Flamboyant Conductors of Classical Music

Why is it conducting tutors demand it be done is a stayed manner, flowing lines with the hands, but the body for the most part is to be quiet, while the most sought after conductors flail about the stage, stirring emotions in audience and performers alike?

Martin Steinberg for Associated Press talks the styles of two of the worlds top conductors. Alan Gilbert, the New York Philharmonic in a commemoration of the 65th anniversary of Bernstein's first major triumph was described as, "Jumping and with big sweeping gestures, Gilbert ratcheted up the tension to near frenzy. He stabbed the air with his baton during its percussive punches, and when the music got suddenly quiet, he collapsed into a crouch. By the end, his dark straight hair was spiking above his forehead."

In the description of Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel led the Israel Philharmonic in two works by Bernstein Martin Steinberg says, Dudamel's "long curly locks bouncing as he pirouetted on the podium. He danced his way through jazzy sections." Later in the concert, "Dudamel led a galloping account of the work (Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony), one of the war horses of the repertoire. He wielded the baton as if it were a matador's sword. At times it was hidden behind his tails, moving slightly as he conducted with his head and shoulders. His dance steps teased the bull into submission. At the rousing conclusion, the audience howled in delight and jumped out of their seats."

Both of these accounts are pure showmanship. These are conductors that not only get the most out of their orchestras, but also put on a great show for the audience, and the audience responds. When I was conducting the premier of my Symphony No 1, a request was made that I make my movements smaller, less was better. "Let the music have the emotion, not the conducting" was a comment I remember. When it came time to take the stage I didn't follow this advice. Perhaps the orchestra struggled to follow me and my flamboyant nature - and if that's the case, then I failed as a conductor (as leading the orchestra has to be the first task). However, the performance was more than just music; a orchestra performance is just that, a performance and the conductor is the focal point of this performance for the audience.

Thinking back to the Maestro competition on the BBC, where a group of semi-famous non-musicians were taken through the steps to become conductors, in a pseudo competition format - the finalist getting to conduct the BBC Orchestra at the Proms. Many of these people were taught to be expressive, to give more to the orchestra than just the downbeat. So, perhaps it isn't all conducting tutelage, just those I've had experience with. Or perhaps it's just amateur conductors that ought to be reserved, get them to transmit the beat with some fluidity before bringing in the flamboyancy. Well, I don't intend to be an amateur conductor...


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