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Music as Alchemy: Journeys with Great Conductors and Their Orchestras

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How are conductors' silent gestures magicked into sound by a group of more than a hundred brilliant but belligerent musicians? The mute choreography of great conductors has fascinated and frustrated musicians and music-lovers for centuries, from Toscanini to Karajan, from Carlos Kleiber to Gustavo Dudamel. Orchestras can be inspired to the heights of musical and expressive How are conductors' silent gestures magicked into sound by a group of more than a hundred brilliant but belligerent musicians? The mute choreography of great conductors has fascinated and frustrated musicians and music-lovers for centuries, from Toscanini to Karajan, from Carlos Kleiber to Gustavo Dudamel. Orchestras can be inspired to the heights of musical and expressive possibility by their maestros, or flabbergasted that someone who doesn't even make a sound should be elevated to demigod-like status by the public. This is the first book to go inside the rehearsal rooms of some of the most inspirational orchestral partnerships in the world. It's the first to see how Simon Rattle works with his musicians at the Berlin Philharmonic, how Mariss Jansons deals with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, and how Claudio Abbado creates the world's most luxurious pick-up band every year with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. From London to Budapest, Bamberg to Vienna, great orchestral concerts are recreated as a collection of countless human and musical stories. The book reveals how the catalysts of place, time, and personal history are alchemised into the indelible magic of life-changing performances.


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How are conductors' silent gestures magicked into sound by a group of more than a hundred brilliant but belligerent musicians? The mute choreography of great conductors has fascinated and frustrated musicians and music-lovers for centuries, from Toscanini to Karajan, from Carlos Kleiber to Gustavo Dudamel. Orchestras can be inspired to the heights of musical and expressive How are conductors' silent gestures magicked into sound by a group of more than a hundred brilliant but belligerent musicians? The mute choreography of great conductors has fascinated and frustrated musicians and music-lovers for centuries, from Toscanini to Karajan, from Carlos Kleiber to Gustavo Dudamel. Orchestras can be inspired to the heights of musical and expressive possibility by their maestros, or flabbergasted that someone who doesn't even make a sound should be elevated to demigod-like status by the public. This is the first book to go inside the rehearsal rooms of some of the most inspirational orchestral partnerships in the world. It's the first to see how Simon Rattle works with his musicians at the Berlin Philharmonic, how Mariss Jansons deals with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, and how Claudio Abbado creates the world's most luxurious pick-up band every year with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. From London to Budapest, Bamberg to Vienna, great orchestral concerts are recreated as a collection of countless human and musical stories. The book reveals how the catalysts of place, time, and personal history are alchemised into the indelible magic of life-changing performances.

30 review for Music as Alchemy: Journeys with Great Conductors and Their Orchestras

  1. 4 out of 5

    Leo

    My mother is a classical music devotee. Me, not so much, I'm guessing it takes time and maturity to really get into music that requires your full atention and devotion like classical does. You can't just listen to it in the background while writing a Goodreads review. But anyways, even though I don't know anything about musical technique (I tried, it wasn't for me), I was curious to read this book, to learn about the different styles of conducting the maestro use, even if I could never grasp the My mother is a classical music devotee. Me, not so much, I'm guessing it takes time and maturity to really get into music that requires your full atention and devotion like classical does. You can't just listen to it in the background while writing a Goodreads review. But anyways, even though I don't know anything about musical technique (I tried, it wasn't for me), I was curious to read this book, to learn about the different styles of conducting the maestro use, even if I could never grasp the whole point about it because I don't know the technique. However, Tom Service (who has a musical background) manages to be detailed with those who know the tecnique but also informative to us laymen. He followed the different conductors of this book through Europe, listening at rehearsals and concerts, speaking to the conducts and their orquestras to learn how the operate within themselves and the orquestras, to see how the members of the orquestra feel about them as both a person, a maestro and a conductor. And in doing so, Service manages to transmit such emotion just describing what happened during a rehersal or a concert. I was mesmerized, on the edge of tears at some points just reading the way he descibed what was happening. You could feel Service's emotion of being seated in a concert hall listening to a maestro. Thank you, Tom Service, for piquing my interest.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Scott Waite

    Why should anyone pay attention to conductors and the way that they lead orchestras in the twenty-first century? Is the role of Maestro becoming a bit of an anachronistic holdover from the nineteenth century? What are some of the differences from today's leaders of orchestras vs. in past epochs? These were a few of the questions that I wanted to have answered when I first previewed "Music as Alchemy" on my Nook. Having completed the work, I can state that the book offers a wealth of discussion on Why should anyone pay attention to conductors and the way that they lead orchestras in the twenty-first century? Is the role of Maestro becoming a bit of an anachronistic holdover from the nineteenth century? What are some of the differences from today's leaders of orchestras vs. in past epochs? These were a few of the questions that I wanted to have answered when I first previewed "Music as Alchemy" on my Nook. Having completed the work, I can state that the book offers a wealth of discussion on each of these topics and really gives readers a great overview of why Conductors still matter. Below are some thoughts about why I highly recommend the read. 1) The format is easy to follow and built to help an amateur understand the social and musical workings of moderm orchestras and most especially their leaders. This is an enlightening journey following six conductors and their orchestras as each prepares for a concert. 2) There is insight given from a variety of sources. Service makes use of not only the conductor's opinion but also gives insight from the perspective of the members of the orchestra. He largely leaves his own views to himself (with one notable exception below) and allows the reader to form his or her own conclusions. 3) As opposed to some other works (tomes really) on conductors and conducting, Service makes his arguments very concisely and makes it easy to finish his work without resorting to hundreds of hours to sift through the work. It is therefore, entirely readable. Truly, "Music as Alchemy" deserves to be a 4.5 star rating, but there were a couple of things that irritated me slightly and prevent me from giving full 5 stars. First, when talking about the Berlin Philharmonic, there was a bit less attention given to Sir Simon Rattle than in other chapters and quite a bit of discussion from ochestra members. I don't know if Service was not able to get many interviews with Sir Simon, but I would have loved to hear more of his opinions and less of those from the orchestra. Second, Service becomes slightly more opinionated when it comes to Claudio Abbado. There was more attention given to the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in the book than any other orchestra in the book. In conclusion, if you are looking for an exhaustive, heavily researched and annotated book that is bound to be a seminal work of 21st Century condoctors, look elsewhere. If, however, you are interested in a book that really gives an enjoyable accounting for why Maestros are still important and why Classical Music continues to endure, read this book!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rajesh Kandaswamy

    This is a fantastic book at many levels. Tom Service, a music journalist, visited the rehearsals and ensuing performances of six classical music conductors. This book describes those experiences. First, for anyone wondering what a good conductor does really, this book helps understand what they do better. It opens the door to rehearsals, and they appear surprisingly lighter, briefer and the role of a conductor gentler than what I assumed. The author’s explanation of the music, the ability to wri This is a fantastic book at many levels. Tom Service, a music journalist, visited the rehearsals and ensuing performances of six classical music conductors. This book describes those experiences. First, for anyone wondering what a good conductor does really, this book helps understand what they do better. It opens the door to rehearsals, and they appear surprisingly lighter, briefer and the role of a conductor gentler than what I assumed. The author’s explanation of the music, the ability to write about the complexity and the impact it creates on the audience is very enjoyable, especially for one who struggles with expressing complexity and the beauty of what he enjoys. He accomplishes that without too deep a dip into technical jargon. But, this book is much more than that. It is a refreshing take on a different type of expert leadership and various types of them through these conductors. Each conductor aims for a very high level of achievement for the orchestra’s performance but there is a version of that excellence that they strive for which is not visible prior to the performance. The tools the conductors employ to gently bring this out with the mature and accomplished musicians in short duration is so different from everyday leadership that you see described in management literature. These conductors have such a nuanced understanding of their orchestra, its opportunities and its constraints. Their knowledge of the music in question and the composer and everything around it is deep. They seem to bring all this together subtly and gently while not being dictatorial. Lastly, for anyone who has to perform or present, this book shows how groups of people aspire and strive very hard to achieve wonderful performances.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Newton

    Generally interesting.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Will White

    This was a good book, but it's funny how reading it in 2020, it already feels a bit dated, having been written in 2012. I feel like these days, the issues addressed in a book about leading conductors would be quite different. All that being said, this book did a good job straddling the line between maestro mythology and analyzing how different people go about making music. It's hard. A lot of what makes one conductor different from another simply boils down to personality, and I thought that Serv This was a good book, but it's funny how reading it in 2020, it already feels a bit dated, having been written in 2012. I feel like these days, the issues addressed in a book about leading conductors would be quite different. All that being said, this book did a good job straddling the line between maestro mythology and analyzing how different people go about making music. It's hard. A lot of what makes one conductor different from another simply boils down to personality, and I thought that Service mostly did a good job of reflecting that in his prose. I'm a conductor myself, so I think I tend to look on books like this with a bit more skepticism than the average reader. Some of what he talks about is much more nuts-and-bolts than he necessarily gives it credit for, but it's probably ok for him to impart a bit of mystery to the craft.

  6. 5 out of 5

    GONZA

    Eight different conductors and their most impressive performances. The reason why a conductor can be even more important than the more talented musician in the orchestra and what does it conducting really implies. The most interesting for me were the chapter about Simon Rattle (because I live in Berlin and I had the pleasure of listening to his Berliners) and of course Claudio Abbado, because he was Italian. Otto differenti direttori d'orchestra e le loro memorabili performance. Le ragioni per cu Eight different conductors and their most impressive performances. The reason why a conductor can be even more important than the more talented musician in the orchestra and what does it conducting really implies. The most interesting for me were the chapter about Simon Rattle (because I live in Berlin and I had the pleasure of listening to his Berliners) and of course Claudio Abbado, because he was Italian. Otto differenti direttori d'orchestra e le loro memorabili performance. Le ragioni per cui un direttore puó essere di gran lunga più importante del più talentuoso musicista dell'ensemble e che cosa implica veramente il dirigere un'orchestra. Per quanto mi riguarda i capitoli che piú mi sono piaciuti sono quelli su Simon Rattle (che ho ascoltato dal vivo con i suoi Berliner) e quello su Claudio Abbado, che era italiano. THANKS TO EDELWEISS FOR THE PREVIEW!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Zoe

    just wanna share this quote: 'in orchestras, we find a way of making a large group of incredibly strong personalities work together, so why on earth aren't politicians interested in learning from us?'.This book was so interesting to me! Going in-depth into top orchestras and seeing the mechanics and how they work together was fascinating. I often watch classical concerts and think 'do they really need a conductor?' and after reading this book the answer is YES. 'Listen, only listen'. just wanna share this quote: 'in orchestras, we find a way of making a large group of incredibly strong personalities work together, so why on earth aren't politicians interested in learning from us?'.This book was so interesting to me! Going in-depth into top orchestras and seeing the mechanics and how they work together was fascinating. I often watch classical concerts and think 'do they really need a conductor?' and after reading this book the answer is YES. 'Listen, only listen'.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    I am a professional classical musician, and I adored this book. The conductors and orchestras were all people and groups that I was familiar with as a listener, so to be privy to these behind-the-scenes glimpses, if you will, was a sublime treat. The real takeaway from this book, aside from the delightful and insightful commentary? The listening list gleaned throughout.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    You can only make music if you listen and cooperate - and this book is about how the conductor harnesses the energies of the group of musicians sitting in front of him (unfortunately still usually "him") to create a musical experience which can transform the lives of the listeners. There is a wealth of interesting (and even gossipy) detail, but in the end, it is impossible to nail down the conductor's art in words - after all, as Mahler said, if you could express it in words, you wouldn't need t You can only make music if you listen and cooperate - and this book is about how the conductor harnesses the energies of the group of musicians sitting in front of him (unfortunately still usually "him") to create a musical experience which can transform the lives of the listeners. There is a wealth of interesting (and even gossipy) detail, but in the end, it is impossible to nail down the conductor's art in words - after all, as Mahler said, if you could express it in words, you wouldn't need to express it in music; and the same is true of conducting. Nevertheless I feel now much better informed about how conductors approach their task and will benefit from this knowledge when watching concerts. The insights into the thoughts and attitudes of the players were also fascinating, as were the discussions of specific orchestral works.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Piritta

    Generally interesting is why i picked up this book from the library. I do not know too much about classical music, but I had at least heard of most of the orchestras in the book. There were some very interesting phases and a special credit is due for naming Susanna Mälkki, mentioning my hometown Lahti and following the rehearsals of a Sibelius piece. What drops the rating to only three stars is that I would've enjoyed showing more than tenuous explaining. Generally interesting is why i picked up this book from the library. I do not know too much about classical music, but I had at least heard of most of the orchestras in the book. There were some very interesting phases and a special credit is due for naming Susanna Mälkki, mentioning my hometown Lahti and following the rehearsals of a Sibelius piece. What drops the rating to only three stars is that I would've enjoyed showing more than tenuous explaining.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Videl Bar-kar

    Fantastic insight into the internal workings of the conductor - orchestra relationship.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Elaine T

    Wonderful insight to six conductors and their orchestras. This book will delight any orchestra lover.

  13. 4 out of 5

    James Stephenson

    Fascinating, well written and insightful - though I am a conductor, and I reserve judgement on how interesting this would be to non-musicians.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rod Ashley

  15. 4 out of 5

    Caleb Liu

  16. 4 out of 5

    Josh Julian

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

  18. 5 out of 5

    Linda Harris

  19. 5 out of 5

    Francesco Giuliani

  20. 5 out of 5

    Juan Colón

  21. 4 out of 5

    Catherine Dixon

  22. 5 out of 5

    Adrian

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ian Coffer

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mikhail Kirsanov

  25. 5 out of 5

    Valeria

  26. 4 out of 5

    Viive Jüriso

  27. 4 out of 5

    Andy Mast

  28. 4 out of 5

    Antonio

  29. 4 out of 5

    Karen Thomson

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sorina Zamfir

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