Character, character, character

Keri-Lynn Wilson believes that a good conductor also needs to be a fine musician and a psychologist.

Keri-Lynn Wilson  248 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Keri-Lynn Wilson 248 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
"From my early childhood, I was obsessed with music," says Keri-Lynn Wilson as she rests in the conductor's room of the Israel Opera. The tall and lean conductor is here to conduct Puccini's La Boheme in a larger than life production, first presented here by Franco Zeffirelli some 10 years ago to the local audience's ultimate rapture. Born in Winnipeg into a musical family, Wilson learned piano from her grandmother, singing from her grandfather and violin from her father. Her uncle was a cellist. "I was jumping from instrument to instrument every week - once it was French horn, then something else," she recollects, her face beaming with a friendly smile. But since she excelled in flute, that's was what she studied at the Juilliard School of music, earning a graduate degree in the instrument. And although she made her Carnegie Hall debut at the age of 21 while she was still a student, she made a crucial overnight decision and entered the school's conducting program, where she studied for four more years, "because I always had it in my mind. It has to do a lot with my character - for me, it was hard to sit in the orchestra, I wanted to lead," she explains. "Also the repertoire - I wanted to play Brahms, Mahler, to conduct opera - this is all not exactly for flute. And I had an extreme passion to communicate." As a conductor, she debuted with the National Arts Centre Orchestra of Canada in 1990 at the age of 23. Upon graduation, she "was lucky to become an associate conductor with the Dallas Symphony, where [she] learned a lot - and it was great exposure for me, too," Wilson says. Then another change followed - Wilson became a guest conductor. "Eleven years on the road - a crazy but very enriching experience! Working with many orchestras and soloists, learning new cultures. Look, 11 years ago I spoke a language and a half, now I speak five. For me, a new assignment means far more than just taking a plane to a new place - I want to speak the language, to immerse myself in the culture." Repeating the words of her teacher Otto-Werner Mueller, who claimed that there were three things needed to make a conductor, namely "character, character and character," Wilson says that one needs to be a fine musician, "because otherwise, how can you demand anything from a musician, if you yourself do not know how to make a phrase? You also need to have a solid academic background, and to be a psychologist." WILSON AGREES that following the overall changes in society and the rise of musicians' unions, the relationship between a conductor and the orchestra have changed, "although I heard about conductors who treated the musicians not politely and got away with it. But I do not think that aggravation is useful, especially in music. I believe that a positive feeling is essential for music making. What exactly makes us angry? Let us solve the problem." She says that meeting a new orchestra is always a fascinating experience, "since you have to find an understanding on the spot. With different orchestras, different parts of the character come out… but anyway, music is the common language, which is very confident, and I never feel that I come to a remote society." Yet with all the changes in society, there are still not many women conductors, to say the least. "I know... I am not that naïve not to think that somebody in the orchestra seeing me for the first time says to himself, 'Oh, a woman conductor,' and he does not like it. It is quite natural, we all initially judge our neighbor by his looks. Yet after five minutes of music making, they will judge me for my musicianship," says Wilson, who worked with all-male orchestras like the Vienna Philharmonic and received "wonderful comments from the orchestra." Nowadays, Wilson divides her time between symphony and opera orchestras; she has conducted numerous major orchestras in the US, from the Los Angeles Philharmonic to the Palm Beach Opera, as well as on prestigious stages in Europe and the Far East. Wilson leads her musical forces through La Boheme, Puccini's timeless masterpiece, which she describes as "passionate, emotional and intimate," starting from March 23 in Tel Aviv. Homegrown conductor Yishai Stekler will lead some of the performances. For more details and reservations, contact the Israel Opera (03) 692-7777 or visit the site