Conducting is my job. I certainly don’t need reminding that I’m unbelievably lucky to have the best seat at every concert, to work with some of the most interesting and creative people around, and to receive applause when I show up for and leave work. (Having a consultant for a husband, I’m reminded that this is a rarity in the work place). Sometimes, however, in the midst of e-mail chains, attendance reports, and budget numbers, I need to reconnect myself to the wonder of where I am. To that end, I have been working on a list – a list of concerts and musical moments that have inspired me to love music even more and to become a better musician. Every once in a while, I’ll post them here.
There are certainly more than ten, so I’m breaking the list down into smaller lists. Here are the first three. And, for the record, the order holds no meaning or hierarchy.
Prokofiev 5th Symphony with the Baltimore Symphony. Yuri Temirkanov, Conducting. 200?.
The clarinet line in the last movement as played in this performance in 200? still resonates with me and is the standard-bearer by which I judge all other interpretations. Temirkanov shaped the longest, most soaring of lines while simultaneously infusing the middle ground and bass line with unbridled energy and specificity. This without saying a word in rehearsals (which I had the great fortune of attending) about the dichotomy inherent in such a contrast. His gesture, his eyes, and his unwavering sense of inner rhythm made it happen naturally.
Beethoven 7th symphony with the Boston Symphony. Leonard Bernstein, conducting. 1990.
I had no idea this would be Bernstein’s last concert – it wasn’t announced, as is usually the case for a great opera singer’s swan song or a football player’s final playoff before retirement. But, as I sat in the shed at Tanglewood, I knew that this occasion was historic. What I found inspiring, once I got past the star-struck feeling of seeing Mr. Bernstein in person, was the relationship between him and the orchestra. When he stopped conducting in the third movement, leaning back on the bar to keep himself upright, the entire orchestra (and audience, for that matter) stepped up to the plate. As a highschool student who had diligently watched conductors from the ensemble and the audience, it had never occurred to me that a work like Beethoven 7 could be done without conductor. That was a complete revelation! Now, however, I understand that the orchestra continued not despite his lack of presence at that moment, but because of his presence before that moment. His rehearsals, his legacy, his nurturing, his reputation, his musicianship, his controversy – all of these attributes made him a conductor that could inspire an orchestra to proceed without him.
And, of course, Beethoven had something to do with it, too.
For more on my Bernstein obsession, read The Bernstein File (not to be confused with Alex Ross’s The Bernstein Files).
Andrew Bird – Performing at the National Theatre, Richmond, VA. 2009
What was it about this show that now places it alongside those by Temirkanov and Bernstein? Andrew’s talent is, of course, immense. He plays violin, guitar, glockenspiel and more. His voice is colorful and soulful. His looping is masterful. And he can whistle like a madman. But, I’ve heard many talented musicians whose concerts haven’t struck me in the way Andrew’s did.
To be completely honest, I initially attended Andrew’s show to simply support him. I really didn’t know much of his music. A classmate of mine at Northwestern, Andrew seemed to embrace the the brilliance of Classical music while simultaneously eschewing the rigidity of its definition. Years after graduation, I saw him on a late night show, and this apparent dichotomy made perfect sense. So, when he came to Richmond, I made it a point to get good seats so I could really hear and watch.
From my vantage point hanging over the balcony rail, Andrew’s music and performance struck me as completely unique. I don’t get many opportunities to hear music (or even a kind of music) that I have never heard before. So, the newness of it all resonated with me. However, what made this uniqueness truly unique, so to speak, was the honesty with which Andrew approached his individualism. His totally fresh approach to music related in a genuine way to him. It wasn’t unique for unique’s sake, it was simply Andrew Bird.
And, it was awesome.