Vera Hui-pin Hsu  ³\´f«~    Conductor/Pianist





Prof. Richard Schechner

Taipei, 1 March 04


Beautiful concert hall at TNUA for Seiji Ozawa¡¦s rehearsal of the symphony with students. Never seen such a magnificent hall for students.


The orchestra¡Xat least 90 members¡Xare 90% women, young women. Maybe more. I can see only 2 men. The future of music, of the arts, is women; and maybe the future of symphonic music is Asian women.


I wonder if there is any reciprocity here. How would it be to be in, say, Berlin watching an all-European kabuki troupe being rehearsed by ¡K who would Ozawa¡¦s counterpart be? It would appear strange. It is still ¡§exotic¡¨ for Westerners to very seriously perform Eastern arts (or African, or anything non-Western). But not the opposite. Ballet, symphonic music, spoken drama¡Kall now belong to ¡§the world¡¨ and not just to the West. Is this post-colonial? What does it indicate.


At present the cacophony of the orchestra tuning up. The hall is half-full. People have been invited to listen to the rehearsal. At first, they seated us VIPs in the balcony, very far from the stage. But I resisted and went downstairs, where I am now sitting in the 6th row ¡V I chose the stage right so that I could watch Ozawa. Someone, not him, is now talking to the orchestra. Everyone is quiet onstage, listening. The audience however is chattering. We await the master.


But it isn¡¦t the master who takes the podium. A young woman is up there, conducting the orchestra in ¡K I don¡¦t know what, something symphonic and lyrical. The room is quiet, but outside in the hall, still some talking. The richness of the sound is overwhelming, rich like gravy. A man appears on stage left and indicates to the booth. Then the stage lights come up. The house is also fully lit.


The orchestra sounds terrific. I am not an expert, but it all sounds as perfect as can be.


It is 6:20 pm here.


The music is very familiar, though I can¡¦t name it. Brahms, I think; maybe a movement from the First Symphony. Yes, it is that great lyrical melody I used to pick out on the piano. It flows over me like warm water, a comfort from the great black grand piano on Renner Avenue, and the musky dark afternoons when I hung over that piano and picked out this melody ¡Vand the 4th movement of Beethoven¡¦s 9th.


Now the brass enters and meets the strings. This orchestra 12 cellos, 7 basses, and I don¡¦t know how many violins, in the 30s at least. Near the back of the semicircular stage are the woodwinds, the drums, and the brass. For the most part, under the young woman¡¦s confident direction, the orchestra is restrained, but now and again -- this very instant ¡V it bursts forth in all its magnificent and profoundly stirring strength.


Everyone of these players is young, some very young ¡V can¡¦t be out of their teens. The conductor, her back is to me, I can¡¦t tell how old she is, but not out of her 20s. Yet the orchestra is as good as any I have hear; not that I have heard that many live. And the richness of the wood paneled hall makes the sound go super rich. Everything in the hall is beige, the wood, the carpet the seats. And mostly all wood, even the seats. People keep streaming in. It is nearly full now.


The whole orchestra is dressed in black ¡V pants and blouses for the women, shirts for the men. Some with short sleeves, other with long sleeves. Black shoes. Everyone¡¦s hair is black or dark brown. All the hair is straight. But they all look very much alike. It is so uniform, like the music itself: symphonic.


The only touch of color I see: the pink in the barrette holding the dark brown hair of the conductor in place, forming a cascading broad rush of hair down her neck. Now in mid-phrase a man comes to the carter and stops them. The orchestra applauds. It must be Ozawa. He was the man who was there before. No it is not Ozawa. ¡§This is the Taiwanese teacher,¡¨ the man next to me tells me. The orchestra gets up and leaves the stage. On the floor are cellos laying on the floor, and the 7 basses, with the women still holding them as a friends takes their photo. Then  they set their instruments down also. The stage lights dim. The crowd assembled chatters. The hall is 90% full.


It is 6:34.


At 6:45 a woman comes onto the stage and announces (in Chinese) that Ozawa is ill, but he will arrive at 7pm.


At 5:55 the orchestra reassembles onstage. The first violinist leads the tune-up. Her chair is the first on the stage right of the podium. We await the master. Suddenly, silence. 6:58. Then, when nothing happens, the orchestra begins to tune-up again, the audience talks again. Now the assistant conductor arrives. The stage right door is opened ¡K the orchestra quiets again ¡K then tunes up again ¡K the door is shut. 7:01.


Door opens again. Chinese teacher enters, crosses to the stage left door. Orchestra quiets. He tries to open the door, but the stage left door is locked. At last it opens. And Ozawa appears ¡V the crowd goes wild. He is wearing a bright orange scarf. The only touch of color on the stage. 7:05.


He stands to the stage right, goes behind the orchestra. A woman on the mike explains in Chinese that Ozawa speaks Japanese and not English. The woman conductor mounts the podium. Ozawa is now center orchestra. He speaks to her. ¡§Fourth¡K¡¨ something. Someone brings Ozawa a chair, but he rejects it, and sits next to a player, back in the brass. The music begins. 7:08.


It sounds the same as before, as pre-Ozawa. But the room is so quiet I can hear my typing ¡V and then the music swells and my e-noise is washed away. I don¡¦t know the music. Lots of picattos, a little brass. They are fiddling with the lights. Houselights down. Again, the music moves to something very familiar, but I don¡¦t know what. I think it is Dvorak, New World Symphony, or something like that. Or it may be the Brahms again, a part I can¡¦t quite place.


Whatever it is, it is lyrical and beautiful. I think it is the Brahms. Ozawa is standing near the back, his orange scarf just blazing against the beige, browns, and blacks. Yes, it is the Brahms again. I will stop this infernal recording and just listen. 7:13.


7:16, Ozawa comes forward, stops the playing. He speaks to the conductor. ¡§Ping? Ping,¡¨ he says, getting her name. ¡§You hear me?¡¨ ¡§Yes,¡¨ says the crowd. Ozawa has a mike and is speaking. He sets his orange scarf down on the podium. 


¡§Brahms music to me is ¡K is ¡K to make more how you call ¡K nice ¡K to do this, most important is breath.¡¨ He breathes for them. He flutters his fingers. ¡§Can I hear this beginning ¡K the cello part, the melody with cello ¡K yeah. Three bars before, H.¡¨ And they begin again.


Ozawa is such a slight birdlike man. He looks like he weights nothing His glasses are set on his nose. He takes his glasses off ¡V ¡§I never do this kind of thing in front of people. I may use terrible words. I have no nice words to teach ¡K I work with you [orchestra] a little later, but now I work with her. Conducting is not necessary from ¡K ¡§ He conducts with her. ¡§You can do anything!¡¨ he says to the conductor. He thrusts his hands and conducts with her. He stamps his foot to show the rhythm. He stands behind her and moves her body ¡V then he takes over the orchestra, he draws it out of them ¡V he points, he breathes, he really lives the music. Extraordinary. ¡¨Take breath! You understand breath.¡¨ He keeps saying to us listening, ¡§Please forget what I say.¡¨ He is split between orchestra and us. ¡§Before I start, I take breath, much earlier ¡V you must breathe with music, you must¡Kbecause this music.¡¨ Ozawa shows how the conductor breathes into the music, leads the music, breathes life into the orchestra.


¡§What I want to say is don¡¦t take breath like this ¡K [shallow] for this music ¡K¡¨ ¡§Take breath with me,¡¨ he says to a cellist. Then to another. ¡§Before you play, with me, take breath.¡¨ ¡§Einz, zwei, drei¡¨ he counts in German. ¡§Lady don¡¦t take breath. I need you take breath.¡¨ He goes to each cellist. ¡§You play with this arm, idea is¡Kyou don¡¦t have to take actual air ¡K but you must think, breath.¡¨ He has them play over and over the first phrase of the swelling part of this movement. The Chinese interpreter explains in Chinese what Ozawa says in English and a bit of German.


¡§Take breath with me ¡K take breath.¡¨ He keeps repeating this. He now works with the violins. ¡§Everybody, everybody.¡¨ ¡§Then, take breath, so ¡K¡¨ and he breaths, moves his body up and down, he really lives inside the music, dances it. His small body curls with the music he gets round, rises up, goes down. And there is great strength in his downward strokes. He sits on the podium. ¡§Please don¡¦t forget breath.¡¨


Conductor does ok, but she can¡¦t really drop into the action as Ozawa does. She is still outside it. He listens, stands and points. He really conducts. She leads.


I think: What would directing be, if I stood there and directed while the actors played ¡V or directed the directors I am training.


He looks at the orchestra. ¡§I take breath, you take breath, too. Winds must take breath. Strings, too. When you take breath, then relax. Idea.¡¨ He turns to conductor, ¡§You take breath.¡¨ ¡§I show you.¡¨ He does so; curling into the music, really shaping it. ¡§I took breath, and some people still not take breath.¡¨ His shoulders and upper back are round, then it straightens out, his left foot is planted, his right heel rises. When he extends his body, he really extends it.


¡§With me, also air.¡¨


His long hair is steel gray.


He leans in to the orchestra. He laughs. Everyone in the room laughs. The orchestra does the picatto. Ozawa likes it. ¡§Yes, this is calm. How you say it? calm.¡¨ 


He wants it still calmer. ¡§How you say, soft?¡¨ He intensifies his gestures as the music intensifies. He really is living the music and the orchestra feels him living the music and therefore plays more truthfully. ¡§You must listen more. More energy here [points to head], not here [to wrist]. ¡§Vibrato ¡K more vibrato!¡¨ ¡§This is very difficult.¡¨ He has the conductor touch his abdomen so she can feel his breath. He stands to her side and guides her hand. The orchestra plays through the vibrato into the lyrical. Ozawa steps off the podium, watches, and with his hands and body is with the conductor. He approaches the podium, puts one foot up, ¡§Air, air,¡¨ then down, as the music swells. But clearly, the conductor does not have her full body invested. Ozawa noisily stamps on the podium. He is not afraid to make noise even as the orchestra makes music.


Does he do this when he is really conducting? How much is he performing for the 800 people here in the hall watching and listening?


What is clear is that his whole body is invested in the music, not just his arms or his mind. ¡§A big mountain,¡¨ he says of the next musical phrases. He gestures out to the whole hall, as if the mountain of sound must rise and lift it. And it does. He turns back to the orchestra and leads them toward the hall. The music swells, it really grows.




Sometimes he wears his glasses, sometimes he sweeps them off his eyes and they fall onto this chest, held by a string. In his left hand he holds the mike.


We get to the famous part of the movement. Ozawa stops the orchestra immediately. ¡§You must invite ¡K¡¨ He gestures pulling the sound from the orchestra. ¡§You must invite.¡¨ He makes eye contact with particular players ¡V a cello over here, a violin over there ¡K; he moves with them, he points with a finger directly at someone. Everyone watches him. They are really being led, shaped. He sings the melody. It is full. He sings it without tone. ¡§No,¡¨ he says. Then sings again, richly. He moves among the orchestra as they play, he stamps, speaks, urges them forward. He is not afraid to make sound with the music.


¡§Now is a different picture. No mountain. Now is clear from this part.¡¨ Where the sound gets very big. ¡§How you say, this bone?¡¨ The spine. He touches the conductor ¡V then stands next to her, conducting with her. The orchestra blazes forth, much stronger than before. Crisper. More exactness, more volume ¡V together. More contrast between loud and quiet, swelling, full, rising, filling the room. Ozawa¡¦s arching and waving body, leading them. ¡§Sing! Sing! Listen ¡K ah, ah ¡K¡¨ his body shudders, He roars, ¡§Ayy ¡V yahh!¡¨ He dips his body low. He listens. His head shakes with the music, he points, his right fist trembles, he implores, and then, quite suddenly, he stands still, and then pushes back in, stamping, and crossing his arms back and forth, arches and tucks his belly in as he takes a great breath. The Brahms is coming through him. It lives in him, and he in it. Amazing.


He thrusts, stamps, coils. He is not listening to the music, he is making the music. The orchestra is making the sound from which Ozawa makes the music, through and with them.


He taps his right leg in time with the music. The Brahms sounds like a great roar of river and sea. It pauses, extends, and then rolls, rises and flows ¡V pure liquid sound. Ozawa paces the front of the stage, comes to right behind the conductor, stops. She is still working mostly with her hands, lower arms, and maybe face (I can¡¦t tell for sure, she is facing away from me.


¡§I said before breath, now feeling is important.¡¨ 


8:05. He moves forward in the score. My battery is running low. The extraordinary session continues ¡V but with roughly the same kind of involvement as before. What is amazing, is Ozawa¡¦s total bodily involvement. ¡§When you think feeling is important ¡K forget ¡¥1,2,3,4¡¦ ¡V I am sure Brahms doesn¡¦t write ¡¥1,2,3,4¡¦¡¨ The feeling, the interiority, the copororality of the music ¡V this is what Ozawa emphasizes. But of course, you have to earn this entry into the world of feelings. Technique mastered, feelings are allowed. ¡§For you, for me, that feeling is ¡K. ahyahayah¡K¡¨ He leads now, he sways back and forth, he rises, he falls, he advances toward the orchestra and then draws back from them, he curls then extends. The music is so much in his body!


¡§Wait for me,¡¨ he tells the orchestra, extending their sound further maybe than Brahms scored it. He nods to the conductor. He takes her arm and guides it. He stands next to her, behind her. Then he steps one leg down from the podium. He glances at his watch. 8:11.


He saws his hand violently as if he were playing a violin. He walks up and down the stage. On the cello side he stamps his foot. Then he creeps back toward the podium. ¡§Listen!¡¨ he says insistently. He paces. He nods his head in rhythm to the music.


¡§That is very difficult, but we must do it before we go home.¡¨


Ozawa has them play the concluding bars of the symphony. It¡¦s over. The audience breaks into roars. After the applause, a bouquet of flowers. Ozawa sits on the edge of the stage. He applauds the audience. He puts on his orange scarf. The interpreter says that anyone wanting to take pictures can. Lots of people do. Another roar of applause and cheers as Ozawa, smiling, goes off stage left.