Katz to perform 'Muse of Fire'

The demonic fury of a powerful master and the passion of a scholar who won't be broken. It sounds like a classic storybook struggle but in fact, this is the theme of a remarkable new play that lays bare the intense world of the classical maestro.

Internationally renowned composer and conductor
David Katz , of Danbury, wrote and performs in "Muse of Fire," the one-man play which relives his tutelage under the towering personality of legendary conductor, Charles Bruck (1911-1995).

The play, which premiered in Maine, is gearing up to hit off-Broadway in 2006, but first it's coming to Danbury. It opens Saturday night at the
Jewish Community Center in Sherman and plays Sunday at the United Jewish Center in Danbury.

Katz, 50, studied under Bruck at the world-renowned Pierre Monteux Conducting School in Maine. "He was volatile and frightening," recalled Katz, "but there was something about the man that was compelling." This is vividly brought to life in the play, which breathes fire into the already incandescent true story.

The action in "Muse of Fire" first shows how much Katz hated Bruck in the beginning and demonstrates "how awful he could be."

During a scene which Katz calls "The Wagner and the Shouting," the action illustrates how Bruck could "tear someone apart until they had no sense of self." But this terrifying personality "pursued" and "wooed" Katz to be his pupil, until by the end of Act One, the young protégé is firmly in his clutches. However, this didn't mean Bruck's attitude ever softened. Katz relived the memory of when he was first invited to Bruck's home for dinner. When he arrived, Bruck opened the door and screamed, "You're five minutes early! Go away!"

Act Two of the play shows what Katz learned from the master. A man of small stature who dressed "in a clownish way," Bruck nevertheless cut an imposing figure. He taught his students that conducting is an emotional experience, that the conductor must reach deep inside his soul to be truly great. The maestro mauled his pupils' raw emotions and hammered them into true ability - if you could survive his brutal honesty. Bruck never offered direct praise to his students. The best they could hope for was, "that wasn't so bad." His approval was shown in actions, not words.

When he gave Katz the chance to conduct Beethoven's 9th symphony that was high praise indeed.

Being the actor of a one-man play is a unique experience for Katz. It is, he says, "tremendously different" from anything he's done before.

"When you're a composer you're three steps removed from your audience, when you're conducting you have your back to them. This is different - I'm directly in contact with the audience."

Katz, a Danbury High School graduate, is the founder and artistic director of Hat City Music Theater . He is also founder and musical director of the Candlewood Symphony. The composer holds bachelor's and master's degrees from the Hartt School in Hartford. He was a five-time fellow at the Pierre Monteux School for Conductors under Bruck.

"Muse of Fire" was born out of a desire to show people that Bruck was a great teacher and to serve as a thank you to the man who was the key to Katz becoming a conductor. Katz was present at Bruck's death in 1995 and describes it as "a wrenching emotional experience." He feels that 10 years later was the right time to capture Bruck's legacy: "I'm at a period in my life where I can look back and assess the past more clearly."

The experience is clearly cathartic for Katz and he hopes his play will give audiences a better sense of the reality of being a conductor. He refers to the process between conductor and orchestra as a black art. The one-man performance is exhilarating and intense for its creator. "Immediately afterwards I'm fine but two hours later you feel like you've been hit by a truck."

"Muse of Fire" is directed by Tony-Award winner Charles Nelson Reilly . Katz turned to his old friend Reilly for inspiration on how to stage his play and credits him with making "theatrical sense" of his story and inspiring the one-man style performance. He is full of praise for Reilly's ability to understand "what the audience expects as a theater experience."

Known by many for his frequent television appearances, Reilly is also a highly respected Broadway actor and director. His one-man play, "Save it for the Stage: The Life of Reilly," is ranked by critics among the greatest single-actor evenings of theater.

The translation of pain, inspiration and a relentless quest for musical perfection into "Muse of Fire" was hailed as "a searing and unforgettable portrait of the man who shaped a generation of conductors" by the Bangor Daily News . The talented partnership of Katz and Reilly promises a powerful and unique event.


Hat City Music presents David Katz in "Muse of Fire" at 5 p.m. on Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center, Route 39, Sherman and Sunday at 5 p.m. at the United Jewish Center Auditorium , 141 Deer Hill Ave., Danbury. A third performance, also at the United Jewish Center, is scheduled for Nov. 20 at 5 p.m. All seats $10 in advance; $15 at the door. Call (203) 746-2684 or toll-free 1-877-746-2694 or purchase online at www.BrownPaperTickets.com .