Wednesday, April 2, 2014

So maestro, what's with the stick?

     A good prank needs some kind of expectations of order to push against, and so the general chaos of the web makes a poor environment for April Fool's jokes. Still, I was pleased that a number of readers yesterday truly thought, at least for a moment, that I was changing the name of my blog to "Every gosh darn day," and a few actually complained, which was extra gratifying. 
      Nothing unusual about today's column. I had a chance to talk to a conductor, and leapt at it, asking some questions I, and hopefully others, have wondered about.
Anthony Barrese

     Only one member of the orchestra is mimicked with any regularity. The average guy doesn’t tape empty soda cans together and pretend to play the bassoon, or sit on a chair and saw away at an imaginary cello. Nobody plays the air flute.
     But who has not picked up a pencil and pretended to conduct? You hear some rousing Beethoven symphony, you almost have to. At least I hope you do and it isn’t just me.
     Either way, I’ve always wondered: what, exactly is the conductor doing? I’ve always meant to ask Sir Andrew Davis, conductor of the Lyric, “What are you doing with the stick?” But if divas are stars, conductors are superstars, and the chance to ask him anything has never arisen (well, once, I saw him smoking a cigarette outside the Civic Opera House, but it struck me that a considerate person would leave him be, so I did).
     But when Chicago conductor Anthony Barrese offered to stop by my office and talk about what he does, I jumped at the chance. My first question was: Explain this waving-the-baton business. Musicians seem fairly intent on their music — they aren’t necessarily even watching you. What’s going on?
     “By the time you get to a performance, the great amount of work is done,” he said. “Any conductor who is jumping around, flailing about and wildly gesticulating during a concert, that’s for show. The orchestra is not really paying attention. The real work is done in rehearsal, which you don’t see. By the time you get to a performance, you’re still guiding, you’re still shaping the architecture, musically. But it’s sort of in the hands of God at that point.”

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  1. Musician joke.

    Man goes into a pet store and sees three birds on perches under a sign that reads :Musical Parrots. Asks what the first one, listed at $15,000, does and is told she's an Italian opera specialist, particularly good in the bel canto repertoire. How about the one that goes for $15,000? he asks, and is told she has a wider 'fach,' can sing French and German arias and selections from Viennese Operetta and Zarzuela. Coming to the third bird, listing for $25,000, he asks "What does he do?" "Nobody knows, but the other two call him 'Maestro.'"

  2. Sorry. The first one cost $10,000.

  3. Conductor is stuck in traffic on way to a big concert. First-chair violinist fills in, does great job. When the conductor arrives in time for second piece, the violinist returns to the usual seat, beaming with pride. Second violinist asks: Where have you been?

  4. I still say Stravinsky's horrible. Maybe I need a few more centuries to appreciate him.


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