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Guilty Pleasures: Nicholas McGegan's Symphonic Sweet Tooth

Conductor Nicholas McGegan loves to languish in the late music of Richard Strauss. (Getty Images)

All week, we're confessing musical guilty pleasures. Today, an admission from conductor Nicholas McGegan. Have any music you're embarrassed to love? Let us know in the comments section.

As a performer and advocate of period instruments and early music — you know, the aural equivalent of brown rice — I am not really supposed to like the other stuff: the high-cholesterol Sachertorte repertoire. But of course I do, even if I listen to it in secret much as one might eat a large portion of chocolate cake behind closed doors.

I love everything by Strauss, every Strauss, that is: Joseph, Edward, a brace of both Johanns and of course Richard; every polka, waltz, opera and operetta — and let's throw in a large dollop of Franz Lehár for good measure.

As a student, I ran a waltz orchestra that played at the May Balls in Cambridge, England and I still do New Year concerts in Scotland, which I simply adore. I've spent a lot of time in Vienna and learned German there; so I have the German equivalent of a Scottish accent when I speak.

The undulating rhythms of the dances are intoxicating. I can dream of Vienna in its heyday when it was the heart of Europe — when Brahms, Mahler, Freud and Klimt were all there. Something captured so well by writer Frederic Morton, and in the mystery stories of Frank Tallis, or by a visit to the Neue Galerie in New York.

Then there is the glorious nostalgia of Richard Strauss' music from late in his career. My favorite is Act 3 of The Loves of Danae (Der Liebe der Danae).

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Do I feel guilty? Not at all. Time for some cake "mit Schlagobers!"

Nicholas McGegan is the music director of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and artistic director of the International Handel Festival in Göttingen, Germany.

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