A voice that says music

Neal Gittleman, 39, associate conductor, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

         The little voice in Neal Gittleman’s head does not say “show time!” as he begins a performance with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.  It says “music.”

         Gittleman, MSO’s associate conductor, eschews the dramatic and frenzied motions often associated with great impresarios.

         “I’m less flamboyant on the podium relative to other conductors...and certainly relative to (MSO music director Zdenek) Macal,” he said, noting that today’s audiences “expect and probably deserve a little bit of a show.”

         The MSO’s associate director since 1988, Gittleman decided on his career during his undergraduate days at Yale University.

         “I fell in love with the whole dynamic of an orchestra, but at the same time fell out of love with my violin playing,” said the Brooklyn, N.Y., native.

         To develop his skills, Gittleman spent six summers at the Pierre Monteux School in Hancock, Maine.  A major philosophic underpinning of the school was that a conductor should be a selfless musician who sacrifices his own glory for the collective glory of the orchestra.

         This approach informs Gittleman’s restrained conducting style, one that is not dictatorial when suggesting how a piece of music should be interpreted.

         In six seasons with MSO (his longest stay at a conducting job so far), Gittleman has developed a rapport with his musicians, something that has enhanced his laid-back style.

        "They know who I am and what I’m going to be asking for, and vice versa.”

         Gittleman terms the relationship between a conductor and the musicians as “a strange one” and “almost magical.”

         A lot depends on whether the conductor exudes a feeling of relaxation or of tension, he said.  When speaking with Gittleman, one definitely is struck by a sense of the former mood.

         The relationship has paid off in critical praise.  Last season, the Milwaukee Sentinel, in a review of John Adams’ “Harmonium” with the MSO and Chorus, praised the conductor for providing “the context and the skills necessary to navigate, without a single hitch, this formidable score.”

         Gittleman said he has no immediate plans to leave the MSO, but, “I don’t see this as the last job I’m going to hold.”  He is alert for opportunities “where I can make a difference as a conductor and as a musician.”

                                                                 ALISON GRILLO

The Business Journal, Milwaukee, 12/10/1994