[by Shelby Heinecke ’13]
THE Gustavo Dudamel, you know, the hip, vivacious, and inspiring Venezuelan conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, visited MIT last Friday to receive the 2010 Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts (i.e. $75,000 cash prize and on-campus residency). In addition, he conducted the MIT Symphony Orchestra in an open rehearsal and the following day, he participated in a panel discussion with MIT professors John Harbison and Tod Machover that was moderated by PBS journalist Maria Hinojosa. As you might have known, I am a violinist in MITSO, and I experienced his incredible conducting. I was in the presence of a musical genius.
ABOVE: Gustavo Dudamel. Looks young, huh? He’s only 28!
Dudamel conducted us in two quite monumental pieces—”Prague” Symphony No. 38 by Mozart and “Capriccio Espagnol” by Rimsky-Korsokov. These were pieces that MITSO performed in October 2009, so we were already comfortable with the notes and rhythms. We generally felt that we “knew” the music. Yet Dudamel was able to teach us so much about the music that we did not know. He enlightened us. His teaching and insight enhanced our musicality and helped us to sculpt phrases ever so beautifully. Our playing went from outstanding to masterful at some points. Even the audience could hear the subtle changes in interpretation. They witnessed our musical growth. In fact, after the show, an audience member came to me and told me that he even felt a sense of triumph when we masterfully performed a particular measure of the Mozart symphony with the guidance of Dudamel.
ABOVE: It’s me! On the MIT Newletter and MIT News website.
Music is more than just notes and rhythm. It is about expressing emotions, feelings, moods, and ideas. This is the purpose of the art of music. And Dudamel reminded us MIT musicians of this fact. With the help of notes and rhythms, we are able to paint a picture or share emotions, but to do so fully, musicality, interpretation, and emotion are necessary. There is indeed a huge difference between simply playing what is written in your music and playing for the purpose of creating a work of art. And to create a brilliant work of art, you not only need talented musicians, but also a knowledgeable and enlightening conductor, such at Gustavo Dudamel. I think the idea of an open rehearsal was excellent. It demonstrated, to audience members, the importance of a conductor in an orchestra, which is an especially great learning experience for audience members who do not play an instrument. I have had many friends, who are not musical, inquire about the purpose of a conductor. And I am generally overwhelmed with such a question. After this open rehearsal, I think the audience members would understand why. The conductor is not a regulator for the orchestra, but rather, a sculptor, a historian, an artist, and an interpreter.