One of my closest friends is a conductor. I’ve had the opportunity to watch him prepare for concerts, studying the score and making artistic sense of the musical notations on the page, often through much repetition. Watching a conductor lead an orchestra probably looks ethereal if one doesn’t consider all the preparation that goes into doing such a thing.
So in an attempt to understand what is going on, we interviewed seven conductors as they passed through New York in recent seasons with an eye to breaking them down into body parts — like that poster in the butcher shop with dotted lines to show the different cuts of meat — left hand, right hand, face, eyes, lungs and, most elusive, brain.
The conductor’s fundamental goal is to bring a written score to life, through study, personality and musical formation. But he or she makes music’s meaning clear through body motion.
In addition they had Alan Gilbert, music director of the New York Philharmonic, demonstrate and discuss the role of a conductor while having all his motions captured for analysis. You can view the resulting “Connecting Music and Gesture” here.
Below is a behind the scenes showing how the motion capture took place.
In the end it must be remembered that the art of conducting is more than just semaphore. It is a two-step between body and soul, between physical gesture and musical personality. The greatest technician can produce flabby performances. The most inscrutable stick waver can produce transcendence.