John Axelrod tastes music and hears food and wine. As a result, he has a particular fascination for the links between music and gastronomy. He claims to be the only conductor who also ran a wine business. In the late 1990s he ran the Robert Mondavi wine center at Disneyland in Anaheim for three years. It was Mondavi's wife, Margrit Biever, who encouraged the young Axelrod, who has studied privately with Leonard Bernstein, to "take the leap of faith," as he put it, and pursue a career in music.
Today he leads the Orchestra National des Pays de la Loire in Angers, France, the Verdi Orchestra in Milan, Italy, and guest conducts throughout Europe. We chatted via Skype recently after he led a performance in Naples of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 5. Axelrod explained that he has a form of synesthesia, a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. For Axelrod it is taste and sound, and it developed after he got mercury poisoning as a child. "The treatment created a bridge between taste and my hearing," he said.
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