Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


While I was writing my post the other night on hearing the Seattle Symphony play the 3rd Symphony of Charles Ives, I was reading the archives of a blog largely devoted to dissing the Symphony’s conductor and artistic director, Gerard Schwarz. It’s written by the Symphony’s recently fired concertmaster, Ilka Talvi, who writes up a storm -- his archives are a real link-clicker. (Fishing for a digital analogue to “page-turner.”)

I’ve sinced found out that Greg Sandow and Alex Ross heartily dislike Schwarz’s conducting too.

I don’t know enough to say. Schwarz is a spasmodic gesticulator. Once he literally jumped and the thump of his landing became part of the sound experience. The intensity of his spasms, however, didn’t always correlate to intensity of sound coming from the band, so it was hard for me to understand the relationship between his conducting and the music. Despite that, I thought the music had some shape and variety. But then I listened again to a recording of Fritz Reiner conducting the Chicago Symphony some 45 years ago last night, and wow, there’s no comparison. The range of tempos and dynamics that goes into Reiner’s conception, and the musical excitement of his choices -- yes.

Two things mostly struck me about the orchestra’s part of the show -- first, even an fair-to-middling live performance beats the hell out of a great record; and second, the violins frequently sounded out of tune, which surprised me and made me wonder retrospectively about the firing of the former concertmaster.
About Fritz Reiner: If you do a little research, you'll learn that Reiner's beat was so restrained as to be miniscule at times. Proof positive that wild gesticulating is not required for amazing orchestral results.

And then there's Solti, whose movements to my eye often bore no relation at all to the music, and yet somehow resulted in an awful lot of magic.
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