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The magical moment, the magical moment of conducting. Which is, you go onto a stage. There is an orchestra sitting. They are all, you know, warming up and doing stuff. And I go on the podium. You know, this little office of the conductor. Or rather a cubicle, an open-space cubicle, with a lot of space. And in front of all that noise, you do a very small gesture. Something like this, not very pomp, not very sophisticated, this. And suddenly, out of the chaos, order. Noise becomes music.
And this is fantastic. And it's so tempting to think that it's all about me. (Laughter) All those great people here, virtuosos, they make noise, they need me to do that. Not really. If it were that, I would just save you the talk, and teach you the gesture. So you could go out to the world and do this thing in whatever company or whatever you want, and you have perfect harmony. It doesn't work. Let's look at the first video. I hope you'll think it's a good example of harmony. And then speak a little bit about how it comes about.
Was that nice? So that was a sort of a success. Now, who should we thank for the success? I mean, obviously the orchestra musicians playing beautifully, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. They don't often even look at the conductor. Then you have the clapping audience, yeah, actually taking part in doing the music. You know Viennese audiences usually don't interfere with the music. This is the closest to an Oriental bellydancing feast that you will ever get in Vienna. (Laughter)
Unlike, for example Israel, where audiences cough all the time. You know, Arthur Rubinstein, the pianist, used to say that, "Anywhere in the world, people that have the flu, they go to the doctor. In Tel Aviv they come to my concerts." (Laughter) So that's a sort of a tradition. But Viennese audiences do not do that. Here they go out of their regular, just to be part of that, to become part of the orchestra, and that's great. You know, audiences like you, yeah, make the event.
But what about the conductor? What can you say the conductor was doing, actually? Um, he was happy. And I often show this to senior management. People get annoyed. "You come to work. How come you're so happy?" Something must be wrong there, yeah? But he's spreading happiness. And I think the happiness, the important thing is this happiness does not come from only his own story and his joy of the music. The joy is about enabling other people's stories to be heard at the same time.
You have the story of the orchestra as a professional body. You have the story of the audience as a community. Yeah. You have the stories of the individuals in the orchestra and in the audience. And then you have other stories, unseen. People who build this wonderful concert hall. People who made those Stradivarius, Amati, all those beautiful instruments. And all those stories are being heard at the same time. This is the true experience of a live concert. That's a reason to go out of home. Yeah? And not all conductors do just that. Let's see somebody else, a great conductor. Riccardo Muti, please.
Yeah, that was very short, but you could see it's a completely different figure. Right? He's awesome. He's so commanding. Yeah? So clear. Maybe a little bit over-clear. Can we have a little demonstration? Would you be my orchestra for a second? Can you sing, please, the first note of Don Giovanni? You have to sing "Aaaaaah," and I'll stop you. Okay? Ready?
Itay Talgam: So we'll have a little chat later. (Laughter) But ... There is a vacancy for a ... But -- (Laughter) -- you could see that you could stop an orchestra with a finger. Now what does Riccardo Muti do? He does something like this ... (Laughter) And then -- sort of -- (Laughter) So not only the instruction is clear, but also the sanction, what will happen if you don't do what I tell you. (Laughter) So, does it work? Yes, it works -- to a certain point.
When Muti is asked, "Why do you conduct like this?" He says, "I'm responsible." Responsible in front of him. No he doesn't really mean Him. He means Mozart, which is -- (Laughter) -- like a third seat from the center. (Laughter) So he says, "If I'm -- (Applause) if I'm responsible for Mozart, this is going to be the only story to be told. It's Mozart as I, Riccardo Muti, understand it."
And you know what happened to Muti? Three years ago he got a letter signed by all 700 employees of La Scala, musical employees, I mean the musicians, saying, "You're a great conductor. We don't want to work with you. Please resign." (Laughter) "Why? Because you don't let us develop. You're using us as instruments, not as partners. And our joy of music, etc., etc. ..." So he had to resign. Isn't that nice? (Laughter) He's a nice guy. He's a really nice guy. Well, can you do it with less control, or with a different kind of control? Let's look at the next conductor, Richard Strauss.
I'm afraid you'll get the feeling that I really picked on him because he's old. It's not true. When he was a young man of about 30, he wrote what he called "The Ten Commandments for Conductors." The first one was: If you sweat by the end of the concert it means that you must have done something wrong. That's the first one. The fourth one you'll like better. It says: Never look at the trombones -- it only encourages them. (Laughter)
So, the whole idea is really to let it happen by itself. Do not interfere. But how does it happen? Did you see him turning pages in the score? Now, either he is senile, and doesn't remember his own music, because he wrote the music. Or he is actually transferring a very strong message to them, saying, "Come on guys. You have to play by the book. So it's not about my story. It's not about your story. It's only the execution of the written music, no interpretation." Interpretation is the real story of the performer. So, no, he doesn't want that. That's a different kind of control. Let's see another super-conductor, a German super-conductor. Herbert von Karajan, please.
What's different? Did you see the eyes? Closed. Did you see the hands? Did you see this kind of movement? Let me conduct you. Twice. Once like a Muti, and you'll -- (Claps) -- clap, just once. And then like Karajan. Let's see what happens. Okay? Like Muti. You ready? Because Muti ... (Laughter) Okay? Ready? Let's do it.
Itay Talgam: Why not together? (Laughter) Because you didn't know when to play. Now I can tell you, even the Berlin Philharmonic doesn't know when to play. (Laughter) But I'll tell you how they do it. No cynicism. This is a German orchestra, yes? They look at Karajan. And then they look at each other. (Laughter) "Do you understand what this guy wants?" And after doing that, they really look at each other, and the first players of the orchestra lead the whole ensemble in playing together.
And when Karajan is asked about it he actually says, "Yes, the worst damage I can do to my orchestra is to give them a clear instruction. Because that would prevent the ensemble, the listening to each other that is needed for an orchestra." Now that's great. What about the eyes? Why are the eyes closed? There is a wonderful story about Karajan conducting in London. And he cues in a flute player like this. The guy has no idea what to do. (Laughter) "Maestro, with all due respect, when should I start?" What do you think Karajan's reply was? When should I start? Oh yeah. He says, "You start when you can't stand it anymore." (Laughter)
Meaning that you know you have no authority to change anything. It's my music. The real music is only in Karajan's head. And you have to guess my mind. So you are under tremendous pressure because I don't give you instruction, and yet, you have to guess my mind. So it's a different kind of, a very spiritual but yet very firm control. Can we do it in another way? Of course we can. Let's go back to the first conductor we've seen: Carlos Kleiber, his name. Next video, please.
(Laughter) Yeah. Well, it is different. But isn't that controlling in the same way? No, it's not, because he is not telling them what to do. When he does this, it's not, "Take your Stradivarius and like Jimi Hendrix, smash it on the floor." It's not that. He says, "This is the gesture of the music. I'm opening a space for you to put in another layer of interpretation." That is another story.
But how does it really work together if it doesn't give them instructions? It's like being on a rollercoaster. Yeah? You're not really given any instructions, but the forces of the process itself keep you in place. That's what he does. The interesting thing is of course the rollercoaster does not really exist. It's not a physical thing. It's in the players' heads.
And that's what makes them into partners. You have the plan in your head. You know what to do, even though Kleiber is not conducting you. But here and there and that. You know what to do. And you become a partner building the rollercoaster, yeah, with sound, as you actually take the ride. This is very exciting for those players. They do need to go to a sanatorium for two weeks, later. (Laughter) It is very tiring. Yeah? But it's the best music making, like this.
But of course it's not only about motivation and giving them a lot of physical energy. You also have to be very professional. And look again at this Kleiber. Can we have the next video, quickly? You'll see what happens when there is a mistake.
(Music) Again you see the beautiful body language. (Music) And now there is a trumpet player who does something not exactly the way it should be done. Go along with the video. Look. See, second time for the same player. (Laughter) And now the third time for the same player. (Laughter) "Wait for me after the concert. I have a short notice to give you." You know, when it's needed, the authority is there. It's very important. But authority is not enough to make people your partners.
Let's see the next video, please. See what happens here. You might be surprised having seen Kleiber as such a hyperactive guy. He's conducting Mozart. (Music) The whole orchestra is playing. (Music) Now something else. (Music) See? He is there 100 percent, but not commanding, not telling what to do. Rather enjoying what the soloist is doing. (Music)
Another solo now. See what you can pick up from this. (Music) Look at the eyes. Okay. You see that? First of all, it's a kind of a compliment we all like to get. It's not feedback. It's an "Mmmm ..." Yeah, it comes from here. So that's a good thing. And the second thing is it's about actually being in control, but in a very special way. When Kleiber does -- did you see the eyes, going from here? (Singing) You know what happens? Gravitation is no more.
Kleiber not only creates a process, but also creates the conditions in the world in which this process takes place. So again, the oboe player is completely autonomous and therefore happy and proud of his work, and creative and all of that. And the level in which Kleiber is in control is in a different level. So control is no longer a zero-sum game. You have this control. You have this control. And all you put together, in partnership, brings about the best music. So Kleiber is about process. Kleiber is about conditions in the world.
But you need to have process and content to create the meaning. Lenny Bernstein, my own personal maestro. Since he was a great teacher, Lenny Bernstein always started from the meaning. Look at this, please.
Do you remember the face of Muti, at the beginning? Well he had a wonderful expression, but only one. (Laughter) Did you see Lenny's face? You know why? Because the meaning of the music is pain. And you're playing a painful sound. And you look at Lenny and he's suffering. But not in a way that you want to stop. It's suffering, like, enjoying himself in a Jewish way, as they say. (Laughter) But you can see the music on his face. You can see the baton left his hand. No more baton. Now it's about you, the player, telling the story. Now it's a reversed thing. You're telling the story. And you're telling the story. And even briefly, you become the storyteller to which the community, the whole community, listens to. And Bernstein enables that. Isn't that wonderful?
Now, if you are doing all the things we talked about, together, and maybe some others, you can get to this wonderful point of doing without doing. And for the last video, I think this is simply the best title. My friend Peter says, "If you love something, give it away." So, please.
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An orchestra conductor faces the ultimate leadership challenge: creating perfect harmony without saying a word. In this charming talk, Itay Talgam demonstrates the unique styles of six great 20th-century conductors, illustrating crucial lessons for all leaders.
After a decade-long conducting career in his native Israel, Itay Talgam has reinvented himself as a conductor of people in business. Full bio »