Milwaukee, WI

Dear Readers,

A couple of mornings ago I arrived in Milwaukee, about as miserable physically as I’ve ever been on the road. Nothing wrong with Milwaukee: it’s a nice city on Lake Michigan (the largest of the Great Lakes), about 100 miles north of Chicago, and it’s just beginning to enter its fall season. A few leaves on trees are changing color, and the days are warm and the nights cool.

The trouble was that, three days ago, I spent my last few hours in Hawaii kayaking in the surf – and getting the worst sunburn that I’ve ever had in my life. It was an incredibly brainless thing to do. My sunblock washed off in the ocean, and by the time I got on the plane for the overnight flight to Milwaukee I was already bright red and puffy. By mid-flight I had blisters swelling up on my cheeks and was feeling alternately hot and cold. At about 4 in the morning, I felt ill, got up to go to the bathroom – and the next thing I remember is coming to on the floor of the plane, a stewardess crouching next to me, pressing a cool washcloth to my forehead. I had passed out, thoroughly. The stewards and stewardesses had caught me as I fell, and fortunately they knew what to do about sun poisoning (they must see a lot of it with people coming back from Hawaii), so by the end of the flight I was feeling a bit better. By the next day, I no longer felt sick – but my skin was tender all over, and my cheeks were oozing pale yellow liquid from all the breaking blisters. Yuck! From now on, I’ll save my surf time for the hours when the sun is barely up or already beginning to go down. Clearly, I’ve got the wrong complexion for the midday sun!

Now, three days later, I’m oozing less but peeling more, which leaves me itching instead of aching – so I can see that eventually this discomfort will pass. It helps that the music has begun, and that the music is Bach. (I’ve been playing a lot of Bach lately because I’m on the verge of recording his violin single- and double-concertos as my first album for Deutsche Grammophon, my new record company.) Yesterday the Milwaukee Symphony and I had our first rehearsal of Bach’s E-major concerto, and today we rehearsed the double concerto in D-minor. The more I play the Bach concertos with orchestras, the more I see that there’s something about working on Bach together that seems to make musicians happy. Generally the orchestra is reduced in size, so everybody on stage feels that he has an important part to play – and because the music has so many melodies and counter-melodies and such a strong rhythmic pull, it’s really easy to get involved.

Here in Milwaukee, the orchestra’s music director, Andreas Delfs, is conducting these concerts, and all is going well. My co-soloist in the double concerto is the orchestra’s fine acting concertmaster, Samantha George, who’s doing a wonderful job with the piece – and during the rehearsal today, it surprised me more than once to look to my left and see a woman standing there, facing the same direction I was. I had the same feeling working with Margaret Batjer in Annapolis last month. Usually the person standing to my left is the conductor, who faces backwards (with his back to the audience) – and every conductor I’ve worked with in the last 11 years, with just three exceptions, has been a man.

From here, it will be off to Los Angeles, to perform and record these two concerti with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and its music director, Jeffrey Kahane. I’ll write next from there.

Yours from Milwaukee,