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THE ART OF CONDUCTING

by Leonard Bernstein

One of the first to recognize the artistic mission of the conductor was Felix Mendelssohn, who dedicated himself to an exact realization of the score he was conducting, through manipulation of the baton. There soon arrived, however, a great dissenter named Richard Wagner who declared that everything Mendelssohn was doing was wrong and that a conductor should personalize the score he was conducting by coloring it with his own emotions and his own cre­ative impulse. And so out of the clash of these two points of view the history of conducting was born; and there arose all those great names in conducting, as well as all the fights that go on about them right up to our own time. Mendelssohn fathered the "elegant" school, whereas Wagner inspired the "passionate" school of con­ducting. Actually, both attitudes are necessary, and neither one is completely satisfactory without the other.

The ideal modern conductor is a synthesis of the two attitudes, and this synthesis is rarely achieved. In fact, it's practically impossi­ble. Almost any musician can be a conductor, even a pretty good one; but only a rare musician can be a great one. This is not only because it is so hard to achieve the Mendelssohn-Wagner combina­tion, but also because the conductor's work encompasses such a tremendous range. Unlike an instrumentalist or a singer, he has to

play on an orchestra. His instrument is one hundred human instru­ments, each one a thorough musician, each with a will of his own; and he must cause them to play like one instrument with a single will. Therefore, he must have enormous authority, to say nothing of psychological insight in dealing with this large group - and all this is just the beginning. He must be a master of the mechanics of con­ducting. He must have an inconceivable amount of knowledge. He must have a profound perception of the inner meanings of music, and he must have uncanny powers of communication. (...)

The qualities that distinguish great conductors lie far beyond and above what we have spoken of. We now begin to deal with the in­tangibles, the deep magical aspect of conducting. It is the mystery of relationships - conductor and orchestra bound together by the tiny but powerful split second. How can I describe to you the magic of the moment of beginning a piece of music? There is only one pos­sible fraction of a second that feels exactly right for starting. (...)

This psychological timing is constantly in play throughout the performance of music. It means that a great conductor is one who has great sensitivity to the flow of time; who makes one note move to the next in exactly the right way and at the right instant. For music exists in the medium of time. It is time itself that must be carved up, molded and remolded until it becomes, like a statue, an existing shape and form. This is the hardest to do. (...)

These are the intangibles of conducting, the mysteries that no conductor can learn or acquire. If he has a natural faculty for deep perception, it will increase and deepen as he matures. If he hasn't he will always remain a pretty good conductor. But even the pretty good conductor must have one more attribute in his personality, without which all the mechanics and knowledge and perception are useless; and that is the power to communicate all this to his orches­tra - through his arms, face, eyes, fingers, and whatever vibrations may flow from him.



But the conductor must not only make his orchestra play, he must make them want to play. He must exalt them, lift them, either through cajoling or demanding or raging. But however he does it, he must make the orchestra love the music as he loves it. It is not so much imposing his will on them like a dictator; it is more like pro­jecting his feelings around him so that they reach the last man in the second violin section. And when this happens - when one hun­dred men share his feelings, exactly, simultaneously, responding as one to each rise and fall of the music, to each point of arrival and departure, to each little inner pulse - then there is a human identity of feeling that has no equal elsewhere. It is the closest thing I know to love itself. On this current of love the conductor can communi­cate at the deepest levels with his players, and ultimately with his audience.

And perhaps the chief requirement of all is that the conductor be humble before the composer; that he never interpose himself 82

between the music and the audience; that all his efforts, however strenuous or glamorous, be made in the service of the composer's meaning - the music itself, which, after all, is the whole reason for the conductor's existence.

From: The Joy of Music by L. Bernstein


Date: 2015-12-11; view: 1440


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