On the Body Language of Conductors


A recent article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette highlights an interesting, but rarely discussed, part of the classical music performance: the body language of the conductor, and how they use it to control the sound of the orchestra.

Just as actors and dancers are experts in communicating with their anatomy, orchestra conductors also extensively train in nonverbal communication, as their primary role is to beat time and use their bodies to direct emotional intensity and nuance during a performance.

At the root level, some cues have obvious meanings. When Manfred Honeck, music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, sets his feet wide, furrows his brow and flings his arms out, this essentially boils down to “play louder.” But to a trumpet player, his meaning might be as nuanced as “play this as though you’re standing alone on a precipice yowling into an infinite void.” His smoother, smaller movements generally imply softer melodies and phrases but might suggest to a violinist playing with a sound no louder than the pattering of a mouse’s footsteps.

A body language and communication expert walks you through how the smallest, and largest, motions can change any interaction, especially when it comes to making music on stage with so many dozens of professional musicians. They even discuss the body language of Leonard Bernstein from a performance of Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 (4th movement). Check it out!


A Symphony, Concerto, & World Premiere: December’s Classical Concert

This concert is arguably one of the strongest programs of the season. From December 5-7, experience the wonder of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, conducted by Maestro Carl St.Clair. As one of Beethoven’s most well- known pieces, it has been described by critics as “the apotheosis of the dance.” What makes this symphony unique is its depth; starting with a dark, mysterious atmosphere and building to a surprising light-heartedness that Tchaikovsky once called “a whole series of images, full of unrestrained joy, full of bliss and pleasure of life.” (Check out that link to see 5 things you might not have known about this piece!)

The symphony’s dance elements and sense of celebration are beautifully conveyed through the symphony’s rhythmic components, while the forward movement and striking melodies create a truly memorable musical experience. This symphony remains as one of Beethoven’s most optimistic works. Check out the video below to see the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s performance, conducted by Iván Fischer.

The concert will also feature world-renowned artist Vadym Kholodenko performing Prokofiev’s demanding Piano Concerto No. 3, and Elliot Goldenthal premiering his new adagio, “October Light,” a tribute to Maestro St.Clair’s 30 years with the orchestra.

Kholodenko is quickly building a reputation as one of the most musically dynamic and technically gifted performers of the new generation of pianists. As the winner of the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Kholodenko has begun to forge an international career throughout Europe, Asia, and North America. He will be playing one of Prokofiev’s most difficult and notable pieces. In 1921, Prokofiev himself described his 3rd Piano Concerto as “devilishly difficult” as he prepared to play the premiere in Chicago. Almost 100 years later, it is among the most popular works in the genre, with ideas that are relevant even to this day.

Elliott Goldenthal is an Academy Award-winning composer who creates works for film, orchestra, theater, opera and ballet. He has received multiple Oscar nominations for various works and has won an Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for his score in the film “Frida,” directed by Julie Taymore. He will be performing his world premiere of “October Light: Adagio for Orchestra,” as a tribute to Maestro St.Clair. Check out a collection of Goldenthal’s finest adagios below.

This concert is filled with incredible music and will be an experience you do not want to miss! Check out our website for more information, and to see if there are any tickets left!

World Premiere by Academy-Award Winning Composer Honors Carl St.Clair

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Composer Elliot Goldenthal

A pupil of Aaron Copland and John Corigiliano, Elliot Goldenthal has been hailed as “one of the most original and unique voices working today in film and concert hall.” He has written a new adagio to mark the occasion of Carl St.Clair’s 30th anniversary as Pacific Symphony’s music director. You may be familiar with Goldenthal’s film scores for “Batman Forever,” “Alien 3,” “Interview with the Vampire,” “Final Fantasy” and “Frida,” for which he won an Academy Award in 2002 for best original score.

The relationship between conductor and composer goes back several decades. In 1993, St.Clair and Pacific Symphony commissioned Goldenthal to write a work commemorating the 20th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. Fire Water Paper: A Vietnam Oratorio was performed and recorded in 1995 and the recording was released in 1996, featuring cellist Yo-Yo Ma as soloist. Goldenthal’s Symphony in G# Minor was premiered by Pacific Symphony with Carl St.Clair conducting in 2014. And now, Goldenthal has written an adagio entitled October Light: Adagio for Orchestra to honor St.Clair. The world premiere will be performed at the concerts on Dec. 5, 6 and 7.


Goldenthal wrote a composer’s note for the piece:

In 1993, Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony commissioned my Fire Water Paper: A Vietnam Oratorio, a  commemorative work reflecting upon the 20th year of cessation of the Vietnam conflict. In 2014, Pacific Symphony premiered my Symphony No. 1 under the baton of Carl St.Clair. For this I will be forever grateful. In this work October Light: Adagio for Orchestra, instead of fanfare and brio, I looked inward to dedicate. Although the work is not programmatic, it casts an autumnal shadow. When I got a message that I was commissioned to honor Carl, it was the same week that I got the news that Tim Landauer, the principal cellist of Pacific Symphony had passed after a long illness. He was the cello soloist under the baton of Carl St.Clair at the premiere of Fire Water Paper. With that backdrop, my commission took on a bittersweet assignment. “October Light” is a title from a John Gardner novel, where there is a phrase that referred to “the pull of the earth” that stuck with me as well as October’s long shadows and the crystalline, sometimes blinding autumnal light in the northern hemisphere. Beyond the minutiae of analysis, the motivic component the listener can recognize is the expansion of a repeated single tone followed by an intervalic whole step up. This simple motive is heard throughout the work with its treatment of juxtaposition of registration with cello and the harmonics of the first and second violins and higher woodwinds. The other element is the present, circular repetitions in the solo violin and woodwinds. The circular motion, the dichotomy of low and high registers find themselves inexorably reaching and pulling for a blinding light that can coexist with the “pull of the earth.”

There are still some seats left – check out more concert info here!


The Reason for the Season: Giving Tuesday 2019

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We have two days for getting deals: Black Friday and Cyber Monday. On Giving Tuesday, we have a day for giving back. Together, people are creating a new ritual for our annual calendar. Giving Tuesday is the opening day of the giving season, kicking off our year-end fundraising campaign. It’s also a reminder of the “reason for the season.”

In the spirit of Giving Tuesday and Carl St.Clair’s 30th season as Music Director of Pacific Symphony, we invite you to invest in the future of our Orchestra by helping us reach our year-end goal of $30,000 in donations.

Did you know that subscription and ticket sales only account for less than 50% of our annual total operating expenses? The remaining half of our operating expenses are covered by grants, corporate contributions and individual giving, such as yours. And when you give between now and Dec. 31, Pacific Symphony’s board chairman, Joann Leatherby will match your gift amount dollar-for-dollar, up to $30,000.

Please give today.

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The campers of arts-X-press are one of the many groups helped by your donations!

Your gift to Pacific Symphony transforms lives through the power of music. Each year the orchestra strives to make Orange County an even better place to live. Every year, Pacific Symphony:

  • Performs 102 concerts
  • Provides 1,200 hours of music education for K-12 students
  • Reaches 34,100 participants in our education and community engagement programs
  • Nurtures the passion of music in students and teachers, providing over 131,000 touchpoints

Please make a tax-deductible gift between now and Dec. 31 and double your impact!

Won’t you give today?