Conducting is not a career for the homebody.
Over the past decade, the conductor Ruth Reinhardt has rocketed onto the international stage with appointments and fellowships from Los Angeles to Leipzig.
Now, Reinhardt’s travels take her to Baltimore. On Friday, Reinhardt will make her conducting debut with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, leading a series of concerts featuring the work of Wennäkoski, Schubert and Brahms.
Reinhardt’s rising prowess is complemented by the established stardom of pianist Emanuel Ax, who will perform Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2, a work that stands out to Reinhardt for both its scale and the “interwoven” nature of its material.
“It’s such a beautiful, gigantic piece,” Reinhardt said. “It’s like a symphony. It’s not much like earlier piano concerti where you have an orchestra introduction, then the piano plays and the orchestra only accompanies.”
Friday will also mark Reinhardt’s first time conducting Emanuel Ax in a concert. Concerti require tight communication between the soloist and conductor, and Reinhardt views Ax as someone who makes her job easier. She recalled preparing for a rehearsal with Ax in 2015. “With him, because he’s such a pro and he knows exactly what he’s doing, [preparing the score] was the shortest thing ever. It was so clear, so incredibly easy.”
Ruth Reinhardt is a German native who remembered her early years in music as a time of immersive variation: She played violin and oboe, she played chamber music and in youth orchestras, and she composed her own music.
She described discovering her affinity for conducting at the age of 16 as “completely by accident.” During a rehearsal a conductor asked her if she wanted to give it a shot, and Reinhardt realized, “Conducting actually combined all those things I was doing separately. The funny thing is it would have never crossed my mind.”
Looking back, that light bulb moment made sense to her. Conducting requires synthesizing multiple perspectives on music: One needs to have an interest in composition and studying scores to determine both the structure of a piece and its message.
Then there’s the leadership aspect. “Despite [the fact that] there are many different people in the room and many different opinions, you still need to come out with one end product that makes sense — one storyline,” Reinhardt explained.
For Reinhardt, both structure and storyline are her entry points into new pieces, even if they might have experimental or nontraditional sound worlds.
“Hava” by Finnish composer Lotta Wennäkoski, which opens Friday’s program, exemplifies this kind of music to Reinhardt. “This piece is really abstract, but if you let your imagination go, it gives you so many images. Leaves blown around, [and] it has a feeling of things falling in the wind.”
Reinhardt acknowledged that contemporary pieces like Wennäkoski’s might intimidate some audiences, but chided what she described as a “misconception that one has to understand music at all times. Especially in Germany, we need to be able to dissect it and analyze it. That, I think, is what makes it hard for us in contemporary music.”
Instead, curious audiences might take a leaf out of Reinhardt’s book by searching for what she described as the “human element” of music. “I only like music that has something to do with our lives,” she said. “Most pieces are about that.”
If you go
Ruth Reinhardt conducts Emanuel Ax and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Nov. 8-10. The concerts on Friday and Sunday take place at the Meyerhoff and the Saturday concert at Strathmore. Friday and Saturday concerts start at 8 p.m. and the Sunday concert is at 3 p.m. Tickets start at $25.
Elizabeth Nonemaker covers classical music for the Baltimore Sun as a freelance writer. Classical music coverage at The Sun is supported in part by a grant from the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The Sun makes all editorial decisions. Nonemaker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.