I have been thinking lately of the presence of energy in music - it heals, it moves, it is alive in a very real manner. It is the open sharing between musicians internally and with an audience that creates a memorable performance, and for a conductor, it is of primary importance. What is the music trying to say and how can one capture this physically and psychologically?
I've watched many conductors at this point, and there are some truly great ones that I would have a hard time following as a player. Furtwangler as an older example, and Gergiev as a modern one. But when I've seen them perform, something is happening: the music seems to be so deeply internalized, and their response so present tense, almost as if the music is completely alive in each breath and gesture; something happens in the sound of the orchestra, even if the musicians have a hard time intellectually understanding what that is, many times because they are simply working hard to keep things together! However, these conductors are seemingly inside the music and the sound is vibrating freely in them. Despite a lack of physical clarity, music emerges that is specific and unique, organic and fluid, connected and real, dynamic and soulful, as if something is being created for the first time ever. I admire this greatly and have been working to combine this effect with clarity, although I have to say that sometimes being technically proficient can actually get in the way believe it or not! Being attuned to business always needs to be subserviant to truthful connection.
Creating space to receive energy on the podium allows one to give it in return. It's like the magnetism that exists between two people who are in love, who are open and vulnerable, and who feed off the other's individual expression of deeply felt emotion. I find that even those musicians who are jaded can be reminded of why they started into this crazy profession if a conductor's love for music is sincere and open, and if one is really responding to what is being said. Who doesn't like to be listened to? The resultant energy can be amazing!
I think if one really lives each moment in music, then there is a musical nuclear fission that occurs. In those precious places and times, the music, the performers, the audience, all become one thing, as if the finger of God comes down and touches everyone on the most elemental level. If you have had this experience you know it is simply life altering.
I know Albert Einstein, despite being a patent reader for a number of years, and having received the most devastating rejection in the early part of his career, kept daydreaming in order to find some of the most elemental physical truths in our universe. He was considered a slacker, yet in truth, by wandering in thought and by being open despite the complete lack of recognition of his gifts by others, he uncovered much of what has shaped modern space/time thought. I'm not sure if another Einstein will come along and uncover how musical energy translates into the soulful moments that have moved people for centuries, but I can say energy that is dedicated, specific, open, sensitive, strong, and shared is at the heart of what makes the greatest sounds ever imagined so persuasive and restoring, even in times that are difficult.
We all need to be working every day to find ways to become more physically and mentally open - a tough task in today's blackberry, constant news, pressure to succeed world. However, I think the more we are able to work on simple breathing, the more energy we'll have, if through nothing else, a bit more oxygen! Through this we should have more inspiration, more laughter, and more opportunities to be moved by the music making of others and the generous response of audiences, even if we don't fully understand the Einstein like truths of healing energy in sound quite yet!