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