In Person: NY Philharmonic Assistant Conductor Daniel Boico

Classic Arts Features   In Person: NY Philharmonic Assistant Conductor Daniel Boico
New York Philharmonic Assistant Conductor Daniel Boico, who leads the Orchestra's series of Young People's Concerts, talks with Maya Pritsker about the path that brought him there.


Daniel Boico, the New York Philharmonic's new 39-year-old Assistant Conductor, did not plan to become a musician. As a child he was surrounded by classical music and musicians and studied piano. This was natural, since his mother was a pianist, and Daniel often attended performances by his father, a Moscow-trained violinist in the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

However, classical music was not young Daniel's "thing," he now admits. This became especially apparent when he left Israel with his family. First, there were four years in Paris (when his father was the concertmaster of the Orchestre de Paris), where he studied at the Israeli School and added French to his He- brew and Russian. Then the family moved to Milwaukee, the base of the Fine Arts Quartet, at the University of Wisconsin _Milwaukee, with which his father has played since 1983. "What a culture shock!" Mr. Boico recalls. "In my new surroundings I wanted to listen to rock, pop, rap : not classical music."

In high school, however, he sang in the chorus and discovered the pleasure of making music. "I loved that sound, loved to be part of it. Besides, music was easy for me," he re- members. In college he studied voice, but, he says, "When I walked by practice rooms and heard the sounds of different instruments played by students, it gave me such joy. But I was also envious: I wanted to play like them. Then I heard a rehearsal of our student orchestra : it was Shostakovich's Fifth : and the harmony of the orchestral sound was unbelievable. I immediately wanted to try to make music with the orchestra. I did and I loved it!"

He began to take conducting lessons from Viktor Yampolsky. Then, when his father went on tour to Russia (visiting his homeland for the fi rst time in 25 years), Daniel came along and met Ilya Musin, the legendary teacher of Valery Gergiev and Yuri Temirkanov. A few months later the young conductor entered Musin's class at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. "It was the most important step I've made in my life," Mr. Boico says. "Musin's approach to sound : as a living physical body that can be lifted, dropped, expanded, thrown away, which you transfer into gestures : is very important for developing a natural way of conducting. While teaching, he always gave us examples from everyday life; he taught us to depend on organic, realistic, practical things. The result is that an orchestra will understand you easily.

"The studies were very intense," Mr. Boico continues. "The conservatory had an orchestra for us to work with, and in that city we were immersed in music, culture, and beauty all the time. We had free passes everywhere and took full advantage of them," he recalls with a smile. "The hardest thing was to decide where to go at night: to the Mariinsky Theatre or to the Great Philharmonic Hall, or perhaps some other musical event."

Daniel Boico returned to America and worked his way up. First, he held an apprenticeship at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (he cites Daniel Barenboim as another key figure in his creative formation). Then a long string of cover and guest conducting jobs in the United States, Germany, Mexico, Russia, and Israel; the music directorship of the Skokie Valley Symphony Orchestra, Illinois; and a variety of teaching and administrative positions. He is grateful for the variety, feeling that his experience has given him real knowledge of the sophisticated machine called "the symphony orchestra."

In September 2008 Mr. Boico auditioned to be the New York Philharmonic's Assistant Conductor and won the position. His duties were to begin in the summer of 2009. However, in January 2009 he was called upon to conduct a Philharmonic concert in which he would lead the demonstration section of an Inside the Music exploration of Brahms's Serenade No. 1, subsequently conducted in its entirety by Riccardo Muti. Alhough Mr. Boico's rehearsal time was limited, he relished the experience. "All the musicians in this Orchestra are professionals of the highest level," he declares.

When he speaks about the Philharmonic, his excitement is palpable: "They are the nicest people in the world, and when they are not playing they are absolutely relaxed," he says. "But as soon as the work begins, there is such incredible attention and concentration, to an extent I've never encountered anywhere else. Here are 100 people of different backgrounds and cultures, but they all think like one. When you, as the conductor, feel all this collective energy, it is indescribable."

Alan Gilbert says of Daniel Boico: "From day one our working relationship has been incredibly positive and professional, and he has already proven himself to be enormously helpful; I know that he will also bring a lot to the Orchestra." The Philharmonic's Music Director, who once served as an assistant conductor himself, says that he wants to give Mr. Boico "a lot of chances to conduct the Orchestra. While he is already an established professional conductor, the chance to work with the New York Philharmonic is one of the greatest opportunities that any young conductor could possibly hope for, and I have the feeling that he really will be able to capitalize and benefit from this situation to the fullest degree possible."

Daniel Boico will indeed have many opportunities to work with the Orchestra, as he will conduct "The Concert to End Polio" : the December 2 benefit that will feature the celebrated violinist Itzhak Perlman : as well as all of this season's Young People's Concerts, a series designed for children ages 6 _12. The first of these concerts took place on November 7, and its centerpiece was Britten's The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. Mr. Boico says: "Britten once wrote that he never really worried that this piece was too sophisticated for kids, and he was right. This is true for each of the masterpieces in this year's series."

The conductor seems to be a perfect match for the Young People's Concerts, qualified not only by being the father of a 12-year-old daughter (who plays piano and electric guitar), but through his ready smile, enormous energy, and vast experience with children's concerts. "Children are like sponges," Mr. Boico observes, "and when a great piece of music is presented to them, they listen and enjoy with great enthusiasm. To see children being swept away by music : I cannot wait to experience it again!"

Maya Pritsker writes and lectures on the arts.

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