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  • Writer's pictureThomas Lawrence Toscano

Carlo Maria Giulini

Good afternoon to you all. Since I posted my magical story about our arrival in Siena, I decided to continue with the story of what happened to us. Now, first of all, it's important to remember that the week I'm describing is couched within 1986. That is to say, before the fall of the iron curtain. Why is that significant? Simple. The orchestra that we had as part of our classes with Maestro Giulini was the Sofia Philharmonic, from the city of Sofia in Bulgaria.

One would think that if one is going to study in Italy, that the musicians would be Italian. Nope. They were Bulgarians, and they were accompanied by communist party advisors. There was also a rumor that, although the festival was charged for this orchestra, it didn't mean that the players were receiving all the money. Payment, as any professional musician or performer knows is always a question because each of us has had many different kinds of experiences.

The first day of classes, which was the day after we arrived, saw the orchestra and conducting students all file in early ready and waiting for the anticipated arrival of Giulini. A few minutes before the scheduled time of our session the Maestro arrived and warmly greeted us all. We all settled down and he began to speak to us, after which, the sessions began with the orchestra. Brahms' 1st Symphony was part of our repertoire as was Schubert's Unfinished. Both, rather typical in these kinds of conducting workshops and very quickly we all fell into a daily pattern. The Maestro would arrive he spoke very eloquently of music followed by our orchestral sessions.

His musical analysis was the first reality that struck home very deeply. I had just finished my second Master's at Yale where I had studied with Mueller. Among the many offerings of the Yale Conducting Program were Mueller's enormous capacity for score analysis. I had meticulously noted what we were taught and it was also our practice to borrow his scores and copy his notes, comments and his way of color coding scores as well as the minute orchestral changes he deemed important to make. As I listened to Giulini's comments I was moved by the fact that everything he told us was already in my score. The Mueller analysis and Giulini's way of looking at the score were exactly the same, demonstrating that the compositional analysis so crucial to understanding these great works was what we were receiving from this extremely noble source.

At this point in my life, I had been exposed to a great deal of very famous conductors, I had worked with Leonard Bernstein for two summer's in Tanglewood, had observed Ozawa and Gunther Schuller for countless hours, had been part of master classes and rehearsals with Andre Previn, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Sir Colin Davis and Mstislav Rostropovich as well as many others. All of them very individual conductors with very strong personalities. This, for anyone who knows even one of them, goes without saying. However, Giulini was different.

Throughout the week there was a question which was posed each morning, by either a Swiss or a German conducting student. The question was "Maestro please talk to us about technique", to which Giulini would respectfully reply each time "There's no such things as technique". As I said, this went on day after day. After the first two instances we realized that there was not going to be an answer and we were right and wrong.

With so many conductors getting up to conduct we quickly got used to the sound of the orchestra. Who was strong, who was weak, what the general sound was like as well as the capabilities of the orchestra.

It's not hard to imagine that each day, in its own way, was more intense than the previous. We had our morning sessions and our afternoon sessions as well as the incredible meals in between. Juan and I made a habit of eating out at a different restaurant for each meal and truly it was the greatest consistent culinary experience of my life. There certainly have been individual meals that have compared or surpassed, however, an entire week, 14 meals in a row, never.

Our lectures upon each score on our list continued, as well as our questions which often led to some very revealing statements. As the week went on I began to understand that Maestro Giulini was not similar to the other music directors with whom I had studied. There was something about him. Each time we asked him for his opinion he would remind us "I can give you my opinion, however, what's important is your opinion". He continued, in many different ways, to demonstrate that it was our job to know our own minds and to cultivate that within. There was a great respect for each individual, coming from this wonderful artist. During our entire time together he was a gentleman. Never raising his voice, always impeccably dressed in a 3 piece suit, understated and passionate in his work at the same time. Yes, he showed frustrations and even perhaps disappointments, yet they were more like shadows moving across his visage, they never imbedded themselves, never held against you, the student. He always reminded me of an Italian prince.

He also taught us to trust ourselves in a rather unique way. He told us the following story.

He was conducting a performance of one of the great London orchestras which was being filmed by the BBC. After the recording he was walking out with his driver when one of the technicians invited him into the booth to watch part of the film. As he was watching, which was the first time he had every "seen" himself conduct, he began to have strange reactions...Why did I make that face? Why did I use that hand? He questioned everything he saw. After a short while his driver reminded them they had to go. He was slated to conduct Carmen at Covent Garden, I believe, and he rushed off. While in the car and in the dressing room he obsessed with the images that he had seen. Very intensely he told us the story of how he descended the stairs into the dark caverns of the hall which led to the orchestra and his podium in front of them in the pit of this great opera house. His voice changed as he told us very blatantly that he ascended the podium looked at the orchestra and was completely blank. He DID NOT KNOW WHAT TO DO. All he could feel was that he was locked. All he could was stand there. Suddenly, the principal cellist tugged on his tails, Giulini looked at him and the cellist said to him " ...Coraggio Maestro". (Courage Maestro). He shook himself, raised his arms and conducted the opera. No doubt it was brilliant. As the story came to a close he looked at us and said - "I never, ever looked at myself conduct again. I never, ever consider what happens in a concert once I am done. When I close the score on the podium after a performance, all I do is begin to think and prepare for the next one".

An important note: As a young musician, Giulini had earned the last chair viola seat in the Orchestra Dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, among the conductors he worked with was Bruno Walter. In his demeanor, in his gentleness one could understand the influence of Walter whom, he's reported to have said, "...made ever musician feel important".

Further, he hated dictatorial styles of conducting.

On our final day, the same students asked the same question once again, in another form "...Maestro you have watched us conduct, could you conduct a small excerpt for us". Aha! These clever fellows thought they had him. They thought they would finally get a lesson in technique. So, Giulini, ever wise and aware did something that stopped everyone dead in their tracks. He walked over to the stage, did not take the stage mind you, he was standing on the seating floor, the stage came up to his waste more or less. He instructed the strings one at a time as to how to start , up bow, down bow, and then put his hands in an extremely awkward and almost grotesque position. Basically he held both his hands straight out as if you were to shake someone's hand, stiff and completely graceless, parallel to each other, fingers pointing at the orchestra and began to beat a 3 pattern. Extremely basic, extremely rudimentary. As he reached the end of the 2nd preparative measure he thrust his arms, as if to push the energy towards the orchestra and they entered. The sound was nothing any of us had ever heard during that week. It was heavenly, divine, in tune, other worldly and he wasn't even standing on the podium, most of the orchestra couldn't see him, yet their sound was completely transformed and we were all transfixed at this unbelievable event unfolding before our eyes. He went on, I believe, to the end of the movement, and we, of course, all burst into applause, as did the orchestra. For me this was the last drop as it were. I could no longer hide from the reality that was descending upon me. Giulini was a great artist, and, frankly, a great human being. Not something most people truly cared about in conductors or conducting circles. In spite of how it might be, Giulini after all was a violist within the orchestra, that is to say he came out of the orchestra, administrators often play conductors agains the orchestral players. There is often a sense of tension and hierarchy in most (not all) professional orchestras. Giulini clearly transcended all of that made especially clear by his acceptance of a post in L.A. He would conduct the orchestra, yet, he was not to have anything to do with anything other than conducting the music. They wisely met his demands.

It cemented in me a change that was permanent. So many of the other conductors, especially some of the more famous ones, all had a hard edge. And, worse, those who were involved with lesser orchestras, but, still in positions of power, often times would use the dictatorial style of ruling. In short, I simply understood that anyone who was being harsh was doing so because it was their way, not because it was a necessary component of being a conductor. Given that I have a fiery temper, it was not always easy for me to be soft and patient, but, with time I changed and changed and changed. Yet, as I changed, the times changed as well. Many authority figures were called into question and now, as I work among young college musicians, there are those who seem to have arrived at school knowing all. The art of music and conducting is a part of life. Life matures with age, as does wisdom as does talent. There is a reason why ancient civilizations, such as the Asian cultures, honor the aged. Honor the eldest in the house, honor the wisdom collected over a lifetime. In the past, students apprenticed with masters, this of course, follows along with the same idea. And, we all have gained great inspiration and joy from the greats as they found their way through the maze that is creative life.

Since I met him, only that once, I have continued to be very influenced by that one week in 1986. The lessons that I learned never left me. I cannot tell you that I always did them proud, I am, as most of us, only human and have my own weaknesses to deal with. Yet, in some very powerful ways it caused me to walk a path of striving for truth. One year later I found myself living in Brazil. One year after that I found myself with opportunities to conduct, under questionable economic situations for the musicians. I did not take the contract. In 2009, I was arrested in Brazil by Federal Police denounced by the music director of the orchestra I was conducting. He was angry with the administration for inviting me to conduct the 105th anniversary of the Teatro Alberto Maranhão. He had also spread rumors against me saying I was a dictator and a fraud. Well, 20 minutes into the rehearsal, that all evaporated and I spent my time treating the orchestra with as much respect as possible, while pushing them past many of their previous performances. It was a very interesting experience (to say the least) to conduct Beethoven's 5th Symphony and, amidst the bows and the applause and the great energy, to be arrested by federal officials. It was all a fabrication and was dealt with by lawyers however, it certainly was a powerful experience. This time I followed Giulini's example and shook the hands of the arresting agents as they thanked me for the performance. One of them professed that it was the most inspiring performance that she had every experienced. And, then they asked me to sign the arrest forms.

Personally I was closer to other teachers, but, I don't believe any of them taught me what Giulini did. And, I hope that whenever I'm done here in this life, I can meet him again and sit and listen to more of what he has to say.

Thank you all for being here with me today. Thomas

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