Thursday, January 12, 2006

Jimmy on Jimmy

The Penitent Wagnerite points us to this delightful NPR interview with James Levine. Levine discusses his understated conducting style, something I've been pondering as of late, after good vantage points at Wozzeck and the Carnegie Hall concert:
This was a gradual thing for me. I started off fairly gestural, but I've tried to make myself obsolete in the performance. I don't like the audience to have to go through a middle man interpreting what the piece is expressively by his gesture. To take a simple example, if I want the orchestra to come in uniformly loud and sustained, and I make a huge upbeat, maybe the sound when it comes out is more than the audience expected or less than the audience expected. But the point is it's killed either way because the audience expects it because they saw the upbeat. . .

I give them all the things that they would need to feel the shape from the rehearsal and to deal technically with, say, the people on this end of the pit who can't hear so well, the ones on that end. For this, they need to see. But the school that thinks somehow that the gesture excites the audience so they can follow visually--that's not the sort of experience that they're supposed to be having. And there are very little oral media left that aren't mixed up now with visual ones. And I fight it because I think everybody has bigger and bigger ears and less eyes and less discerning ears.
A little something to remind us what it's all about when we start looking to the ephemera of the concert experience to 'save' it from extinction. No musicians dancing about, no musicians in jeans, no innovations in applause etiquette...indeed, barely more than the flick of the baton--but if an audience member isn't going to 'get it' at one of Maestro Levine's shows, I think its pretty safe to say she/he and orchestral music should probably call it a day and go their separate ways.

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