Professional Interpretations

by Robert Li

During my childhood, my dad always referred to Herbert Karajan. He claimed Karajan conducted music better than anyone else. This seemed fascinating to me, particularly because I had little experience with classical music at the time. That one person had the power to interpret a piece of music for a large number of people was a foreign concept to me. What is the relationship between individual musician and conductor? How are the sentiments of the individual musician communicated to the rest of the audience? I think this is particularly interesting given the debate over whether a performance is simply the interpretation of the conductor or an amalgamation of thoughts and interpretations from both conductor and orchestra.

As we delve more into symphonies, I thought it would be interesting to see how great conductors approached them. In the video attached, we get to peer into how Karajan interpreted symphonies, how he wanted to convey that sound, and how he wanted his orchestra to recreate that sound. The first thing we notice in the video is Karajan’s incredible attention to detail. Even on the first notes of the symphony, he goes to great lengths to ensure that it’s drawn out: the bass enters first to set a foundation, then the rest of the instruments enter. Moreover, he emphasizes the contrast of pitches by pairing somber basses, airy flutes, and bright violins. It’s also interesting to see Karajan pace around and move his limbs around emphatically – Karajan’s passion radiates, and it seems to be contagious given the focused and excited gazes of the orchestra.