:   Yes, and there’s another one coming.  In 2002, we will open a new concert hall/opera house in Miami because people want to be in those places to hear music.  [It would actually open in 2006.]  It gives you great hope because there’s a lot of negatively and talk in the music world about how bad things are, and it’s rubbish.  There are more people listening to classical music than ever before, but we muddle the arguments.  In the old days, you built a concert hall of 1,500 seats.  1,800 was a big concert hall, and you filled them.  Now, if you get 1,800 in the concert hall, it’s only half full.  We have shifted the goal posts because the economic climate is different.

judd BD:   Are we getting more and more people, but not more and more percentage of the population?

JJ:   I don’t know.  Maybe, but concert halls today can be filled.  We just have to reach out in different ways.  The subscription audience is not going to stay as it has existed for this century.  We have to sell and market in new ways to the new generation.  They won’t buy twenty concerts anymore.  We have to package things in different ways, but if we excite them when they come into the hall, and if we have confidence in the products, and if we start to teach the young children, we are going to see audiences.  I have no doubt about it at all.

BD:   So then you are really optimistic about it?

JJ:   Oh, yes, hugely optimistic.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You mentioned earlier that music goes from the mind of the composer to the mind of the audience, or the listener.  Doesn’t it get filtered through you at all?

JJ:   Yes.

BD:   Are you a filter, or are you more of a booster rocket?

JJ:   [With a quizzical look]  Well, I don’t know.  I don’t think I have eloquent words of my own.  I remember Stravinsky’s words about The Rite of Spring, when he said that he was the vessel through which Le Sacre passed.  So I suppose we are a kind of vessel.  The musical language is so vague, with all the dots that we play, and the metronome marks. 
Fast means something to one person, and it means something different to you or me.  It’s all so approximate.  We have a lot of decisions to make, and the decisions we make can either hinder or help the truth of the music.

BD:   So, it comes to you as a kit, and you put the pieces together?

JJ:   It comes to us as a thought, as an emotion.  We receive ideas from that music.  It then comes back to the minor and major triads, and from there it comes as smells, as feelings, as structure, as organization, and we have to transmit that.  First, as a conductor, the complexity is that you have to transmit that to a hundred people, and then have them embrace the audience... unlike a pianist just sitting down and being able to play, or, most of all, a singer being able to directly communicate emotion to an audience.  So, it is complex, but it all makes those moments in a concert hall, where we’ve all been listening to a performance and felt that sensation of being wrapped in great beauty.  When that’s happening, we feel directly in touch with the emotions of a composer, and it’s a wonderful thing.  It can be the same when we look at nature.  You get out of a city, and you go to areas where you can’t see buildings.  The trees eclipse the sun, and these things are the same today as they were at the time of Bach.  Great trees are growing and dying, and we know that the feelings, our prime feelings, are the same now as they were in Bach’s day.  Yes, we’ve become sophisticated and clever, but the great truth of music and the great truth we share as humans in nature are the same.  This great art puts us in touch with that, and gives us hope that the great human spirit is alive.  We see it in sport as well.  How moving great sport is!

BD:   Is music sport?

JJ:   No music isn’t sport... although to play an instrument there are a lot of analogies that are very relevant.

BD:   Do you find it a contest every time you get up on the podium?

JJ:   A contest???  [Laughs]  I hope it isn’t!  The contest for a conductor
or at least for meis much more with oneself, because if you’re functioning well, there’s a great temptation to know as soon as you’ve given an up-beat that it’s the wrong tempo.  That’s something we can never get right, as we discussed before.  You have to get over that desire to apologize all the time and say, No, that wasn’t good enough, and just live this moment and try to make something.  The contest you ask about is what do you do when airplanes fly overhead.  [Laughs]  A lot of it is thinking about and rethinking about the works, and also thinking about oneself, and the power one has to better get the results you want from an orchestra.  Whether it’s about technical things or just how you talk, this is what we, as conductors, have to try to do to have co-operation.  It is not a contest, but co-operation.  If it’s not going well, then it can turn into a contest, and it happens sometimes.  [Much laughter]  It’s inevitable sometimes.  The chemistry between the conductor and every orchestra can’t be the same.

BD:   Then will you turn down return engagements with that orchestra?

JJ:   They probably will never ask me again.  [Gales of laughter]

BD:   [Noting that he is about to turn fifty years old]  Are you at the point in your career that you want to be at this age?

judd JJ:   Yes, I am.  I’m really looking forward to the fifty-thing which is coming up for me, because it’s a chance to really reassess things.  I’ve been, I would say, a slow developer in many ways, not a Wunderkind, not one of these conductors that is so confident at the age of twenty-five that he can do everything.  I enjoy the process, the struggle I go through, and it’s very rewarding for me.  I’m looking forward from the age of fifty for different aspects of my life, including family life, and being able to be in a fortunate position to do a lot of the things I want to dothe repertoire I want to do, the places that I like, and finding orchestras.  They’re not always the most famous orchestras, just orchestras where you have a sudden, incredible rapport.  For example, I was in Australia with three different orchestras in June, and I came across an orchestra in Adelaide.  They had just played the Ring Cycle with Jeffrey Tate, and I did the Elgar First Symphony with them.  At the first rehearsal, I had never heard it so beautifully played anywhere in the world, even with all the English orchestras I’ve done it with and recorded, who are wonderful.  It would challenge any orchestra in this country, and it's not a famous orchestra.  You have Sydney and Melbourne to consider, but we had no idea what there is in the southern hemisphere.  They are wonderful orchestras that would be in the top category in this country... maybe not in the Top Five, but certainly the Top Twelve.  Sometimes, as a musician it’s much less important to be famous, or a star, than to be in a special place.

BD:   It sounds like you’re looking for satisfaction.

JJ:   Yes, the next years it’s to be in places where there is satisfaction.  There is no contest, as you say, but there is the opportunity.  At the same time, I’m looking forward to greater challenges.  I hope that my career will give me opportunities to work with the greatest orchestras, so that I can see if I measure up, and see whether I can get my convictions across.

BD:   I wish you continued success, and I hope it all works.

JJ:   Thank you.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed, but I’ll enjoy it wherever it is and whatever happens.

We then continued to chit-chat for a bit, and the tape recorder was allowed to keep running . . .

BD:   The Florida Philharmonic is the only orchestra I know of which travels all over in its own state.

JJ:   Yes, it’s a lot of traveling, and the musicians are incredibly resilient because the travel down there is pretty brutal, as you probably know that area.  

BD:   Yes, I visit my father down there when I can.  [After enduring seventy Chicago winters, my father, Burton Duffie, retired to Delray Beach, which is in Palm Beach County on the Atlantic coast, just north of Boca Raton, about fifty miles north of Miami.]  Do the musicians live and work in Miami?

JJ:   Some of them are in Miami.  We have a rehearsal space in Fort Lauderdale, and a lot of them are living in Broward County, south Palm Beach county, and then quite a lot are down in Miami.  So, everybody has to travel even to go to one place.  Typically, if we have five concerts in a row, which sometimes does happen, it might well be in the morning an opera rehearsal, and then a children’s concert, so they have to travel so much for that.  It’s incredible how they turn on their internal motors wherever they are.  It’s amazing really.

BD:   I’m glad you’re able to help them hold it all together.

JJ:   Yes, I’m proud of what we’ve done there, and we’ll see what happens next.  The orchestra has grown, and the quality has grown, and you never know how far you can go with that.  I’m happy that we’ve got the new hall coming, and that they’re willing to spend that kind of money to do it properly.  Russ Johnson (1923-2007) is doing the acoustics [in 2004, Time Magazine referred to Johnson as a
‘legendary acoustician], and César Pelli is doing the designing.  We’ve had input to all of that, so it’s going to be a world-class concert hall and a world-class opera house.

César Pelli (October 12, 1926 – July 19, 2019) was an Argentine architect who designed some of the world's tallest buildings and other major urban landmarks. Some of his most notable contributions included the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur [shown in photo below] and the World Financial Center in New York City. The American Institute of Architects named him one of the ten most influential living American architects in 1991 and awarded him the AIA Gold Medal in 1995. In 2008, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat presented him with The Lynn S. Beedle Lifetime Achievement Award.


He studied architecture at the Universidad Nacional de Tucumán. He graduated in 1949, after which he designed low-cost housing projects. In 1952, he attended the University of Illinois School of Architecture in the United States for advanced study in architecture, and received his Master of Science in Architecture degree in 1954.

In 1952, Pelli moved to the United States with his wife, Diana Balmori (1932–2016), and became a naturalized citizen in 1964. After his graduation from the University of Illinois School of Architecture, Pelli worked for Eero Saarinen in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, for ten years. In 1977, Pelli was selected to be the dean of the Yale School of Architecture in New Haven, Connecticut, and served in that post until 1984. Shortly after Pelli arrived at Yale, he won the commission to design the expansion and renovation of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which resulted in the establishment of his own firm, Cesar Pelli & Associates.

Pelli was named one of the ten most influential living American Architects by the American Institute of Architects in 1991. In 1995, he was awarded the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal. In May 2004, Pelli was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth where he designed Weber Music Hall. In 2005, Pelli was honored with the Connecticut Architecture Foundation's Distinguished Leadership Award.

BD:   That will attract guest artists, too.

JJ:   Yes.  We’re very lucky, because we get most of the visiting orchestras that come to the States, so every week there’s a new orchestra, which is healthy for us, and the New World Orchestra feeds us tremendous people.  This means we have a pool of talent that comes to auditions now, local talent, people who like to stay in Florida.  So, it’s a good center now, with a lot happening there.  [The New World Symphony is an American orchestral academy based in Miami Beach, Florida. Established in 1987 by Michael Tilson Thomas, with financial assistance from Ted Arison, founder of Carnival Cruise Lines, the organization is a training ensemble for young musicians in their 20s in preparation for professional careers in classical music.  By the time of Arison
s death in 1999, he had contributed $62 Million Dollars to the organization.]

BD:   I hope your worldwide traveling continues.  It seems an extraordinarily long way from Florida to New Zealand...

JJ:   Yes, it does seem a long way.  The first time I went out there, I was guest conducting, and it was fine.  I had a very, very nice time with the Mahler Six.

BD:   Is that the orchestra Andrew Schenck had for a while?


JJ:   They’ve never actually had a Music Director.  He was working and did some records there, then they appointed Eduardo Mata just before he was tragically killed.  Ironically, before I knew anything about New Zealand, or had even been there or knew of that relationship, he was due six weeks after he died to guest conduct my orchestra in Florida.

BD:   Now you’re off to Kuala Lumpur again?

JJ:   I went to guest conduct out there.  They put the orchestra between the César Pelli Twin Towers.  Do you know the story?

BD:    [Eagerly]  No, please tell me...

JJ:   The Prime Minister, who is called Dr. M, who puts his money where he likes, decreed that his idea is that Kuala Lumpur would be the technical capital of Asia 2020.  What he did was organize IMG to set up an office in Kuala Lumpur, and they hired John Duffy [an Englishman (see biography below), not to be confused with the American John Duffy who established the Meet the Composers program].  Duffy was the orchestral manager of the Pittsburgh Symphony, and was then General Manager No. 2 with the New World Symphony.  I knew him because he was Personnel Manager of the London Symphony Orchestra.  He’s the Executive Director in Kuala Lumpur, and they auditioned an orchestra all over the world.  They have absolutely first-class players on two year contracts from great orchestras from the U.S., from Leipzig, from the Oslo Philharmonic, etc.  People are doing half-contracts to try to make a great orchestra there, and to teach.

John Duffy, an Englishman born in Liverpool, UK, is a renowned Presenter and Promoter of concerts and artistes in the UK, USA and Asia. In the late '70s, John was the Personnel Manager of the London Symphony Orchestra and remained there until he moved to United States in 1986. He then joined the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra the Personnel Manager, and was able to work alongside the conductor Lorin Maazel, and other American based artists. So, it was no surprise when in 1991 he was invited to become Artistic and Operations manager to the New World Symphony, the orchestra created by Michael Tilson Thomas to help assist academically trained musicians to experience the finer arts of the orchestral world. In addition, John was also the Tour and Personnel Manager of the European Youth Orchestra (1981-1986) which gave him the opportunity to keep acquainted with the younger members of the orchestral world. Later, after a couple of years working independently in New York as a promoter and instrument dealer, John was given the opportunity to build an entirely new professional orchestra in Kuala Lumpur, The Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra. His other positions also include as the Auditions Co-ordinator for the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, tour manager USA for Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and Personnel Selection Assistant for Asian Philharmonic Orchestra,

John received Musical Training at Royal Manchester College of Music, before joining the Halle Orchestra in 1958 where he was Principal Double Bassist under the conductor, Sir John Barbirolli. In 1966 he moved to London as a member of the London Symphony Orchestra. As well as performing with most other London based Orchestras, he enjoyed the opportunities to perform under all world-famous conductors, and with all internationally acclaimed soloists. Of course, constant international touring was a necessity for this level of artistic activity, and more than 50 countries were visited during his London years.

BD:   Do they stay and get another two-year contract, or do they generally leave?

JJ:   This is the first year of the two-year contract.  It’s a whole new thing.

BD:   I would think that most orchestral players would look at it as a sabbatical, and then go back home.

JJ:   That will be the danger when they try to build a really great orchestra, but of course you’ve got hot-shot players.  It’s fantastic fun and it’s a lovely place to live.  They pay them well, and the quality of life is very high.  The fees that they get paid are very good, and it buys a lot there.  But I could imagine a lot of them will play their two-year contract, then will want to go back to their other lives.  But it is all very interesting.

BD:   You were part of that?

JJ:   I was just doing a concert there during their first year.  It was very interesting.

BD:   I wish you continued success.

JJ:   Thank you.  Nice to meet you.


© 1999 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on August 13, 1999.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB three months later.  This transcription was made in 2019, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.