Monday, July 18, 2011

The mark of the maestro

The other day I was going on about -- I know, as usual! -- the Allegretto from Beethoven's Seventh. I am sorry, I liked it was a teenager. I am afraid I am still a teenager.

Anyway, I found myself watching Herbert von Karajan conducting it on YouTube.

That is von Karajan up above.

There are moments when you see why a great conductor is a great conductor. I remember watching, also on YouTube, Leonard Bernstein conducting Mozart's "Ave, Verum Corpus." Here Bernstein was, not Catholic -- not even Christian -- and yet, for while he is conducting that music, he is. Because Mozart was, and that is what it takes to understand that music.

It is amazing. I want to say it is like watching a great actor but I think it is deeper than that. Bernstein brings out this music's reverence and mystical beauty as I have never seen anyone else do. He takes that moment at the beginning and gets into the zone. You see him mouthing the Latin along with the chorus. He was drawing the music out of everyone. You can see it.

That was, honest, the first time I "got" Bernstein. I looked at that and thought, that is a great conductor! That is what I am seeing.

The other night, watching Herbert von Karajan, I saw the same thing.

Watch what the maestro does at the end. He is guiding the music to a close, cuing the woodwinds, the hushed pizzicato on the violins. Then ... at the last chord. Look at that gesture.

It is a great bit of showmanship but it is genuine, too.


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