The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: There is more to conducting than just waving your arms and pointing your fingers. The New York Times, the Juilliard School of Music and New York University’s Movement Lab offer a revealing deconstruction of a maestro’s movements and motions. | April 15, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

One of the most exciting and informative classical music stories to appear in a long time is the recent story about what the movements of an orchestra conductor mean.

The conductor is question was the New York Philharmonic Orchestra’s music director Alan Gilbert.

Thanks to the Juilliard School of Music, where Gilbert heads up the conducting program, and to New York University’s Movement Lab and its motion-capture computerized graphics, Gilbert was recorded conducting and then explaining what the movements mean.

It is like taking a mini-seminar is an art that takes many years to master, and even then some conductrors obviously do it much better than others. Some conductors — like Leonard Bernstein — flamboyantly sand dangerously danced around a lot on the podium while other conductor — like Fritz Reiner and Herbert van Karajan — were known for an almost total economy of movement.

Here is a link to the terrifically inventive, well researched and well written story by Daniel J. Wakin of The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/arts/music/breaking-conductors-down-by-gesture-and-body-part.html?pagewanted=all

It is fun to take in because it is printed and also an interactive video with highlighted comments by conductor Gilbert (below). Take a look:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/04/06/arts/music/the-connection-between-gesture-and-music.html

And here is a link to a background story and video about how it was made in the lab. It is a fascinating and illuminating explanation that suggests we can expect a lot more in the future of seeing technology illuminate art:

http://50.16.231.236/index.html


1 Comment »

  1. I have a hard time watching ANY conductor at the podium while I am listening to an orchestral performance. I assume that the main disorienting factor is simply the time delay between the downbeat onstage and the travel of the massed sound to the farther reaches of a hall.
    Our own John DeMain is typical of this. The players seem OK with his ictus, that is, the space between and direction of his movements. They cause me to “hear” out of sync, and so I do not watch. I have sat in concert bands many times as a trombonist, and felt no ill effects from any conductor as a player.
    The one orchestral conductor I could watch live in the hall was Stephen Colburn, the former leader of the Racine Symphony, my hometown group. His downbeat was always down on One, and was always impeccably clear to me as a listener, and so I watched. Perhaps their perfornace venues were small enough to mitigate this time-lag factor. Perhaps a local orchestra needed the clearest most basic direction. This also seems likely. When I am a conductor, I do in fact use this clear basic approach, which is not to say that my gestures are small or lack a certain theaticality. I am just down on One and clear about each beat.
    MBB

    Comment by Michael BB — April 15, 2012 @ 10:33 am


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