Nathan Blair: Preparing to Conduct ‘Rigoletto’ on Saturday, March 21st at Catholic University’s Hartke Theatre

Nathan Blair is a young conductor who is about to take the podium to conduct The Catholic University’s upcoming production of Rigoletto. He is an amazing talent, and you can see him conduct Verdi’s opera on Saturday, March 21, 2015.

Conductor Nathan Blair.
Conductor Nathan Blair.

Joel: What does conducting Rigoletto next Saturday, March 21st Catholic University mean to you?

Nathan: I have lived in the world of Verdi’s masterpiece Rigoletto the past several months. I never stop wondering at the realness of the story’s tragedy and the music which so profoundly accentuates the human drama. Rigoletto, the libretto based on Victor Hugo’s play Le Roi s’amuse, marks a pivotal point in Verdi’s middle to late career. As stated by Verdi, much of his original conception of the opera is an endless stream of duets. This opera is technically demanding and requires a special relationship between the conductor and the singers. Every member of the production must give everything and above to translate Verdi’s message to the audience. This intimacy, so typical of Italian opera, takes the conductor and singer far beneath the surface in a most sensitive musical collaboration.

Each time I conduct this work, it is new to me and challenges me. It has required my total faith and investment in the score. I have grown emotionally attached to particular scenes of this opera, which remind me of my own private experiences to cope with in life. It is through great works such as this that we are reminded of ourselves in the context of something greater. Rigoletto has unveiled to me the power art has on life. And I am reminded of my greatest love which is opera. I am honored to have worked with such distinguished faculty and dedicated students on this production. I am touched by these memories and so many more at CUA.

Your undergraduate studies at Catholic University has brought you some amazing opportunities. 

I came to the University determined to become a conductor. Also completing studies in composition my first year, I began my degree studies in piano with Dr. Ivo Kaltchev, becoming the first participant of the newly created undergraduate Collaborative Piano Performance degree program. I frequently played piano for voice lessons given by faculty, and studied voice with Rick Christman. I was regularly maintaining conducting studies by my third year with Maestro Murry Sidlin, and I had already been given special opportunities as a rehearsal pianist and assistant conductor to numerous opera productions. Soon after, I was given the unprecedented opportunity to conduct a major university opera production: Hansel and Gretel.  Since then, I received invitations to conduct every major university production: Don Giovanni, Susannah, and on March 19-22nd, I will be conducting one performance of Rigoletto.

The previous year I accepted my first invitations to conduct abroad. I served as the assistant conductor to Maestro Michael Rossi for the productions of Michael Rossi  and Suor Angelica in the 2014 Miami Summer Music Festival. And I will be returning for the 2015 Miami Summer Music Festival to assist Maestro Rossi for productions of Don Giovanni. I was invited by Maestro Nikolay Lalov as Guest Conductor to the Orquestra Camara Cascais e Oeiras for the 2014 Portugal Estoril International Festival. And I was invited by Maestro Yuriy Bekker as Guest Cover Conductor for the Charleston Symphony Orchestra in October of 2014. As a pianist, I received the 2013 Gesse Foundation Fellow Award and performed Piano Quartet in g minor, K. 478 by Mozart at the Carnegie Weill Hall in October of 2013. At the university or abroad, I had the honor of assisting conductors such as Michael Rossi, Adam Turner, Daniele Tirilli, Caren Levine and Yuriy Bekker. In addition, I have performed in conducting masterclasses of Grzegorz Nowak and Eitan Globerson. And I have performed piano in masterclasses of Michael Heaston and the Harrington String Quartet.

How would you describe your experiences with the Opera Department at Catholic University’s Benjamin T. Rome School of Music?

Dr. James Hampton.
Dr. James Hampton.

Recently, I finished conducting productions of Susannah at the Catholic University of America. I had a tremendous creative experience with my incredible stage director, Dr. James Hampton, and the variety of talented young performers. I am proud to say that the opera department at the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music is an opportune community of committed faculty, who passionately nurture students into a lifelong commitment to art and practice. The dedication shared by the teachers and students encourages the creations of tremendous productions and performances. The divisions at the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music each contribute in maintaining a fine conservatory environment with unique opportunities for serious students. I am honored to have received such rich instruction and unique opportunities for my craft at this institution during my undergraduate education. I owe my successes to the endless hours of instruction and guidance from my incredible teachers who never stop giving.

How does one become a conductor?

It is difficult to answer “how one becomes a conductor?” Similarly, “how does one decide which instrument to play?” or “why to pursue art?” Like any instrument, conducting is an instrument with great tradition that requires great study of technique. But technique is not limited to a lifetime of scalar exercises and technical regiments; the most intensive aspect of technique is that which is most personal. That the intimate knowledge of the essential objective elements of what a score is, i.e. tempi, articulations, directional markings, etc. is only a means for the artist to set into motion and experience what it can become.

There is an internal commitment that each artist dedicates a lifetime to pursue. Art is reflective of man’s internal search of himself. This search is governed by the balance between humility and ego, which reflects the solemn duty of a young conductor. Each score I open is an unwritten reality that unveils unseen parts to the deepest pillars of humanity. I am transported into endless realms that are always changing. And the more I search for answers, the more I begin to notice truths I once knew not to seek.

What do you have to say to young aspiring musicians who are on their own personal journeys?

To young aspiring musicians, I speak as a fellow young musician submerged in the learning years, navigating my way through the unknown paths of the world. I am greatly indebted to my incredible teachers, who have become equally my friends and future guidance. Music is a journey through existence. The journey is not made in solitude, but in a lifetime of friendship and service to the highest good found in human art. On the podium, or with any instrument, we are a generation of communication to a world of diversity and a promise. We can never stop learning and pursing what lies beyond the page of every score – our ideas can always change, just as the world is always changing. And the universe is reflected behind every musical note and felt by every human heart. Music is time – when we allow music to happen, we allow ourselves to become from question to question. Thus, music is man. We feel it living deep within, but we can never imagine to grasp it in a single moment. But through a lifelong search, this limitless idea allows us to forever look beyond the surface as we create for answers. As in Zen, we wonder how not “I am shooting” but how “it is shooting.”

I asked Dr. James Hampton to comment on working with Nathan: “He is a very talented young man with a bright future and a lot to offer the musical world. Nathan is scheduled to conduct the Saturday evening performance of Rigoletto on March 21st.. He is an extremely talented pianist and a sure, confident conductor. In many ways, he is wise and experienced beyond his years. He has had some wonderful opportunities and triumphs at CUA and has also endured some interesting challenges. In short, he is more ready for a career in this industry than most. I’ve been able to treat him like a colleague rather than a student and he has been a great asset in my first year at CUA.”

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Rigoletto will  be performed on Thursday, March 19th; Friday, March, 20th; and Saturday, March 21, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 22, at 2 p.m.take place at Hartke Theatre – 3801 Harewood Road, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them at the box office or online

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Joel Markowitz
Joel Markowitz is the Publisher and Editor of DCMetroTheaterArts. He founded the site with his brother Bruce to help promote the vast riches of theatre and the arts in the DC Metro area that includes Maryland, Virginia, and DC theater and music venues, universities, schools, Children's theaters, professional, and community theatres. Joel is an advocate for promoting the 'stars of the future' in his popular 'Scene Stealers' articles. He wrote a column for 5 years called ‘Theatre Schmooze’ and recorded podcast interviews for DC Theatre Scene. His work can also be seen and read on BroadwayStars. Joel also wrote a monthly preview of what was about to open in DC area theatres for BroadwayWorld. He is an avid film and theater goer, and a suffering Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan. Joel was a regular guest on 'The Lunch and Judy Show' radio program starring Judy Stadt in NYC. Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Group in the DC area in 1990, which had a 25-year run when it took its final curtain call last year. Joel is a proud member of The American Critics Association.