BSO's busy Komatsu operates on instinct and admiration for Zinman


Conductors come in all shapes and styles, much like their music. Chosei Komatsu, associate conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, rides bikes, lifts weights and is 25 pounds lighter than last year when he married a soprano he had met when she sang with the BSO six months earlier.

The trim 33-year-old of Japanese origin, who feels he has an "instinct" for conducting, rarely listens to classical music at home except in his mind. He shoots billiards and figures that, while not a top conductor, "I'm one of the world's best video-game players."

Musically, he seems as serious as most maestros, even to the point of specially tailored jackets that stay put and don't distract the players. Helped by a photographic memory, he has conducted 250 pieces and knows 150 others but has a long way to go. "An established conductor," he said, "knows 900 pieces when he's 50 or 60, although David Zinman knows double that."

Komatsu keeps 600-700 scores at home and studies compositional techniques closely. He is becoming popular as guest conductor with major Japanese orchestras and returns here next season for his fourth year under BSO music director Zinman. The two met when both were in Rochester in the early 1980s. He admires Zinman's "total discipline and a very scientific and scholarly approach to musical scores."

Komatsu's summer conducting schedule began last week. He led the first half a Ray Charles concert last weekend and began a series of 10 Tiny Tot concerts running through Friday. He will also conduct adult concerts at 8 p.m. tomorrow at Queen Anne's County High School Auditorium, Centreville, and 8 p.m. May 21 at Walkersville High School in Frederick County. Violist Richard Field plays the Walton viola concerto in both out-of-town programs. Three Oregon Ridge concerts will be under his baton this summer.

Komatsu sometimes sits among BSO musicians in rehearsals to study mentor Zinman ("I watch his eyes"). He says the BSO music director and the Zinman-trained orchestra are the reasons for any fine sounds made while he, Komatsu, conducts. "I'm not brave enough to say there's a Komatsu sound yet," he said. "It's all David's tone colors and the musicians he trained so wonderfully."

The musician feels three things have molded him. One is experience at a young age with good orchestras in Buffalo and Baltimore. Another is instinct and being physically gifted as a conductor (arms waving furiously). Finally, there is his broad non-musical education at the prestigious Tokyo University.

Komatsu is comfortable with some warhorses by Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky and wants to master composers like Beethoven, Schumann and Mendelssohn before tackling Mahler, Bruckner and Stravinsky.

"Japanese conductors too often jump right to someone like Bruckner," he says, "and you can't."

As a young conductor whose eye is aimed at an international career, Komatsu is learning much in Baltimore. "The players may say something to me after a rehearsal about my tempo, and I may agree. Or I may not. They make my performance better. Of course, you still have your own dignity and judgment.

"If you have a fear on the podium, you're dead. Yet, I have never been confrontational with the musicians, and I'm proud of that."

acknowledges being liked by some players and less liked by others, not uncommon in the business. It is said that some players feel he sometimes doesn't press players hard enough on details or doesn't push the orchestra to its limits.

Komatsu and his wife, Christine Walters, have just moved from ** his downtown apartment to the Hunt Valley area where he can use his bike.

The boy in Japan began practice-conducting at age 4 or 5 before a TV set but for a while preferred baseball and soccer to his brass instruments and piano. He decided about at about age 14 or 15 to be a conductor and began serious studies.

Japan accounts for more than half the world's classical music recording market. Tokyo alone has five major and three minor orchestras but has more potential now than first-rate orchestral quality.

Komatsu led the Tokyo and Osaka Philharmonic orchestras and Sapporo Symphony Orchestra in guest appearances in March and returns to Japan in June and next February for debuts with Hiroshima, New Japan Philharmonic, Tokyo Metropolitan, Nagoya Metropolitan and Kansai orchestras and a tour with the Tokyo Philharmonic.

"In Japan, they like me," he said. "They say I'm different the way I appear on stage, my American style. I find a joy when the orchestra is playing at its highest potential. Let the energy flow and the audience become part of it all. It doesn't always happen. If only one in 10 or 20 times, it's still amazing."

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