15 thoughts on “What a difference a conductor makes.

  1. sharolyn

    I hope that wasn’t too nerdy of a question. I was so used to the Bernstein version that when I heard the Karajan version (a guy I had never heard of), it was startling how different the same piece of music could sound.

  2. jc

    Not that I have spent a lot of time listening to or watching this type of music, but I have always enjoyed watching Bernstein (confess I never heard of the other guy). To my untrained eye and ear, Bernstein always seems like he is in the moment of the music. I could just watch his face and body and tell what is going on (didn’t get that from Karajan). As a result, it seems like his orchestra has quieter quiet moments and higher energy moments. The orchestra sounds more dynamic (may have been the recording I suppose). His arms tell such a wonderful story and totally capture my attention. I agree with Sharolyn…music sounded very different. BTW, what a wonderful piece of music. Thanks for the education.

  3. sharolyn

    Once I saw Bernstein leading a rehearsal of adolescents, and he said something to the effect of, “Don’t you ever want to bury your face in the grass and feel it grow?” I thought, “I’ll have what he’s having.” -Such a contagious passion for life… why he was so beloved.

    We looked up the score (can you say NERDS?) and my husband pointed out Karajan was more true to it… but then I pointed out that I DON’T CARE! Give me tension, something I can lean in and listen for.

    This is also why I love Mahler. It’s just one big arpeggiated suspension then resolution that makes my heart ache. But then again, the theme to “Inside the Actor’s Studio” fits in this category, too. :D

  4. sharolyn

    (first 35 seconds)

    In this music, I feel like James Lipton has just poured me a cup of hot cocoa, handed me a blanket, invited me to his theater and said, “Sit down and relax. I’ll provide the interesting conversation.”

  5. sharolyn

    One more thing, while I’m at it. “He stayed true to the score” (in any style of music) is not necessarily a compliment. I hate it when it is used defensively. It’s like someone saying, “He followed steps one through ten in the kissing manual”… it doesn’t necessarily make him a good kisser.

  6. michael

    I think that’s an interesting point, Shar. How much should “composer intent” condition the performance of a piece, and for how long after they compose it? Debut performance only, or for the rest of eternity?

  7. sharolyn

    It should condition it 67%.

    Nah, just kidding. Surely we’ve discussed this on AR before? I have random thoughts on this, and don’t feel as articulate as some of you, so I’ll just spew my thoughts and we’ll see what sticks.

    Some cases seem somewhat obvious: If, in a Beethoven piano sonata, a G arpeggio goes up three octaves and then randomly starts again an octave lower, one can presume that if Beethoven had the length of our piano he would have taken advantage of it. It seems on the “safe” end of the spectrum to continue the arpeggio upward. That’s one thought.

    Another is this: I am a fan of Kurt Elling, who writes and sings poetry to the challenging likes of John Coltrane solos. Some purists shudder at this practice, called “vocalese”. (There are many jazz singers and ensembles that do this. It can be improvised, or not.) Aly, correct me if I’m wrong, but does that qualify as irony or what?! To me it is a high form of flattery or compliment, to improvise off of someone’s improvisation; to keep it alive and nurture it. I think if the original jazz musicians were still alive, they’d get out their horn and trade fours.

    I think the same of Chick Corea and Bobby McFerrin improvising cadenzas to Mozart’s music. This is the free section in the piece in which the soloist is no longer tied to the orchestra or ensemble. To me, it was designed for improvisation; perhaps it was even Mozart’s intent (gasp!). After it being played the same way for hundreds of years, it breathes fresh wind into the piece.

    Another random thought: You are dead, and people are still playing your music? – That could be one definition of success and debating interpretation may be like splitting hairs. It’s not the Bible.

    Another random thought, going back to the original post: Perhaps Karajan was truer to the score, but surely Beethoven did not want his piece to suck. It’s kind of like the spin doctors after a political debate: they aren’t lying, but they aren’t really telling the truth, either. They stick to certain facts. This can be like chaining oneself to a score: You stuck to the facts of the score, but you didn’t make music. Of course, the ideal is for both to happen simultaneously, but I’d take “music” over “true to the score” if I had to make a choice.

    I’ve mentioned tuning before – it’s like arguing “I was 100% correct with my battery-operated tuner!” – but the chord didn’t ring. (Well-tempered vs. just intonation – those aren’t the only two theories of tuning.)

    In short, unless the point is to duplicate or study the nuances of a certain time period, I am not a purist.

    Right now I am listening to Steven Tyler sing “I Love Trash”, which was intended for Oscar. How do you feel about that?

    I’m sorry this is not more pulled together. My lasagna is done cooking and so I will stop. :) Thoughts?….

  8. sharolyn

    Spin Doctors IS an awesome band. That’s what the post says if you read it backward. I particularly enjoy the piccolo snare on “Two Princes”.

    You know what bothers me about Elmopalooza? Not Steve Tyler, but that they changed “I Love Trash” from triple to even meter. There IS a purist inside me!

  9. michael

    Bobby and I have a special love for the snare intro on “Two Princes”. If anyone asks, in a name that tune competition, snare rolls don’t count as “notes”.

  10. Bobby

    3 phrases that are not allowed in a single sentence…

    “Bobby and I”
    “special love”
    “two princes”

    I can name that tune in 118 notes.

  11. sharolyn

    So last night we finally finished the episode of “Great Performances” that featured Karajan, the German conductor we had never heard of before.

    The last 20 minutes or so compared Bernstein and Karajan. (Great minds think alike?) Their careers were pretty much simultaneous. It was fascinating to watch juxtaposed clips of them rehearsing the same Mahler symphony.

    Here is the summary from an orchestra member:

    “Karajan made music.
    Bernstein was music.”

    Love that quote. They were both very disciplined at the podium, but Bernstein let loose while Karajan ALWAYS clung to the discipline. There were home movies of him swimming – without getting his hair wet (!), and the walls of his house were all bare and white (Hi, June!).

    Bernstein reminded me once again how life is meant to be lived and how music is meant to be created.

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