His schedule is so hectic, conductor David Stern says ruefully, that he almost has to pencil in appointments so he can spend time with his two daughters. He's the new music director of the St. Gallen Opera and Orchestra in Switzerland; runs Opera Fuoco, the baroque orchestra he established in 2003; fills guest conducting slots around the world; and last week conducted Yosef Bardanashvili's Journey to the End of the Millennium in his official debut as the recently appointed music director of the Israel Opera. As he is not yet a Hebrew speaker, "I'm coming to the opera with a fresh eye and a new approach," he says. "I've read the English translation of [A.B. Yehoshua's] book. It has so much perfume to it. Growing up as I did among Ashkenazi Jews, I was struck by the oriental aspects of Millennium. Working with the opera has been a true journey for me, a sort of trial by fire for learning Israeli society." Stern is no newcomer to Israel. His first gig at the Israel Opera was conducting Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio in 2001, and since then "I feel I've always had one foot in the door." On the plane coming to take up his appointment, he realized "it was seven years to the day since Father died. It was very poignant to be here on my own, doing my own work. This house has a great international reputation, and I feel honored to be part of it. It's lovely to be here, to work with a whole new generation of singers." Stern is the son of Isaac Stern, the great violinist, and an equally great friend to Israel and her young musicians. His mother, Vera Stern, headed the America Israel Cultural Foundation for years. Of his father he says, with obvious love, "Dad was the most natural of musicians. I've taken that from him. I love being onstage, love making music. "Dad was a very New York musician and hated period instruments, whereas my passion is these instruments and the baroque. It's not been easy, but it's very rewarding to create my own voice and vision. I'm following in very big footsteps." Stern was appointed following the sudden resignation earlier this year of Asher Fisch. Owing to his many prior commitments, Stern will not be able to commit fully to the Israel Opera until the 2010/11 season, but "I'll be here as much as possible," he promised.