Larry Rachleff: Conductor, Educator, and Sublime Human Being

Tim Farrand

Conductor and educator Larry Rachleff passed this week at the age of 67. I can remember first hearing his name from a conducting colleague of mine. I was quite a young conductor at the time and always looking for teachers and mentors to help guide me in a field as daunting as orchestral conducting is for a teenager. My colleague had just gotten back from a workshop where he worked intensively with Larry and insisted that if there was anyone I needed to work with, it was Rachleff.

I was eager to study with him and a year later I happened to be working for a week with Donald Schleicher, a long-time friend and teaching partner of Rachleff's at workshops and festivals around the world, who told me about a sudden opening for a workshop in Bulgaria where I would get to work with both Don and Larry. Schleicher said that the next step for me in my training needed to be Larry so I quickly enrolled and went to study for two weeks with someone who changed my life.

A Turning Point

I have often said that there have been two different phases in my training as a musician and conductor: before I worked with Larry and after I worked with Larry. I was 20 years old during the summer of that first workshop with him, an extremely formative time in my education. I had completed my second year of University studies, a year marked by several revelations as an entirely new world was being opened up for me. Every class, lesson, and rehearsal seemed to present completely new ways of thinking about music and artistic expression. That first workshop was the culminating point of this transformational period in my life.

Larry was a rare combination of an exceptional artist and a genuine human being. When he walked into the room you could feel the energy change. His generosity of spirit somehow lifted everyone up to do their best. It was never out of fear (for I have had plenty of experiences with those who inspired out of fear) but rather out of wanting to give everything you had to an individual who you felt was also giving you everything he had. When working with him, you felt all of his attention and energy focused on helping you achieve what you were capable of.

With Larry, I always felt compelled to go deeper and farther than ever before. Everyone who studied with him ended up feeling a personal connection. He gave everything he had in his time with you and worked tirelessly to find solutions that would open up new levels of understanding and ability.

During my time with Larry, he transformed the way I think about every aspect of conducting, working with orchestras, and music in general. I have notebooks filled with lessons learned from the two summers I studied with him and his personal integrity has been a leading factor in guiding what I strive for in my own preparation and output. Larry altered the way I approach my work. He was someone who, just by his example, proved that nothing in life is worth doing if you are not doing it to the best of your ability. This commitment to excellence and to never giving anything less than your best has stayed with me as a benchmark ever since.

Above all, his generosity of spirit will always remain with me as his greatest quality. He was the most genuine human being I have gotten to work with. Reading through the plethora of messages posted in response to his passing makes two things clear:

  1. Larry was a once-in-a-generation artist and teacher whose legacy continues on through the hundreds of conductors and thousands of musicians working in the field today who were impacted by him

  2. Larry's example of how to live and interact with others will remain with all of those who got to know him no matter how short that time might have been.

Larry's greatest legacy will be teaching us all how to be better human beings. Yes, he has shaped the approach to conducting and music for several generations of musicians (both present and future) yet his most important contribution will be the way he also inspired us to become more caring and empathetic individuals along the way.

The difference in the trajectory and focus of my career after working with Larry was so profound that I cannot imagine a world in which I missed the opportunity to learn from this incredible human being. I have been exceptionally fortunate to work with so many wonderful mentors in every aspect of my life but the combination of the right mentor at the right time led to a complete alteration in my path.

Larry's impact on my life alone is hard to put into words let alone quantify and I only got to work with him for about four weeks total over the course of two years when I was 20 and 21 (although I was very fortunate to work for several years after with a former student of his so Larry's spirit was never very far behind). Given his impact on my life, it is unfathomable to try to comprehend the impact on the many thousands of individuals that have also been blessed to have spent time working with, learning from, and getting to know Larry.

Perhaps the simplest words are best when none others with suffice:

Dear Larry,

Thank You

Here is a performance of Beethoven's Second Symphony conducted by Larry that I would like to share with you, a work that I have very vivid memories of working on with him. This is Larry doing what he was passionate about: working to enhance the next generation of musicians.

I came across the picture below when digging through emails and correspondences with and about Larry. I have very fond memories of playing quite an intense game of basketball with him and his son. Larry was just as vigorous on the basketball court as he was on the podium. We were in Bulgaria and his son wanted to organize a game so Larry bought cabs for a group of conductors and we had a wonderful afternoon at a random court we happened upon in Sofia.

You have left this world but what you gave to it continues to live on.

August 10, 2022

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