Life,  Tech

The Role of Conductors: More Than Just Beating Time – How Technology Has Shaped Orchestras and What the Future May Bring

  On July 3, a piece of news that “a robot conducts the Busan Philharmonic Orchestra of South Korea” spread like wildfire. In the rehearsal hall, the musicians are sitting upright, and on the podium are a human conductor and a robot with a human silhouette and a baton in its hand. As the robot waved the baton, the musicians in the audience also started to play.
  Lee Dong-wook of the Korea Institute of Industrial Technology, which developed the technology, said the performance was to explore “how far can robots go in the creative field, and what challenges they will encounter.”
  Well, as a music fan who has loved classical music for many years and spent a considerable part of his income on various recordings, I can’t understand this, at least not in my lifetime to buy a recording of a performance conducted by a robot, nor Would waste time going to a concert conducted by a robot.
  Waving a baton does not mean “directing” an orchestra. If a swinging stick can move an orchestra, a metronome on the podium will do the trick. What music fans and music lovers are willing to pay for is not for a waving metal rod, but for the real role played by the “conductor” behind the transmission.
  But behind the emergence of the robot conductor, there are many things worth thinking about.
not just beat

  A collection of recordings from different eras and countries, telling different stories. According to my own estimation, I have the CDs of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on hand by no less than a hundred conductors. However, the same conductor performing the same work at different stages of life can have completely different effects. For example, from the 1930s to the 1950s, Wilhelm Furtwängler, who was the artistic director of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted the “Bei Nine” several times during World War II, which is exactly the same as the “Bei Nine” after the war. The atmosphere and artistic effects are completely different.
  From about the sixth grade of primary school, I was fascinated by bel canto, and then began to explore the vast ocean of classical music. When I was in high school, I felt that the expressive power of human vocal cords was really limited, but the symphony orchestra gave the brain a gift through the human ear. A vast and wonderful spiritual world like the stars of the universe. As Milan Kundera said, every novel is a self-contained microcosm, and every large-scale symphonic work can also be understood as a self-contained microcosm. If the composer is the chief designer of this small universe, then the conductor is the painter who draws the picture of this small universe.

  ”Then let the machine explode! That’s what my art is for!” Toscanini roared.

  At a concert, the conductor that people see is just waving metal rods on the stage. But what people don’t see is what kind of artistic concept the conductor conveys during rehearsals or when working with the orchestra. From Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini’s strict training and even loud scolding to the orchestra, to German Jewish conductor Bruno Walter’s persuasive guidance to the musicians, to Karajan’s meticulous rehearsal and recording, Even Bernstein’s impromptu climax in the performance, what is conveyed behind the sound of the symphony is human emotion, full of human warmth.
  At this level, it doesn’t matter whether the conductor is holding a stick to beat the time. The essence of the conductor’s job is not to follow the beat on the stage, but how to communicate with the musicians to communicate with the musicians. Emotion is instilled in the orchestra. For example, Seiji Ozawa is likely to use his shaking hair as one of the conducting tools; while the “post-90s” Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki gave the musicians A wink can have a special effect. In the 21st century where management is flatter, perhaps for young musicians of Lisiecki’s generation, the role of conductor is not so much a traditional top-down “commander” as an “arbiter”. Plays a balancing role between musicians. To use Goethe’s description of the essence of chamber music works, it is already “a dialogue between several rational people”.
When Technology Helps Art

  In the 20th century, with the development of recording and broadcasting technology, many musicians, including conductors, were able to leave their sound archives. These commercially or non-commercially packaged vinyl records or CDs can preserve the characteristics of the conductor and the orchestra at a certain period of time, and are of considerable artistic value.
  Just as with any technology, there are fears that it will displace or degrade certain industries, so recording technology and the recording industry have their naysayers in the music world. The Romanian conductor Celibidak, who is known as “the conductor geek”, hates recording very much. He believes that every performance is a unique level of spiritual communication, which is a creative process that is difficult to replicate with recording technology. The amazingly eloquent master also used “watching pornographic magazines to masturbate instead of having sex” as a metaphor for listening to records or the radio instead of listening to live concerts.

  It is true that Celibidak has some truths in his understanding of conducting, but in terms of the entire music circle, his views can only belong to the minority. It is also because the record company made records of the radio archives of his past live performances against his wishes after his death, which made his reputation so much higher after his death than during his lifetime.
  For most conductors, the technological advances of the 20th century have helped them achieve careers and incomes unimaginable to their 19th-century counterparts. During World War II, the famous Italian conductor Toscanini, who was forced to go into exile in the United States because of his anti-fascist stance, took advantage of the well-developed radio network in the United States at that time to hold a studio concert held regularly on Saturdays. A large number of classical music lovers have been cultivated on the land.
  In the era when the recording industry was booming, the United States, which was originally ridiculed by the old Europeans as a “cultural desert”, ushered in a booming symphony orchestra. The economic scale of the United States is not comparable to that of a single European country. After the end of World War II, the quality of the symphony orchestras in the United States has been catching up with the old European orchestras that were devastated by the war. Different American cities have also ushered in different orchestra styles: the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra has the most mellow in North America. The unmatched brass group of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is very suitable for the interpretation of late Romantic works; the Boston Symphony Orchestra was once the authority on the interpretation of French genre works; the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra is the benchmark for German-Austrian classical works; the oldest The New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, which emerged in the 1970s, have witnessed the premiere of many local works in the United States.

  From the 1950s to the 1970s, those conductors from old Europe, especially those with Jewish blood on their bodies, might have been buried in Nazi concentration camps, but with the blessing of new technologies, they made a comeback in the United States. At the stage when I first listened to classical music, I remembered the benchmarking relationship between conductors and record companies: the Hungarian master Fritz Reiner who was in charge of Chicago belonged to RCA; Er was at Columbia Records …
  but the conductor who most commercially exploited recording technology was perhaps Herbert von Karajan, the artistic director of the Berliner Philharmoniker. The profile photo of Karajan with silver hair, wearing a tuxedo and holding a baton has become the only impression of a “conductor” for many people who have never listened to classical music. I’m disgusted that some people label him a “commanding emperor”, but Karajan has indeed achieved remarkable achievements in terms of market value. By the time of his death in 1989, Karajan had released 200 million albums and left a legacy of 250 million euros to his widow, including the famous cars, private jets and yachts that the conductor loved during his lifetime.
Who is the next lucky one?

  The master conductor who loves to study technology, likes to play with various machines and race cars, seems to have distinct modern characteristics. Karajan was undoubtedly lucky: his prime of life coincided with the period when the recording industry was making great strides, and in his later years he encountered the emergence of compact disc technology (that is, CD), and many of his conducting art crystallizations were presented in high-quality The recording is saved. Those old masters who were many years older than him were not so lucky. Once, when Toscanini was recording a record, he was stopped by the sound engineer because the band’s ups and downs were too strong, which would cause the machine to malfunction. “Then let the machine explode! My art is like this!” Toscanini’s roar also reflected the master’s helplessness towards the technology of that era.
  By the way, some music fans probably still remember the photo of the old Karajan holding a CD and talking with the chairman of Sony. The story behind this photo is: Karajan’s old owner, Deutsche Grammophon, was unwilling to spend money on production and production of CDs at the beginning. Karajan threatened to switch to Sony and forced Deutsche Grammophon to develop the CD business.

  Conductors and orchestra management are always exploring the opportunities presented by the next wave of technological innovation.

  Today, Deutsche Grammophon really wants to thank Karajan for his backlash. The “Golden Disc” album re-recorded with CD technology in the last 10 years of Karajan’s life, together with assets such as millions of records re-recorded from vinyl, ensured that the company’s record industry and even the music industry as a whole went downhill. Have a considerable income.
  If Karajan is the pinnacle of the combination of conducting art and recording technology, then his death marks a watershed. A group of “Mesozoic” conductors cultivated by Karajan, such as Seiji Ozawa, Abbado, Muti, and Mehta, once wore the aura of “star conductors” in the 1990s and around the millennium , but has never created a commercial miracle as large as Karajan.
  In the second decade of the 21st century, conductors and orchestra management have been exploring the opportunities presented by the next wave of technological innovation. For example, the Berlin Philharmonic uses network technology to create an “electronic concert hall” platform that requires payment, or some other orchestras and conductors preemptively launch their own brands through online streaming.
  Artificial intelligence may be the next wave of technology to complement, not replace, symphony orchestras and conductors. For example, some people with severe physical disabilities may be able to use artificial intelligence or robots to achieve their wish to be a conductor? Just as recording technology allows me, who was born far away from the birthplace of classical music, to enter its vast world, I also expect the new wave of technology to allow more people to enjoy music.

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