I am a musician for the joy it brings me; for the depth and breadth it adds to my life, and to the lives of those with whom I share it.
Among the many possible careers in music, there is no doubt that for me conducting is the most challenging and the most rewarding.The conductor’s tasks are myriad. Conversance with countless histories, cultures, aesthetic ideologies, and performance practices is indispensable. In order to understand the specific ‘language’ a piece speaks, it is necessary to be intimately familiar with the socio-historical context in which it was conceived. The analysis of the score itself demands intense intellectual discipline in learning its structural and harmonic procedures, as well as the idiosyncrasies of style and orchestration. The conductor then joins the composer as an active creative partner, divining the expressive intent and discovering the desired emotional effect of a given piece.
Once the above has been assimilated, the conductor needs to convey all of this knowledge in a cogent and meaningful fashion to the group of individual artists that constitute the ensemble. He must ensure that the musicians feel like collaborators in the process; they must have a sense of ownership over the musical result and therefore be invested in its quality. This requires highly refined communication and leadership skills, and an expertise in psychology and diplomacy, for the conductor’s instrument is a multitude of human minds.
The apotheosis of the conductor’s role is the real-time transmission to an audience of all this accumulated insight. He now becomes a conduit, from which the title of his practice emanates: he is the pathway between composer and orchestra, and between orchestra and audience.
The act of wordless communication, upon which conducting is predicated, can lead to the most profound kind of human connection possible. It transcends language, race, age and gender, and bonds strangers together in a common purpose. When it succeeds, the orchestra blends the energy of a large group to focus upon a singular expression of thought or feeling. But that is only half of the equation. The miracle is the act of sharing that follows. The orchestra does not make music solely for itself; the audience is an indispensible alchemical component. The energy of the public lifts a performance to the height of occasion, and thus imbues it with an elevated meaning and significance. It is prayer as well as pageantry. It is communion and catharsis. And its very wordlessness enables direct access to the emotional centers, bypassing the intellect. I recently learned a word that describes this most aptly: anoesis, ‘a state of mind consisting of pure sensation or emotion without cognitive content.’ This is a protracted synonym for bliss.
Live music is incomparable to the high-definition images and stereo-sound of the home-theatre because of this aspect of interaction. The ideal performance facilitates a convergence of energy between all people present. We experience classical concerts in 'public solitude', soaking it in silently alongside strangers, as communal recipients of those most intimate musical thoughts of the composer. This reminds us that we are not so different from our fellows and that we are not so alone in the difficulties we face in our lives. Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Shostakovich et al. are all telling us: ‘I too have struggled. And, made it through.’
The effects of music on the brain have only recently begun to be scientifically documented. Time and again we have seen how music can reach past illness into the deepest recesses of memory to rekindle long extinguished flames. But there are yet to be any conclusive data. What we do know is that for some reason when listening to esoteric combinations of sound we can perceive emotion and even narrative in such a way as to exalt and edify our day to day existence. Music teaches us about what it is to be human. It puts us in touch with the innermost experiences of other people, and in so doing, it puts us in touch with ourselves.