What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close
With rendition switcher

Transcript

Question: What qualities separate a great conductor from a mediocre conductor?

Alan Gilbert: It's kind of... it's like the duck:  you know it when you see it.  It's hard to describe a duck, but when you see a duck you know it's a duck because that's what a duck is.  A great conductor is someone who can work with musicians and stand in front of them and bring out the best in them and create a musical experience that communicates to the audience.  And it's hard to say what it is because there are conductors who are very clear and show the tempo in a very precise way and help the musicians play absolutely together, but something is missing.  The soul is not there; the spirit is not there.

And then there will be musicians or conductors who have no obvious technique and seem scrappy and all over the place, but something happens.  So what it means to conduct, actually, is sort of the basic question.  The idea of showing the tempo to help musicians play together is basic, but it's so much more than that.  It's about inspiring them and making the musicians feel that there's something in the music that they want to express.  And it’s, I would say it's very hard to put your finger on what exactly conducting is.  A conductor is the person who stands in front of the group and moves his or her arms.  But how to get the musicians to be able to play their best, but also even more importantly to want to play their best and communicate something to the audience. That's all part of the equation.

Question:
How critical are you when you attend a performance where someone else is conducting?

Alan Gilbert:  Well, it's hard to shut off the critical faculty because what we try to do as musicians is create the best possible musical line, and it involves many, many choices that hopefully don't sound like choices at the end of the day.  But when I listen to a piece that I know very well, it's impossible for me to avoid comparing it to how I feel about the piece.  Sometimes, in the most fortunate circumstances, listening to a concert I am able to forget about what I think about how I would do the piece and just join the party, as it were, and just allow the music to unfold.  That generally means that I think "Wow."  At the end of the concert I can think, "That was totally convincing.  That was a beautiful performance, and that really made sense.  And the depth of feeling, the depth of meaning and the music really came to life."

There’s so many layers on which to appreciate a performance.  There's the way the interpretation goes, as we were talking about.  But there's also how it's played, how much belief the performers have, how much technical skill they are able to bring to it, if there are mistakes, if there are things that don't go perfectly together, I mean, things like that can happen.  When I listen to the New York Philharmonic, whether I'm conducting or just listening in the audience, I can marvel at the amazing technical level and the ability of the players to operate their instruments.  That's a very exciting level in and of itself.  There are certain pieces that are fun for that reason, almost primarily.  You can just admire the way it's played.

I have to say it's sometimes hard for me to hear concerts because a lot of the music I hear I tend to have done myself, or know, and I try to leave my preconceptions and my prejudices at the door, but it's not always possible.

Recorded on June 18, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman

 

What Makes a Great Conductor?

Newsletter: Share: