A critic dissects his half-hour on the podium

Posted on: January 4, 2012

“I have been wondering what, exactly, a conductor does since around 1980, when I led a JVC boom box in a phenomenal performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony in my bedroom,” writes classical-music critic Justin Davidson in the December 26/January 2 issue of New York magazine. He found out this fall, studying with “Alan Gilbert, the music director of the New York Philharmonic, and James Ross, who with Gilbert runs the Juilliard’s School’s conducting program. I’ll be leading a student orchestra in a half-hour rehearsal of Mozart’s six-minute overture to Don Giovanni.… So where do I start? Ross gently advises me against trying to meet the standards of Lorin Maazel, legendary for his freakish memory and for terrifying apprentices with pop quizzes: Second movement, bar 123, what’s the second bassoon doing? Instead, he suggests I study the overture, take apart the structure, and feel the rhythms until I can sing the whole thing through by heart. … As we power toward the final cadence and I exchange glance after glance with the young musicians, it occurs to me that they are bombarding me with unspoken questions and it’s my job to convey answers. That’s what a conductor does: mold an interpretation by filtering the thousands of decisions packed into every minute of symphonic music.” 

Posted January 4, 2012