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Attempt on the essence of conducting



In 80 percent of cases, a professional orchestra can play without a conductor. The concertmaster directs the tempi and determines the basic phrasing. Without a conductor, each individual musician is aware of his or her responsibilities and cultivates the fine art of listening. Taken together, this leads to a tense concentration that is often not achieved with conductors. In the 21st century, a robot can also take over the beating of a bar, and any smartphone with the appropriate software can reliably detect "wrong" or improperly intoned notes. It is therefore trivial that the task of a conductor does not consist in the trivial beating of bars or formal organizing.



So much is spoken about music and so little is said. For my part I do not believe that words suffice for such a task and if they did I would no longer make any music.

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy



The true essence of conducting cannot be captured in words. Music can comfort, it has the power to make us forget. Music can make us radiate or plunge us into deep depression. Music has the power to mobilize the masses and at the same time it can silence them. In short, from the pen of the great masters, music is able to depict the entire range of emotions, of human existence. It can make the sparks of the gods fly and give us an idea of eternity. Here lies the core element of music: it is an element of polarity, consisting of sound and silence, and yet music, masterfully composed, is able to transcend the polar world - even if only for a nanosecond.



Moreover, the elements of sound and silence continually change function in the ears of the listener. Silence is also always sound and sound can become silence. This simultaneity of being and non-being is an essential aspect why music touches humanity so much. Subjectively we recognize only the One and yet everything is present at the same time. In the end, there is only being. For this reason, every composition must be recreated in the time of the moment. We are allowed to define our subjective truth for this one moment in order to formulate a meaningful statement. This is up to the conductor. Against this background, the score also reveals itself to be a profoundly inadequate tool for capturing a composer's imaginings.



In the attempt to define the indefinable, in the attempt to express the inexpressible, in the attempt to analyze the incomprehensible, 90 percent of the essence is inevitably lost. Of course, the scores of all the great geniuses are a divine gift to humanity. However, they contain the invitation to complete the lost 90 percent. We may take the responsibility and creatively unfold ourselves, knowing that we run the risk of missing the composer's intention.



But this risk is necessary in order to have the chance to do justice to the composition. All composers of timeless importance were exalted personalities who, against all convention - sometimes even behind the facade - went their own way with a great urge for freedom and autonomy. They often interpreted their own works in many different ways. Already Beethoven stated that a performer who needed an explanation of his metronome markings could not be helped per se.



Hiding behind a supposedly scientific approach inevitably leads astray. This is, of course, just as subjective, but without creative spirit and the assumption of the required responsibility. It is this spirit of the creative artist that enables authentic music making. A creative spirit which, at the moment of the sounding of the composition, provides a north star and thus makes the decisive difference.



A conductor is a transmitter of energies


Joachim Kaiser



The fascination of conducting is also evident in my personal history:



My initial spark that opened up the infinite cosmos of classical music to me was a performance of the Christmas Oratorio. I was able to escape into a perfect world, all fears were dissolved at least for a moment, the universe embraced me through the harmony of Bach. At the same time, a whole new world opened up to me. I felt that music was capable of more than just compensating for my own imperfections like a genius psychologist. Since that day, this "more" has opened up to me in ever new dimensions and variations.



I began to play the piano with great enthusiasm and yet something was always missing. Despite the enormous richness of this instrument, I felt limited in a subtle way. I longed for even more expressive possibilities that I could not find on the piano.



But no other instrument could give me these either. On the violin, I gained the possibility of fragility, fuzziness, and a real legato. But at the same time, I lost so much: the polyphony, the possibility of timbre imitation and the dynamic amplitude. At the organ, I was technically overwhelmed.


Deep inside I always felt the longing for the great form. And so I came to the great Romantics. The orchestra in Beethoven and Wagner can do everything: from the finest chamber music to the heroic finale.



It was therefore obvious that I ended up with conducting. The conductor, like the stops of an organ, mixes the sound of the orchestra. In conducting, I found what I had previously missed on the piano. It is the task of the conductor to bring the notes to life, in other words, to have a vision. A vision always arises from the energy of the heart. Accordingly, all interpretative considerations that stem from rational logic are to be used at best as aids. Especially in musical analysis, restraint is useful.


The word "analysis" means "breaking down into individual components," but a composition is about a great whole. Beethoven chose the sonata form as a form-constituting element, because it seemed to him suitable to show the struggle of human existence. In the beginning was the vision, then the music theory was adapted to serve the cause. The conductor is therefore well advised to proceed in the same way.


I have always been most fascinated by conductors who have succeeded in overcoming the re-creative in  of the creative. To reiterate: The notes must become the music. This requires a performer who has an idea of all the emotions he wants to realize and develops the personality to realize his vision.




A task that can hardly be surpassed in complexity and energetic effort! But the reward, which we have all been able to experience in great concert evenings, is immense.



Conducting is the most musically comprehensive profession.


Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau



The prerequisite for all this is the overcoming of the technical moment. In the final analysis, the infinite expanses of music begin where technique ends. It is only at this moment that conductor and orchestra begin to make music. The conductor's challenge is to unite an organism of 120, often strongly individualistic, musicians. 120 musicians have to follow a north star at least temporarily . Already Furtwängler knew: "Art is an undemocratic thing". A certain will to power is indispensable here. But when do musicians follow a conductor voluntarily?



Excellent leaders are people who tried the impossible.


Dieter Lange



Let's imagine the situation that a conductor in a rehearsal tries to convince the orchestra of a certain way of playing by giving a brilliant music-theoretical lecture for 20 minutes and shining with the latest findings of historical performance practice. Certainly, he can convince some musicians that his interpretation would be the "right" one, but he certainly does not achieve an intrinsic enthusiasm for the work. The conductor must win people's hearts, Lange knows, because "the one who wins hearts need not worry about people's heads." A conductor can be a rebel or a pioneer, as long as he is authentic. A conductor must let his own light shine, then charisma and presence come all by themselves. A pinch of self-irony, humor and a little NLP rhetoric certainly enrich every rehearsal, but Nietzsche already knew:



"He who has a why to live can endure almost any how."


The Berlin Philharmonic did not follow Wilhelm Furtwängler for decades because his conducting was so easy to understand, the rehearsals were particularly harmonious, his interpretations were particularly scientifically sound, or the extra-musical cooperation was particularly amicable. The Berlin Philharmonic followed Wilhelm Furtwängler for decades and played Beethoven's 9th Symphony with him even under the hail of bombs of the Second World War, because he was a unique, authentic, musical genius and shared his light with the world without compromise!



Consequently, what does it mean to conduct?  



Conducting means to transfer energies, to doubt, to despair, only to triumph in the next moment through the music. Conducting means to create anew in every moment. Conducting means to actively create. Conducting means embarking on a journey of inexhaustible possibilities. Conducting means going to the point of physical and psychological exhaustion of all involved, only to let go at the decisive moment. Conducting means attempting the impossible. Conducting means falling into the existence of a music teacher for a few moments, only to let the sparks of the gods fly in the next moment.

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