Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What does a Conductor do? - Through First-Hand Experience in the Eyes of a Critic

   This is wonderful little article by music critic, Justin Davidson, on his experience conducting in his adventure to figure out what the role of a conductor is. Truly, I think there is no other way to truly appreciate something by just doing it first-hand - and what better way to learn than with the Julliard School of Music's Conductor Program. He conducted the overture to Mozart's opera, Don Giovanni
   Just for some background, Justin Davidson, is a Pulitzer Prize winner in Criticism. I know of his writing mostly from his work with New York Magazine as a critic in music and architecture.

   Some of the things said in the article really struck me. The first being from Alan Gilbert, whom is the Director of the Conducting Program at Julliard. He states that “A lot of great conductors are shy, even though you wouldn’t know that from how they handle large groups of people. That shyness can actually help in intimate music. You have to let people see what’s inside you, even if you don’t do that in the rest of your life.” I'm not sure quite yet how I feel about this as I search my memory for all the conductors that I have worked with and my own personal experiences conducting. Most all of the conductors I know and have worked with are all really extroverted - though I do know some quiet ones who are very good as well. My own experiences with large ensembles have been mixed. In front of a choir, I felt more comfortable because I'm dealing with instrument that I've acquired a degree of mastery in and a texture of music that I'm really quite familiar with. My one experience in front of an orchestra was... intimidating (I think that would be there first, and best, description I could think of). Perhaps shy from the environment of the rehearsal and definitely the performance, but overall intimidating even though I felt well prepared and studied for the minute arrangement I conducted for them.

   I think this next quote speaks for itself. This was said by Jerry Grossman, Principal Cellist of the Metroplitan Opra, “It’s amazing how beautifully we play when we don’t know what the hell the guy on the podium is doing.”

   I'll leave it at that. The link to the article is here. A listing of Davidson's other writing for NY Magazine is here. And finally, here is a short video with Davidson speaking personally of his experience:

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