The music from the orchestra crashes and roars around you like an ocean. The energy from it all quickens your pulse and carries you with it. You’re helpless to resist it. You feel like something is pulling at your soul, as if you could levitate out of your seat. This awesome power seems to be controlled by a little man on stage with white hair and a baton. You’ve all seen this guy. He’s the one waving his arms and imploring the musicians on stage to pour out their souls but to the untrained eye, it looks like they’re ignoring him.
The fact is, these symphony level musicians aren’t going to make much music without a leader, and the Maestro is that leader. Sometimes he rules with benevolence and sometimes he rules with a clenched iron fist, but the one thing that is true of every conductor is that he makes his money in the rehearsal, not the performance.
By the time the performance rolls around, the musicians, as excellent as they may be, are not playing Bach or Mozart, they are playing the Maestro’s music. And every instrument on stage is being played by one man – the Maestro.
I was invited to shoot the Fresno Choral Artists in performance with the National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia as a part of the Centenial Birthday Celebration of William Saroyan. He is a Pulitzer Prize winning author and playwright who was born in Fresno, CA. He is a very important figure to the local Armenian community and to Central California. He typifies the local-boy-who-succeeded-against-all-odds story.
I was prepared to shoot the chorus, until this magnetic man walked on stage and commanded respect just from his presence. His name is Aram Gharabekian and he is the Maestro in every sense of the word.
Every performance is preceeded by a final rehearsal. Typically this last rehearsal is a walk-through so the musicians and singers can hear the acoustics of the building. Not so with the Maestro. He demanded much from the orchestra and chorus early in the rehearsal and didn’t allow anyone to relax. He even chastised a member of the orchestra in front of everyone for not bringing a pencil to makes notes of what the Maestro wanted. The level of intensity continued to grow until the orchestra was playing at an almost performance level but the Maestro refused to relent. He wanted it all and he wanted it right now.
Don’t misunderstand, the Maestro was a witty and charming man, except when conducting. Everything was about the music when he raised the baton. If the music called for romantic, he wanted your heart. If it called for courage, he still wanted your heart. He wanted your complete involvement in every note, every phrase, and in doing so breathed life into the notes on the page – he gave this immortal music its soul.
The rehearsal process is an intimate one. How does a conductor express in words and gestures what he wants from music? And regardless of how trained or experienced the singers or musicians are, do they trust the conductor’s interpretation? How much of their soul are they willing to invest in the conductor’s vision?
The answer to these questions can only be heard in performance. The audience may be overwhelmed by the sound and the spectacle, but the Maestro and all the singers and musicians know by the last note that it was either a performance worthy of their efforts or something greater. Occasionally, a great synergy occurs when the musician’s soul touches the audience, and that is exactly what happened that night. The audience was well fed by the music and the energy they showed only increased the intensity on the stage. It went well above the intensity demanded in rehearsal, it went well above anyone’s hopes or imaginations.
It became art.
A posse ad esse.