It was the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by guys who orchestrate and conduct the t.v. music. Nowadays, these things are done by creating a click track that all the performers hear through earpieces; so conducting that stuff is a separate skill apart from regular conducting. When they play the music accompanying actual clips of the show, every movement of every head, every blink of every eye is precisely scored. It’s cool, if you’re looking for it. It shows a thoughtful composer.
They also performed “classical favorites” like the flight of the Valkyrie and “Mars.” And as they played the Wagner, I watched and gradually realized they were typing.
I’ve talked about typing before. The difference between writing–sitting here, coming up with things to say and saying them in the best way I can–and typing, when I just copy whatever’s in front of me without thinking about it. Being engaged with what I produce (writing) or just reproducing mindlessly (typing).
It was the most boring performance of flight of the Valkyrie I’ve ever heard. I didn’t know it was possible to perform Wagner without intensity and drama, but they managed it. Oh, they were very tight, to be sure. Precise as hell. Accurate as all get-out. But bland. Blander than I knew Wagner could be.
And tonight on PBS, newly HD!, I’m watching Great Performances from L.A. with Dudamel conducting the Philharmonic. There’s actually a camera angle that gives you an ensemble-member’s-eye view of the conductor, and I love it. I wish I could prevent him from wagging his baton so much and I’d love to erase some of the tension from his shoulders, but he’s grounded and centered and still. Rooted. With ease in his hands and fluency of gestural vocabulary.
And he’s doing the concert from memory.
From memory. Not just that he’s not looking at his music: there is no music there. He’s naked on a podium with his baton. You know what kind of preparation that takes? The man is inside those scores. And they are inside him. Wow.
There are people who like to roll their eyes at his drama and his flare, saying he’s just a showman. But I gotta say, this guy’s for real. Fire and grace and specificity galore.
Maybe the L.A. Philharmonic are just a superior orchestra to the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Maybe. But I bet if you put Gustavo Dudamel up in front at the Proms, the flight of the Valkyrie would have lived up to the pageantry of the Doctor Who stuff.
An aside regarding wardrobe: I said he was naked on the podium with his baton. It was a metaphor for the vulnerability of standing with no music stand between him and the orchestra. He’s not naked. He’s in white tie and tails.
With a black vest.
Glagh! And it’s not even a real vest; it’s one of those fake-o tie-in-the-back dealies. Yuck! I mean, the rules for men are so simple! Juan Diego Flores is singing (dreamy!) and he’s resplendent in the perfect white tie ensemble. Every man in the orchestra did it right (although, strictly speaking, the ensemble should be in black tie) and Gustavo’s in a black faux vest. Oy.
Well, I can forgive eccentricity of apparel in exchange for fire and grace and specificity galore.