The Big Think

January 25, 2012

What Does a Conductor Do?

Filed under: Music — jasony @ 10:07 am

What Does a Conductor Do?:

“‘Knowing the score’—the expression implies mastery, but it doesn’t suggest the sustained and solitary study that’s required to achieve it. There are a few miles of roadway that I have driven often enough to navigate them faultlessly in my mind: I know every pothole, every deer crossing. A conductor needs similarly detailed recall of an enormous musical terrain. In the weeks I spend fussing over just my six minutes of Mozart, Gilbert conducts Schoenberg’s Pelleas und Melisande; symphonies by Mahler, Brahms, Dvorák, and Beethoven; and assorted pieces by Webern, Bruch, Berg, Bach, Corigliano, Dutilleux, Haydn, Sibelius, Wagner, Janácek, and Mozart—dozens of hours, millions of notes, pieces he has performed for years and pieces he’s never seen before. During one session, Gilbert demonstrates for a percussionist how to get the right sound on the triangle, corrects a bowing in the violin part, sings the bassoon line, and points out a subtle harmonic shift—all without glancing at the score. ‘I haven’t looked at this piece in five years,’ he says, ‘but it’s still in there somewhere.’ If the entire symphonic tradition were incinerated, a team of conductors could write it all out again….

“It’s amazing how beautifully we play,” a musician says, “when we don’t know what the hell the guy on the podium is doing.”. “

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