On the beat, behind the beat, phase-locking, and other conductor-orchestra mysteries explained

Posted on: September 21, 2017

“If someone ever criticizes you for being slightly off the mark or slow to react, tell them you’re modeling your actions after those in professional orchestras,” writes James Bennett II on Tuesday (9/19) at New York classical radio station WQXR. “Why does it seem like the orchestra is playing behind the conductor’s beat? … JoAnn Falletta, music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic and Virginia Symphony orchestras, [says] when an orchestra plays behind the conductor, it has the room to produce a more expressive sound…. Waiting a tick … ‘gives them a chance to prepare that sound. So the downbeat comes, and the sound opens after that,’ [says Falletta]. The result? More beautiful music…. [Furtwängler’s] orchestras would play when the baton reached the third button of his shirt…. Using concert footage of Leonard Bernstein conducting Mahler’s Fifth Symphony … [bassist/educator Adam] Neely explains the concept of ‘phase locking,’ and why the un-phase-locked sound of a classical ensemble is barely perceptible (as opposed to that of a jazz band).” Says Falletta, “The orchestras that have played together for some time just know how to do it.”

Posted September 21, 2017