Last Monday’s article produced a wonderful stream of emails from a wide assortment of readers.
People wrote in to comment about my “doctor” complaint mostly in favor but a few chastised my “cavalier attitude” toward people who have “worked hard” to get that Ph.D degree.
But some of the really fascinating feedback centered on the unpretentious attitudes displayed by Berlin Philharmonic concertmaster Guy Braunstein and his aversion to the title “Herr Konzertmeister”.
Bill Eddins, Principal Guest Conductor for the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland wrote in with this observation:
I read with some humor your recent blog on the fabulous concertmaster in Berlin. As a conductor, however young and inexperienced, I’ve faced the same emphasis on titles that drives this wonderful musician nuts. I find the whole concept of “Maestro” debilitating. While some claim that it’s a show of respect I refer you to the Dictionary.com definition of the term: “A master in an art, especially a composer, conductor, or music teacher.”
While I’m a little flattered when confronted by the term I find it impossible to consider myself a “Master” of anything, especially at my age; 39. When I was 14 years old I had the chance to meet Rudolf Serkin after a performance (1979). He didn’t want to talk about himself. He wanted to hear about the young aspiring pianist in front of him. One thing that he said stuck with me – “I’m still learning.” Now, if Rudolf Serkin, consummate artist, who had played everything with everyone everywhere, was “still learning,” who the hell am I? And where do people get off calling me “Maestro?”
I allow two people to call me “Maestro” – one is my shiatsu guy, whom, as a mutual term of respect I refer to as “Sensei.” (Japanese for Master/Teacher). The other is whomever is opening the door for me when I walk on stage to conduct. In every other situation when I hear the term my immediate rejoinder is “Smile when you say that!” People get the point.