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a symphony of books

Conductor Gil Rose reads more when rehearsals are intense

Matthew Cavanaugh/globe file

Conductor Gil Rose is artistic director of Monadnock Music Festival in Peterborough, N.H., three-time Grammy Award nominee, a professor at Northeastern University, and founder of two opera companies, Boston Modern Orchestra Project Boston Modern Opera project and Odyssey Opera. You’ll find him on the podium today at 3 p.m. conducting Vaughan Williams’s “Sir John in Love” at the Boston University Theatre as part of Odyssey’s Opera’s festival of English musical dramas. The festival runs through June 20.

BOOKS: When do you typically read?

ROSE: When rehearsals are getting intense and I have evening rehearsals, I do more reading than other times. I come home fairly wired from evening rehearsals around 10 p.m. It takes until about 11 to gear down, and then my brain is quiet and I can read. I don’t read between rehearsals. There’s too much craziness going on.


BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

ROSE: I read nine books at the same time. That’s as many as my nightstand will hold. I pick at each a little bit so it takes me a long time to get through a book. I read a lot of biography, historical commentary, and art commentary. I read almost exclusively nonfiction. I used to read fiction. I read a lot at one time, but my daily life is filled with novels. They are just auditory.

BOOKS: Which book in the stack are you reading the most?

ROSE: I always have some big giant trope I’m working on. Right after the first of the year I pulled down Jacques Barzun’s “From Dawn to Decadence,” which I’d had for a couple of years but hadn’t had the guts to read. It’s a cultural history from 1500 to the present. It’s the equivalent of listening to a heavy, complicated piece of music but worth the effort. When I was younger I read a lot his books and they made a real impact on me, such as his writing about [Hector] Berlioz and his fantastic book called “ Darwin, Marx and Wagner.” He never monkeys around with little things and writes in such a bold way.


BOOKS: Do you have a light read in your stack of books?

ROSE: Is there anything light in my pile? What a maudlin character I must be. I do have a book, “Arranging Gershwin” by Ryan Raul Bañagale, which is a cultural history of “Rhapsody in Blue.” I noted Orson Welles would have been 100 years old on May 6. I pulled down this biography by Joseph McBride, “Whatever Happened to Orson Welles?”, which is about the hard roads Welles hoed after “Citizen Kane.” That’s a great book for a film buff, which I am.

BOOKS: What other books about film do you recommend?

ROSE: I once read this fantastic book about Buster Keaton by Kevin Sweeney. And years ago an article referred to me as the Buster Keaton of conductors, which remains my favorite quote about myself. It might have been a dig but I took it as a compliment.

BOOKS: What other biographies do you have in your stack?

ROSE: Ron Chernow’s “Washington.” It’s fabulous. Washington, unlike Adams and Jefferson, was always described as stony and distant. His Rockefeller biography, “Titan,” was the same way. He’s really good at getting inside characters that are famous for being distant.


BOOKS: What are your favorite music biographies?

ROSE: Laurence Bergreen’s great biography of Louis Armstrong. I really recommend one about John Cage called “The Roaring Silence” by David Revill. Christoph Wolff’s biography of Bach is so well written as is Lewis Lockwood’s biography of Beethoven. Stuart Feder, who is musicologist and a psychoanalyst, wrote a great biography of the composer Charles Ives.

BOOKS: How do you pick books?

ROSE: I don’t ever read whatever other people reading. I’m always topic driven. I love browsing in bookstores, the few that remain in the Boston area. I like to meet people in bookstores because they are usually late and that gives me 15 or 20 minutes to look around.


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