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Memphis

I find every journey to the South really really interesting. This is my first time in Memphis.

First, the orchestra: excellent group, great hall. They love to play music, which is what makes me happy when I conduct. No matter how good an orchestra is, if it feels like just another day at the office what’s the point? Of course I have to do my part to make this happen. So in many ways, when I’m working with a given orchestra in a given week, I’m thinking to myself, “How can the music-making be as vivid, as distinctive as possible?” Kudos also to David Loebel (music director – the real thing), and the excellent staff, who have really built something here.

The visit to the town has been full of feeling and emotion for me as well. Seeing the National Civil Rights Museum was incredibly moving because the facade of the museum is the actual Lorraine Motel, where MLK was assasinated.

MLK

What made it even more moving was seeing it in context. With Barack Obama elected president, MLK’s sacrifice and struggle really hit me more than ever before. But there was another context in which I saw this museum: it sits next to one of the poorest zip codes in America, with an infant mortality rate higher than Nigeria! We still have a long way to go. We can do better than this.

Also of course, this is the birthplace of blues and rock and roll. It’s still an enormously musical place. Shouldn’t cities like Memphis and New Orleans be our Vienna? They’re not of course. In the US we have trouble celebrating our own culture. The more I think about it, the culture we celebrate is just a reflection of having and making a lot of money. That’s why we don’t have Carnegie Hall in Memphis.

Beyond that — I’ve been exploring and eating. The best fried chicken ever (Gus’s), catfish, ho-cakes, and some BBQ to come. I’m going to try and hear some American music as well after rehearsal tonight.