Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Maestro David Robertson talks about the passion

I spent one morning last week observing David Robertson rehearse The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra through some rough spots in a program of modern music. I sketched David as he worked, and I jotted down some of his advice and observations on the sketches.

Although I was avid to see how perhaps the greatest working conductor leads his orchestra - telling the tuba player how to attack his last note, counting off beats with the sound "bup," and trying to conjure a feeling that is "the most elemental" - I also enjoyed the more simple human asides.

David admitted to being a little tired (though he didn't act it), because he had been up until midnight the night before, sitting in as one of the 100 guitarists in Glenn Branca's temporary St. Louis guitar orchestra. And he apologized for interrupting one run-through of a passage from Varese because his copy of the score to Arcana had been with him since 1977 and was becoming too wornout to cooperate on the conductor's stand anymore.

After rehearsal was concluded, I waited for my opportunity to approach him. David fluttered around with his musicians, chatting and enthusing like a guy who knows he has the best job in town and was in no hurry to leave work. Finally, I pulled his coat and asked him to sign one of my sketches (well, actually, two; I also had him sign one with Branca that Branca had signed). David is a gracious guy; he signed them for me.

He also is a generous artist and leader of artists. When I told him how much I had enjoyed rehearsal, he said, "I know! You get to see how (expletive) AMAZING they are! You ask for more passion - not a better note, not a more accurate count, but a specific kind of passion - and you run back through it, and there it is! The passion you had asked for. That's why they are the best orchestra in the states."

Talk about the passion. He was thoroughly worked up in saying all this to me.

Then he leaned toward me, a bit. He said, "It's like the Yankees. You can pay more money to get more stars on your team. But it doesn't make it a better team."

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