Sergei Rachmaninoff’s music, whether for solo piano or full orchestra, sounds rich and passionate to me. Listening to it this morning, a saying about performance popped into my head: if the performer is more interesting to watch than listening to the music, it’s not a musical performance. My teachers allowed for movement, certainly. But, extreme, vain or dramatic movement makes the performance more about the performer, not the music. A performer is not there to distract but to play the music.
Listening to Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony earlier today, my thoughts wandered to the question of why it’s not performed more often, then to visualizing a conductor conducting it. Of all the romantic music in the world, this symphony is probably in the top ten. To conduct it means to either go the schmaltzy, sentimental, freely interpretive route, or adhere strictly to the score. Rachmaninoff’s music tends to be challenging to play, so I’d think this symphony would require a lot of work, both off and on the podium. A conductor would be too busy, I should think, to indulge in any overly dramatic movements or to be thinking about himself in any way.
However…there is in conducting a certain amount of showmanship, specifically during concerts. The conductor also has the unusual position of his/her back to the audience, and being alone on the podium. There are no other musicians in his/her “section” to blend in with. The best conductors I’ve seen generally use their showman position to guide the audience on their journey with the music. It’s extremely rare to see a conductor conduct in an extremely overly dramatic way that calls way too much attention to him/her. The best ones do try to “blend” into the action on stage so that the music seems to manifest into the world of matter.
Now, I’d love to attend a concert with the Rachmaninoff Second Symphony on the program….