There’s no way to really put your finger on what makes conducting great, even what makes conducting work. Essentially, what conducting is about is getting players to play their best and to be able to use their energy to access their point of view about the music. There is a connection between the gesture, the physical presence, the aura that a conductor can project and what the musicians produce.
Well, there are two things that I am thinking at the beginning of the great choral. There is the beautiful singing, expressive backing type choral that happens in the woodwinds and the brass. At the same time, the strings are playing this unusual strident tremolo and prestissimo with an accent.
And when I spoke to the musicians I said that there should be something incongruous and irritating about that. It doesn’t fit with what seems to be the prevailing atmosphere of calm and reflection and the beauty of the choral.
I give an upbeat for everybody, I try to breath really well, I’m thinking a couple beats ahead, like three, four… and then, while I’m giving this I’m also adding a little something that happens at the same time.
So after the strings give their accent I’m actually only thinking at that point of the continuation of the choral sound. An accent is an instantaneous or it’s a momentary event. What happens after that is that the winds have to continue to sustain and sing through.
This is counterpoint. There are lines that exist together and relate to each other in a linear way. Um, so there’s a basic flow that happens but one thing I was particularly thinking about just now was bringing out different layers. So when one instrument, for example, has a moving line that is not simultaneous with something else.
I was specifically trying to make contact with the bassoon player and let him know that I think something important is coming up and then share that contour as it happened. I find that interesting, so it’s not just a monolithic, a homogenized texture. It’s a texture that hopefully works well together, but has local features based on how each individual line moves.
The way you let go of a note, the shape of the … tail of the note, if you will, has to be managed and thought about and felt together. So if one person is finishing a note and it ends like ‘ahhh’ just with a slight curved tapering or “bahhh” or with an accent. It really helps to just think about that, to make that a goal.
One thing that I changed, or tried to change with my conducting was the way I was living through the notes myself as they lasted, especially the notes of longer duration. And that’s actually what makes a piece like this—this coral—interesting. Because it’s mostly about long notes. It’s not about figuration or technique or rhythmic patters.