The Conductor

by Barak Fravasi

Before the Philharmonic’s performance of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, the conductor Flemming had made remarks to the audience that he claimed were intended to help the audience appreciate the piece, but were in fact misleading and inflammatory, the critic had written. If I may be allowed two quick introductory comments, Flemming had begun with a smile, holding his hands out before him, the smile noted by the critic in his review, first for those of you who have never before heard Bruckner performed live you must suspend all sense of time. This comment had provoked mild laughter from several sections of the orchestra, where the tickets had been priced at $78, whereas no such reaction could be  observed from the balcony audience who had paid either $24 or  $36 for their tickets. When Bruckner composed the Fourth Symphony, the conductor continued, life was generally slower than it is today, Bruckner’s audience not in any great hurry, he had added with a smile, and the critic had found no fault with this.  But the remark that followed, his second remark, though not introduced as such by Flemming, was quite different in character, wrote the critic. The Fourth Symphony, he noted, ran to just over an hour and, in Bruckner’s day, what with shorter life expectancies, “Et cetera” added the conductor in a puzzling way, wrote the critic, it was not uncommon for one or two members of the orchestra to lose consciousness or even pass away, to die, during a  performance, and indeed the opening movement is scored for what must be considered  spare strings, extra horns and even surplus percussion, he had said, claiming further that the audience must not be alarmed should one of the musicians pass away during the evening’s performance even now. The critic noted that whereas the conductor had no doubt meant to introduce a certain amount of suspense into the performance, and to thereby heighten the experience of listening to Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, suspense that would almost certainly not be provided by the score itself or by the craft of the musicians, the critic added, such deception was inappropriate and unforgivably condescending.

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