Ruth Reinhardt

For June 2016’s Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Ruth Reinhardt (http://ruth-reinhardt.squarespace.com/).  A graduate of Juilliard’s Master of Music in Orchestral Conducting Program, Ruth  was recently named Assistant Conductor with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (https://www.mydso.com/) and is the current Conducting Fellow with the Seattle Symphony (http://www.seattlesymphony.org/) for the 2015-2016 season.  Ruth began her musical education at the age of six studying the violin in her hometown of Saarbrücken, Germany.  In 2004, she began taking private conducting lessons which brought her to the Zurich University of the Arts, Leipzig University of the Arts, Tanglewood Music Center, and the Juilliard School.

Ruth Reinhardt on the steps outside Alice Tully Hall

You began your musical education studying violin, and you also have instrumental training in oboe and piano.  What made you decide to focus on conducting rather than instrumental performance?

Actually it was entirely by coincidence. I loved performing (chamber music and in orchestras), but I always wanted to know more than just my own part. I composed too, so I wanted to understand why certain places sounded so incredible and how a composer could communicate all these feelings. Also it always troubled me when I was young and playing in my quartet, that we would all have many ideas and even though they were all valid, they didn’t fit together and didn’t create one coherent concept.

Somehow I never made the conclusion that maybe conducting might the thing I’m looking for. Then once I caught a bad cold during an orchestra project and couldn’t play oboe for a day, so the conductor asked (more as a joke) if instead I wanted to conduct. I did and suddenly the world opened up that I’d been looking for.

You have done a considerable amount of community engagement work including acting as a teaching fellow for Juilliard’s Music Advancement Program (MAP) as well as composing and conducting children’s operas in Germany and Switzerland.  What do you like most about working as a teaching artist to children? What is the greatest challenge?

I believe that for all of us there was this one moment in our early life when we started being obsessed about music, somehow feeling how “big” it is and is what it can give us. For me this was when I got to be as a 9-year old on stage, performing in Verdi’s Otello in the children’s choir.

So, I somehow want to give this spark to as many young people as possible. I don’t think they  have to become musicians but I would love if they got a glimpse of how great our art form is.

Ruth conducting in Tanglewood

While earning your Master of Music degree in Conducting at the Juilliard School, you studied with the world renowned conductor and New York Philharmonic music director, Alan Gilbert.  What was that experience like?  What is the most important lesson you learned from Mr. Gilbert when you were under his tutelage?

It was really wonderful studying with Alan Gilbert – he’s just the best! He always challenged us a lot, in different ways, from the amount of repertoire to throwing many things at us, but somehow he always gave me the feeling he knew I could do it, that I just had to find the right button. His incredibly subtle rhythmic awareness and how to find a connection to the sound of an orchestra with our hands. That’s really the Holy Grail of conducting; how to change the sound of an orchestra just with out hands alone.

Can you describe your experience as the conducting fellow with the Seattle Symphony?

My experience in Seattle was very great, though it does rain a lot! The orchestra is a ideal mix of being very very good and exceedingly musical and at the same time very open minded and easy to work with. They were very supportive, which isn’t always the case with orchestras and young conductors. In general in the whole organisation there is a very positive atmosphere, so I absolutely loved my time there.

_DSC2639As you are aware, there is a disproportionate number of male conductors to female conductors. A list compiled by Bachtrack.com at the end of 2014, stated that of the world’s top 150 conductors, only five were women. Why do you think this is?

Firstly I think that now there are many young female conductors but as it takes at least thirty years for a conductor to “ripen/mature”, we’ll only see them in “top conductors statistics” in some decades.

More importantly though, I believe that there are so few top female conductors because there were (and in some places still are) so many “gate keepers”, who made it very hard for women to get through. Those could mean being accepted into programs, being shortlisted for auditions etc. Unfortunately even at Juilliard there wasn’t always such a supportive environment for women conductors – Marin Alsop told me she was never accepted on the conducting programme here, despite auditioning a number of times and having the backing of Bernstein…

In a controversial 2013 interview with the French radio station, France Musique, the director of the Paris Conservatory, Bruno Mantovani, stated that the lack of top female conductors was due to the profession being too demanding for women.  To quote, Mantovani said “the profession of a conductor is a profession that is particularly physically testing, sometimes women are discouraged by the very physical aspect – conducting, taking a plane, taking another plane, conducting again. It is quite challenging.”  How would you respond to this comment or others like it?

In a time where women work as astronauts, in the army and in the fire service this statement is so ridiculous that it doesn’t even deserve to be  answered. I think this statement reveals more about Mantovani than about his subject.

What advice would you give to young women interested in pursuing a career as a conductor?

If you HAVE to do it, then just do it! I would  give the same advice I give to any young conductor regardless of gender: there are tons of reasons people will give you why you can’t be a conductor, from that you have the wrong family background to your physique. But if you want to be a conductor badly enough, and are willing to take the risk of not having a super successful career, then you do it. But if you can imagine doing something else with your life then you might be better off with that.

Music for a Sutainable Planet

The Kronos Quartet with the Æon Music Ensemble and Æon Singers, playing Vladislav Boguinia’s “Rise,” at the Symphony Space in New York on Sept. 23, 2015. (Benjamin Chasteen/Epoch Times)

This interview series is called Eye on Culture, so let’s discuss culture.  You were born and raised in Germany and prior to coming to NYC, you studied/worked in Switzerland and the Czech Republic.  Did you experience any “culture shock” when you moved to New York after living/working in three different countries? If so, in what ways?

To be honest, I can’t really remember since when I got to New York I was immediately so busy that there wasn’t much room to think of anything else! I would say though that it took time to get used to the pace of the city, with everything happening so fast and the city never being at rest. It is hard to allow oneself some rest if the surrounding never stops.

After acclimating to NewHiking in Canada York life, did you experience culture shock again when you moved to Seattle? If so, what surprised you most about the culture of the northwest United States compared to the northeast? 
Luckily I didn’t feel a culture shock at all when going to Seattle, but I was surprised by how calm and laid back it felt after NYC.

When you are not focused on your career, what do you like toSledging in Switzerland do for fun?  Do you have any hobbies outside of music? 

I really love mountain sports, hiking, skiing, and I love to travel and get to know different places and cultures. But mostly I love having some time with my partner, James (also a conductor!), being at home in Berlin, cooking nice meals and playing pool.

Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years? Twenty years?

Hard question! Ten years ago I could have exactly told you where I want to be in five, ten, twenty years, but now I realised that despite one has a plan, life takes you always down another route (usually a good one!), so I don’t have so clear plans anymore. I’m lucky that I get to make music with some wonderful people – I hope to be doing that for many decades yet!

 

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Jonathan Spandorf

I have had the great pleasure of seeing Jonathan Spandorf, a recent Master’s graduate in Juilliard’s Music Division, conduct the Juilliard Lab Orchestra in Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. I have also been fascinated by his travel stories told to me in my office over cups of coffee. Captured below is his dynamic, charismatic, and adventurous spirit.

Jonathan Spandorf 1Why did you choose conducting?
I was always fascinated by the work of the conductor and the orchestra because I played in the orchestra. When I was a teenager I actually discovered what we call classical music. I really liked the interaction of the conductor and people and the way that he works with them. Eventually, I was pretty curious in my senior year in high school to try to experience myself a little bit so I had a few opportunities. I really enjoyed it, and it was fun because I didn’t have to play. I felt like I’m making music together with other people, so I loved it.

Tell us about your hometown just outside of Tel Aviv.
I was born in Haifa but I moved pretty quickly to my hometown of Givatayim – it was a pretty standard small city and I was there for public school and later high school. They have this joke that Givatayim is actually some sort of Florida in Israel, but besides that, it was pretty quiet with nice people. My high school was a high school of arts and therefore many people from many other places in Israel came there to study, so I was able to meet many different people. Eventually, most of the time when I wasn’t at home I spent in Tel Aviv or in other places in Israel.

A few years back, you backpacked across South America for nine months. What made you decide to take that trip?
After my army service, I had so many thoughts about what I’m going to study. I was afraid of choosing music as a path and I was confused. Then a friend of mine from childhood offered for me to join him for a trip to South America. At first, I decided to go for three months and he told me that perhaps he will extend his trip… eventually it was the opposite. He decided to spend three months in South America, and I met this one guy and we Jonathan Spandorf 6spent together nine months and so many other people joined us. I met so many interesting people there. During my trip to South America I just discovered in myself that there are other things besides music that I like to do and I want to do. This is when I started to do really challenging hikes and I had the opportunity to climb mountains – a thing that I wouldn’t imagine I could do. I started to rock climb, which I am doing since just recently with a little bit of break, and kayaking – just things I couldn’t imagine I can do somewhere else, so it was an experience for me. This is when I also decided that perhaps music is good for me. I remember that at the middle of my trip, I decided you know what, I want to study music.

It just came to you?
Yeah, just one day I decided this is what I want to do and I’m going to make this happen. I guess I tried to avoid it so many times because of the challenging path of music and eventually I just couldn’t avoid it. Not even with a trip to a far place like South America.

Jonathan Spandorf 5What countries did you visit while you were in South America?
My trip started at Ecuador and pretty quickly I went to the Galapagos Islands. It was just an amazing experience being in such a special place. This is also when I thought, “My God, can this trip be even better than that?” I spent five months in the Andes of Peru and Bolivia and this is where I had my first attempts to climb mountains, rock climb, and do really long hikes; one hike was like fourteen days in the Andes. It was amazing to be in special and different landscapes, such as the desert in Bolivia. I went to Argentina and Chile, especially to the Southern part of Patagonia which was also amazing. The terrain was pretty mountainous but was so different than Peru and Bolivia. At the end, I went to the Carnival in Brazil. This was like the grand finale of my trip. It was a pretty good one.

How did your experience shape you?
I became much more independent after this trip. Somehow the things that I did just opened my mind to other possibilities. All these experiences just affect you as a person and I think this is exactly what happened to me.

Eventually, I think that after this trip I became more confident than what I was before in what I want to achieve, what I want to do and how I am going to do it.

What do you feel is the main challenge of being an international student?
First of all, the living. The living in New York is intense and it is expensive. Some people are pretty much lonely here. I’m not sure lonely, but they’re alone. They don’t have family. Most of them don’t know anybody. I was lucky that I had a few friends in New York, musicians that were here a long time ago and so it was like a soft landing for me in the city. I think that perhaps the most difficult thing is the fact that you’re alone, and I guess that this is also a part of the job for musicians. They live by themselves most of the time. I think this is the toughest.

Jonathan Spandorf 7What was your transition like to the U.S.?
When I came to do my audition at Juilliard, it felt quite natural in New York. I just loved the place. I loved sucking in the vibe. I mean I knew it’s super intense and that everyone, they just go and go, and you don’t have time and you spend so many hours outside. But there are so many other benefits in the city that I just told myself, “My God, I have to move here. It’s so great. It’s crazy, but it’s great.” So I guess for me, I would say it was a fun transition – if I can define it like that.

What would you say is the main difference between the U.S. and Israel?
In Israel, we tend to be much more direct than people in the U.S. I guess that because Israel is kind of Americanized in the past 20 years, you don’t see so many differences. Besides that Israel is so multicultural itself,  so we’re kind of used to everything.

What aspect of your home country do you miss the most?
First of all, my family and friends. I really miss being with the people that I love and that love me. Just spending time with them, like going with friends to trips and having this great time together. Also, the food which is so fresh and good.

What do you think is the most common misconception of Israel?
This is kind of a tricky question. I guess that recently because Israel has so many domestic and international problems, people tend to see us as immoral most of the time. When I’m here I’ll obviously try to advocate for Israel all the time, but I can’t ignore the criticism that happens. I try to Jonathan Spandorf 4criticize what’s going on in my home country which most of the time really bothers me. Sometimes it makes me very sad to know about things that the society became, things that we don’t want to be we did. I always try to consider all the sides and all the aspects. I try to talk to as many people as I can about it and to understand. Especially when I visited Europe, I had the feeling of antagonism against Israel, and it was pretty hard to get free from the misconception. I guess the fact that people think people are immoral if they go to the army is not true. People are individuals. There are bad people and there are good people. I want to believe that there are more good people than bad people.

What are your plans after graduation?
I’m pursuing a job in conducting in an orchestra. I enjoyed teaching this year at school. It was really something great that happened to me – the fact that I was able to work with students from school to teach them and to learn from them how to teach better. I really hope this is something that I took to further my path and my career. I guess that most important for me is to keep pursuing opportunities to perform. Of course I would also like to develop some other skills as a musician – things that because of time limits I couldn’t do any more – like writing and arranging music that I like so much, and discovering other types of music which I was able to do here in NY with all this multiculturalism that we spoke about. The fact that one night you can go to a place like Village Vanguard, another night you can go to Guantanamera to hear Latin music, to the Met to hear opera or the Philharmonic. The fact that everything is so accessible for us. I want to keep doing it.

In reflecting on your experience here in the U.S., what are the first three words that come to mind?
Culture, Food, Weather.