Truth through Music

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.

7 thoughts on “Truth through Music

  1. Wow, Dave. That was powerful. This is what Randy has been saying to me all week. He’s been so happy this week—-so unlike last week.

    I can’t wait to hear the concert tonight.

  2. Seiji Ozawa’s command of English, we should remember, was markedly limited when he became music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1973, and he was far from fluent when he left the directorship nearly thirty years later. Yet, he brought that orchestra to great heights and maintained its long held reputation as one of the great orchestras of the world, despite his modest English speaking ability.

    A talented conductor is capable of conveying interperative meaning to music with a hand gesture, a broadly sweeping or barely discernible arm movement, a facial expression—that’s what conducting is all about (Note to the CSO board: Nonverbal communication has been a recognized phenomenon for quite some time now, even in the areas of DEVELOPMENT and FUND RAISING.). Maestro Junichi Hirokami’s conducting techniques, his lack of English verbal eloquence notwithstanding, have excited and moved many of the CSO’s musicians. He has stirred in them a longing and a willingness to reach beyond themselves to achieve and maintain a harmony of sounds—in other words, to create a true symphony.

  3. David here’s the more articulate version of what I tried to express last night after the concert, from my journal. You’d BETTER get him to come be music director, because if he’s staying in Japan, so am I!

    Hirokami was just incredible. And normally I wouldn’t say that, because I don’t know enough about music to tell a rotten conductor from a good one, but this guy was totally different. Usually it looks to me like the conductor is just flopping about up in front and the orchestra is just sort of doing their own thing trying to ignore him. And normally I don’t look at the orchestra at all, prefering to stare at the ceiling and conjure up my own mental images to go with the sound. Not with this guy: He was a personalification of the music, every layer and detail of the sound seemed to be reflected in how his body moved. It looked like he was creating the music, pulling each sound out of the air with his hands. And it was amazing to see how the musicians reacted to him. Normally the strings especially are just sort of wiggling about in their seats, but last night the whole string section was moving in their seats together and when he would lean out in one of his huge sweeping gestures, they would all lean forward and follow him with their bodies like sunflowers following the sun. If you let your eyes go out of focus a little, the whole orchestra seemed to be one pulsing organism. I couldn’t look away. As the music came to some of the climaxes, I would realize that my eyes were stinging because I was forgetting to blink, or that I was close to hyperventilating because as the music sped up my breathing was speeding up in sympathy.
    Somehow, images of Hirokami as HUGE are burned into my mind. When he’d raise a hand to summon a clash of cymbals out of the air, the image left in my mind is not of a tiny little four foot something guy waving his hand, but rather of the huge hand of a djinn almost blotting out the stage, creating the sound with some sort of supernatural gift.

  4. David dear: I just read the comments sent to you after this last concert of the season for your symphony – sorry that I was not there to h ear this glorious performance. Your description of the conductor and the performance gave the meaning of your love for music and how you and your fellow orchestra members showed their respect for this man and his conducting. I pray for you and the others that he will be your choice for next season. Love ya, Mom

  5. Pingback: 5 energizers » change therapy - isabella mori

Comments are closed.