Conductors: Herr Doktor

"I am a completely independent man," declares German Conductor Hermann Scherchen. "I do not have to conduct works I don't like." And he doesn't. In fact, for 35 years, Scherchen repeatedly refused invitations to conduct in the U.S. because the programs offered were too conventional for his tastes. "There is an extraordinary prejudice in America," he said, "to do works of commercial interest. Beethoven's 'Eroica,' Tchaikovsky's 'Pathetique' —fine music, but I've done them before. I desire to do things of special interest."

Finally, at the age of 73, Scherchen has come to...