Maestros and Their Music: The Art and Alchemy of Conducting

John Mauceri. Knopf, $28.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-451-49402-3

Mauceri, music director of Pittsburgh Opera, draws on his 50-year experience conducting classical and popular repertoires with orchestras around the world for this combination history and guide that demystifies the secrets of the baton for a new generation of aspiring conductors. The first half of the book establishes the rules of the art; the second half elaborates on its vagaries and exceptions. Taking into consideration score, interpretation, time, place, and technology, Mauceri explains that “there is no single controlling element, only a kind of ecstatic, vibrating state in which conductivity is everywhere.” The narrative is at times heavy with technical detail, and occasionally with score settling, but Mauceri is strongest when he explores how music moves conductors, for example Carlo Maria Giulini’s gesture of “abject humility” while discussing the Catholicism in Schubert’s Symphony no. 8. Tales of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s death from gangrene caused by self-inflicted baton wounds and Arturo Toscanini tossing his handkerchief in the air to demonstrate how lightly the orchestra should play are moving and memorable. Leonard Bernstein, Mauceri’s mentor, and his music, which the author translates, figure large here too. Above all, Mauceri demonstrates what it’s like to work closely with brilliant conductors, bringing their artistry to life. (Nov.)
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