How Important Are Conductors?

“Is the conductor really doing anything, or is he/she just for show? I mean, couldn’t you guys play without someone standing on a podium and waving their arms?” This is the unexpected question once posed to me by an audience member after a Richmond Symphony concert. It’s pretty much the same question that comes up in this classic comedy bit from Seinfeld. Recent news that the Dallas Symphony Orchestra paid outgoing Music Director Jaap van …

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Zukerman on the Poetry of Tuning

Violinist and violist Pinchas Zukerman shares some interesting thoughts about tuning in this excerpt from a masterclass. For Zukerman, tuning is more than a necessary mechanical process. It’s the merging of two contrasting elements: the bow, representing the “practical,” and the violin, representing the “emotional.” Most importantly, tuning and warming up should be approached musically. Zukerman’s insights are a great reminder that violin playing starts in the mind. Tone production is about …

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Are We Forgetting How to Listen?

The world is becoming increasingly saturated with information, but arguably less thoughtful. That was the topic of a recent opinion piece in the New York Times. In Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain, Daniel J. Levitin writes about the increasing amount of information our brains are trying to process through e mails, tweets, Facebook and other technology. All of this crowds out daydreaming, which he cites as the true source of creativity: Daydreaming leads to …

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Arvo Pärt: Spirit in Sound and Space

In June the Metropolitan Museum of Art and St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary hosted a thought-provoking discussion, Spirit in Sound and Space- A Conversation Inspired by Arvo Pärt, in conjunction with this summer’s Arvo Pärt Project. The discussion brought together architect Steven Holl, neuroscientist Robert Zatorre, and musician and theology professor Peter Bouteneff. For Steven Holl, one of the most visionary contemporary architects, ideas often emerge through the process of painting watercolors. Buildings like the Chapel of St. Ignatius in Seattle and the Knut …

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God Is in the Details

“God is in the details,” said Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), one of the most significant architects of the twentieth century. Mies followed a modernist “less is more” aesthetic, which eliminated decoration and stripped architecture down to fundamental elements of structure and proportion. The results were serenely powerful and soulful monuments such as New York’s Seagram Building. Mies, whose father was a master mason and stonecutter, found beauty in materials. Bronze, …

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Violins and the Power of Suggestion

The results of a long anticipated study published on April 7 seem to shatter long-held assumptions about the superiority of 300-year-old Stradivari and Guarneri violins to fine modern instruments. The study, led by French scientist Claudia Fritz with the help of American luthier Joseph Curtin, follows up on a controversial blind test conducted in an Indianapolis hotel room in 2010. Ten prominent violinists, including Ilya Kaler and Elmar Oliveira, were unable to distinguish old instruments from new in a …

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Teaching Bernstein

In addition to composing and conducting, Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was one of the greatest music educators of all time. Starting in the late 1950’s, Bernstein educated and inspired a national television audience with his New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts. Later, in 1976 came The Unanswered Question: Six Talks at Harvard. His message was consistent: classical music isn’t stuffy or hard to understand. It’s fun and it’s something everyone can enjoy. In Teachers and Teaching, Bernstein …

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