I began at CalArts as a flutist, convinced that a life as a soloist or an orchestral player was my future. Out of curiosity, and to round out my education — to see what it was like on “the other side of the podium” — I took a class in the rudiments of conducting during my first year (1971-72), and was accepted into the advanced conducting class the year after.
After several months of classes, during which one student would conduct while another one or two would play the given piece at the piano, we were all given the chance to conduct the student orchestra. My vehicle was Mozart’s 25th Symphony and, while I am usually leery of such notions, I genuinely had an epiphany — I felt I was making music in the way I was truly meant to.
This was immediately reinforced when my teacher, Gerhard Samuel, took me gently by the arm after my rehearsal was done, led me to a corner of the room (it was A-300 — does it still bear that name?), looked at me with his serious brown eyes, and said, “You realize you’ve just found yourself, don’t you?” “Yes!” I replied. I have been a conductor ever since; it is my life, my joy, my food and oxygen. And that’s the moment it started.