Generous Orthodoxy  




Thursday, June 16, 2005

Saint Carlo of the Symphony: a spiritual conductor dies

The example of Carlo Maria Guilini, who died at 91 this week, is inspiring for Christian preachers and leaders. One music critic called him "San Carlo of the Symphony." Here is an excerpt from the NYTimes obituary:

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Far from being an autocratic conductor or a kinetic dynamo of the podium, Mr. Giulini was a probing musician who achieved results by projecting serene authority and providing a model of selfless devotion to the score. His symphonic performances were at once magisterial and urgent, full of surprise yet utterly natural. He brought breadth and telling detail to the operas of Mozart and Verdi. Handsome and impeccably tailored, he was a deeply spiritual musician. The former New York Times critic Donal Henahan once called him "San Carlo of the Symphony."
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Maestro Guilini was not "spiritual" in an otherworldly sense. During World War II he was sent to the Yugoslav front with the Italian Army, but he was a passionate opponent of Fascism and went underground for nine months. He emerged (and made his conducting debut) when the Allies liberated Rome in 1944. The word "spiritual" is used to describe his "selfless devotion" to the music and its humane dimensions, rather than self-aggrandizement. Another factor (which is related both to preaching and to leading a congregation, is described as follows in the Times obituary:

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Mr. Giulini attributed his ability to empower each musician in an orchestra into collective music-making to his own youthful experience playing the viola. "I had the great privilege to be a member of an orchestra," Mr. Giulini said in a 1982 interview with The Times Magazine. "I still belong to the body of the orchestra. When I hear the phrase, 'The orchestra is an instrument,' I get mad. It's a group of human beings who play instruments."
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A third analogy to preaching and leading a congregation can be made from this excerpt about Maestro Guilini:

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He explained that a musician needed more than technique, that you must do more than get things "right." "And only after this," he said, "comes this mysterious thing that is the life of the music."
Once, at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, two weeks before the first rehearsal of Brahms's German Requiem, Mr. Giulini placed copies of the text on the stands of the players so that they could contemplate the words. To Mr. Giulini, pondering the sacred message of this requiem was essential to playing it with musical understanding.
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It seems to me that there is much here to be learned from Maestro Guilini. In an era when flashy technique is prized over substance in almost every field, this man's example is both humbling and ennobling. Thanks be to God.