The New York Philharmonic's Alan Gilbert on What Makes a Great Conductor

There's no set formula to what makes a great conductor, says Alan Gilbert, the music director of the New York Philharmonic; it's an ineffable quality that you know when you see it. "It's like the duck," says Gilbert. "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


In his Big Think interview, Gilbert talks about the importance of preparation in keeping his mind focused during a long performance. "I like to go into a rehearsal or a concert knowing

that I know how it's going to go," he says. "Not that I know exactly how it will

play out or how it will feel musically or artistically, but I don't

allow myself to enter a situation without doing adequate preparation.

That means focusing beforehand but also creating the situation in which

it's possible to be 100% focused in the moment."

Gilbert also talks about the challenge of getting dozens of musicians to play as one, talking about the particular challenge of trying to get a orchestra back together after one musician (or more) falls out of sync. "If there are conflicting currents

onstage, then you have to make a choice," he says. "You have to either give in or

insist. For the other musicians onstage, if they sense two currents, if

they say... for example, if I show one thing and they hear a response

to that that is not in sync, then they have a dilemma; they have to

choose, 'Do I go with what I see from the conductor or do I go with what

I hear?'" Gilbert says he instructs his orchestra in those situations to continue following his lead precisely, so as to take away the element of question.

Sometimes even a facial tic by a conductor can affect how musicians play. Gilbert describes how he keeps his expressions in tune with the music and also gives a brief lesson on how a conductor uses the baton to guide a disparate orchestra.

How to make a black hole

Here's the science of black holes, from supermassive monsters to ones the size of ping-pong balls.

  • There's more than one way to make a black hole, says NASA's Michelle Thaller. They're not always formed from dead stars. For example, there are teeny tiny black holes all around us, the result of high-energy cosmic rays slamming into our atmosphere with enough force to cram matter together so densely that no light can escape.
  • CERN is trying to create artificial black holes right now, but don't worry, it's not dangerous. Scientists there are attempting to smash two particles together with such intensity that it creates a black hole that would live for just a millionth of a second.
  • Thaller uses a brilliant analogy involving a rubber sheet, a marble, and an elephant to explain why different black holes have varying densities. Watch and learn!
  • Bonus fact: If the Earth became a black hole, it would be crushed to the size of a ping-pong ball.

Russian reporters discover 101 'tortured' whales jammed in offshore pens

Protected animals are feared to be headed for the black market.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • Russian news network discovers 101 black-market whales.
  • Orcas and belugas are seen crammed into tiny pens.
  • Marine parks continue to create a high-price demand for illegal captures.
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China’s artificial sun reaches fusion temperature: 100 million degrees

In a breakthrough for nuclear fusion research, scientists at China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor have produced temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion on Earth.

Credit: EAST Team
Surprising Science
  • The EAST reactor was able to heat hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
  • Nuclear fusion could someday provide the planet with a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
  • Still, scientists have many other obstacles to pass before fusion technology becomes a viable energy source.
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