My orchestra just took some substantial cuts in salary. At the same time, we are searching for a new music director to lead us into a new era. I am on the search committee for the new music director. I never imagined how difficult it would be.
When I became a musician, I thought the music world would be peopled by artists with ideal standards for music: purity of emotion, reaching for the unknown ideal, striving for perfection. My naive views have recently been shadowed with doubt. Last night that changed. But a little background first.
The orchestra I play in has gone through some very difficult times in the past few years. When the music director search started, we were doing well. We had just made a spectacular debut at Carnegie Hall. The economy was booming. Soon after, things started to fall apart. And the problems went beyond a mere financial crisis. The morale of the musicians suffered, and divisions emerged. Weakened unity fostered weakened resolve. I personally have suffered greatly from the divisions in the orchestra.
An orchestra with low morale cannot hide it in their music making. The heart must heal before the body can be strong. Throughout the search, I have tried to find a candidate to heal some of these problems, to unite us in better music making.
Recently, one candidate quickly became popular. He managed to win over a number of musicians with his flare and high energy. But his panache rang hollow to many of us. His technical faults as a conductor were glaring. He didn’t even allow the orchestra to breathe. His attempt at critical input created more problems than it solved. It became impossible for many of us to function under him. I won’t belabor his weakness further here. It was apparent to me this candidate would not have the ability to raise our spirits and unite our playing toward greatness. For some reason, his supporters persisted. I feared more of the tragic division in the orchestra.
We have had one other very qualified candidate, and he was popular with the orchestra. However, the choice wasn’t clear enough. I doubted his popularity would hold next to the consistent support of the candidate mentioned above. Some other good ones were not interested, especially since we are having financial problems, which are partly caused by not having a music director. Catch 22. I was feeling sick, thinking this was the best we could do. Until last night.
This is the last week of a three year search. This is it. Our last candidate is a Japanese conductor, Junichi Hirokami. He’s been around, in Europe and in the US, but he’s a favorite in Japan. Standing about 4 1/2 feet tall, he can’t weigh more than 90 pounds. And he barely speaks English. A tough sell, but he’s huge where it counts!
He conducted Rachmaninoff’s 2nd symphony, which is probably the most lush, orgasmic, romantic piece of music ever written. The orchestra was putty in his hands. He smiled as we played, encouraging even better playing. He never criticized harshly in rehearsals, yet I’ve never wanted to work so hard. He took responsibility for problems rather than blaming us. I made a few mistakes in rehearsal and he went back with another reason, giving me another chance! He gave humorous and vivid descriptions of the moods he wanted to create. Despite broken English, he had us laughing and motivated.
In the performance, his sweeping gestures carried the power and emotion of a great heart, a brilliant mind and mature technique. He never over conducted, and often moved so little that we had to listen and play with great detail. He became a vehicle of the music, never more. Yet, ensemble and rhythm problems were corrected with the minutest gesture. Cues were given with a smile.
He paced the surging finale with perfect timing, releasing all the built up power at just the right moment. His arms seemed to grow and grasp much further than his body would allow. Several times I found myself on the verge of joyous tears. He appeared immersed in the emotion and meaning of the music, and I could feel it with him. Apparently, from the applause afterward, so could the audience. There were no walls, no egos, no judgments. Just music. And truth.
I guess I chose the right career after all. The Muse is alive. I hope the division in my orchestra is closed by the presence of such a gifted, musical, uniting, healing candidate. I hope all of us can see the amazing opportunity we have right before us. I hope the truth of the music unites us. The rest is history.