What Does a Conductor Actually Do?

The Maestro comes onstage to a roar of applause. He has a little piece of wood: the baton. With it he will stand at the podium, face a throng of musicians, and, with nary a word, count off a piece of music in front of them. One, two, three, and with a flick of the wrist or the wave of the arm, the orchestra creates music, shepherded by the Maestro.

Clemency Burton-Hill wrote a piece for BBC about what a conductor actually does:


Famed composer and conductor Richard Wagner once wrote, “The whole duty of a conductor is comprised in his ability always to indicate the right tempo.” Is the music supposed to be slow? Slower? Fast? The conductor shows the band through movement, facial expression and the like, how time will envolve in that short span of music.


The conductor is there to bring the music to life, communicating their own sense of the work through gestures. They bring their own sensibilities to the piece. There is shade and light and color, and the conductor’s baton is a paint brush.


Burton-Hill quotes Tom Service, author of Music As Alchemy: Journeys with Great Conductors and Their Orchestras: “The best conductors are the best listeners…They become a lightning rod of listening; a focus so that the players and the conductor can become something bigger than all of them.”


Pierre Boulez,  a French composer, conductor, writer and pianist, said of conducting, “You have to impose your will – not with a hammer, but you have to be able to convince people of your point of view.”


The conductor is the vision connection between the audience and the music – the bridge between what’s seen and what’s heard.


A conductor can not simply stand up on the podium ready to play a symphony by Beethoven without ever having studied the score. They could – of course – but by studying the piece one can interpret it. By interpreting it, one can color it.


If the performance is a good one, the conductor gets the lion’s share of praise. If the performance is a bad one, the conductor gets the lion’s share of flak.


A conductor can be more than a conductor. Their personality and vision can change the culture of not only an organization but the culture of classical music itself.

Here’s a bit of Seattle Symphony’s Ludovic Morlot conducting Verdi’s Requiem…

Cinerama Set to Reopen November 20

On November 20, Paul Allen-owned Cinerama is reopening, bigger and better than before with the opening night of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 at 8 pm.

Cinerama has been closed for renovations for months because Paul Allen wants to make it the best movie theatre in the nation. He started by saving the 1960s icon from being torn down. Born in 1963 as Seattle Martin’s Cinerama it was retroffited in those early days to show 70 mm films on a huge curved screen. Currently, Cinerama is one of only three movie theatres in the nation to be able to show three-panel Cinerama films.

With millions of dollars, Allen brought the theater into the 20th century and beyond. The new-fangled Cinerama opened in 1999 with state-of-the-art technology. With this most recent closure, Allen installed the world’s first commercial digital laser projector, a machine that has a light output of 60,000 lumens. The films will now be more clear and have higher color accuracy than ever before.

After seeing The Hunger Games at the Cinerama, movie-goers will undoubtedly be hungry for more…

ACT Artistic Director Kurt Beattie Announces Retirement

ACT announced that Artistic Director Kurt Beattie will retire at the end of the 2015 season after twelve years at the helm of the award-winning organization currently celebrating their 50th season. He’ll be succeeded by Associate Artistic Director John Langs.

“Kurt has been steadfast in his commitment to our loyal audience, to shepherding new works, and to creating a groundbreaking new programming model through our Central Heating Lab,” says Board President Colin Chapman, “We know that his legacy will continue to feed the artistic soul of ACT for years to come.”

Beattie has long roots at the theatre, playing his first role there in 1975. In 2001 he became Associate Artistic Director and was then promoted to AD in 2003. He’s overseen eleven Mainstage world premieres in his tenure and countless memorable productions, along with developing the Central Heating Lab and overseeing the multi-year collaboration with the Hansberry Project.

Next year Beattie will direct Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Travesties. After that he’ll serve as Artistic Director Emeritus, shepherding long-term projects already in development as well as acting and directing for future productions.

His successor, John Langs, is an award-winning director who’s received accolades for his work in New York, LA, Chicago, and Milwaukee and overseen a dozen premiere productions. Next year he’ll direct The Three Sisters in the Central Heating Lab, Mr. Burns, a post-electric play on the Mainstage, and the 40thh anniversary of A Christmas Carol.

Seattle Beckett Fest’s Surprise Guest: Bill Irwin

As if the Seattle Beckett Festival couldn’t get any better. There have been radio dramas, prose works, and fully staged plays, including Seattle Shakespeare Company’s recent production of Samuel Beckett’s masterwork, Waiting for Godot.

How about adding a special surprise treat? Last night at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, the great clown-actor Bill Irwin had a conversation about the works of Samuel Beckett, lectured about the great dramatist’s work, and performed pieces from some of Beckett’s work.

Unfamiliar with Irwin? Perhaps he’s more familiar than you realize.

He’s Mister Noodle in Elmo’s World on Sesame Street

He was on “Northern Exposure” as a non-verbal Flying Man, too…

And here he is performing with the late great Robin Williams…

The Seattle Beckett Festival continues. Sound Theatre’s 5 X Beckett, a bevy of one acts, opens at ACT Theatre Thursday. Ghost Light Theatricals will perform Beckett’s Endgame starting Friday. Also, UMO Ensemble will ruminate on Beckett via movement with their Fail Better, also showing at ACT in mid-November.

Book-It Repertory Theatre Welcomes New Managing Director

The Book-It Repertory Theatre’s Board of Directors has announced that Daniel Mayer will become managing director of the 25-year-old non-profit theatre company beginning October 29th. The company has been operating with Founding Co-Artistic Director Myra Platt as acting managing director since August.

Daniel Mayer was, most recently, the executive director at Kirkland Performance Center, a position he has held since 2008. During his tenure at KPC, he shepherded the organization through the recession, leading the arts group through a strategic planning process that resulted in a new business plan. “After careful consideration,” said Book-It Board President Stuart Frank, “we selected Daniel from the group of finalists because of the breadth and depth of experience that we believe makes him uniquely and perfectly suited to lead Book-It at this time.”

Prior to joining Kirkland Performance Center, Mayer worked for a variety of arts organizations in a variety of capacities, including Spectrum Dance Theater, the Empty Space Theatre, On the Boards, and Photographic Center Northwest.

Book-It’s Silver Jubilee season began in September with I Am of Ireland and continues in November with a presentation of Pride and Prejudice.

Theatre Pets: Barking with Rocket Zeyl

Name: Rocket Zeyl
Age: Between 16-18 years
Breed: Jack Russell terrier
Human companionsJennifer Zeyl and Matt Starritt 

You’ve probably spent more time in theatres and around theatre people than most humans I know. Have you gained any insight into the dramatic arts over the years?

I was there when Jen and Matt founded the Washington Ensemble Theatre. I’ve teched at every theatre in town: Intiman, Seattle Rep, ACT, Children’s, the Center House, the Bath House, WET, the Erickson, West of Lenin, Annex. I’ve even spent time in a handful of theaters that are no longer around, in indoor theaters, and in outdoor theaters.

There are two things I’ve learned about the theatre. They all smell about the same: dusty. They all have leftover food under the seats. You’d be amazed at what you can find under those seats. Once, I found a whole fried chicken. I wasn’t allowed to eat it. 

Sometimes I think of my house as a sort of “dog terrarium” for my mutts. As the companion of a set designer, if she had to create the perfect environment for you, what would it look like?

I’ve always been interested in bringing the outside inside, and my favorite scenery does just that. Big sprawling landscapes, trees, sky. I’m especially interested in the incorporation of actual, real, found natural elements (trees, hay, telephone poles, leaves, etc.) into scenery. I know humans don’t appreciate smell in the same way that I do, but I find that nothing draws me into the work onstage like all those smells on something that has been left outside for a very long time. Smell is real. Everything else is pretend. 

Your other human companion is a sound designer. What sound cues or background music would best personify you?

I’ve always thought that sound was rather nifty, but at my age (I’ve lost most of my hearing at this point) it doesn’t really do much for me. Music can be calming, and loud noises exciting but I think that Matt should focus on something more interesting. They eliminated the Tony Award for sound this year. I think that says a lot. Hopefully they’re making room for smell design. Now, that’s something really spectacular, The Tony Award for Best Smell in a Play/Musical.

If you were to write a play, what would it be about? What style of playwright would you be?

I tend to get pretty sleepy. I am 81 in human years, after all. If I were to write a play, I’d do some things differently. I’d make the seats more comfortable for dogs. I can’t tell you how alarming it is to be folded up into the seat unexpectedly. Why do they fold up at all? You’re lying there, curled up, drifting off while someone on stage yaks away about some people problem, and just as you hit dreamland, you’re smashed between the seat and the seat back. It’s awful. 

So everyone would get a bed. Also, there’d be snacks. Then, since everyone is comfortable, I’d actually feature sleeping. Sleeping through the show wouldn’t be gauche as it is now, it’d be expected. Required even. Everything should be in service of this.

The action on stage would be slow. 5 minutes of repeating action. A man eating dinner and reading. Someone taking out the trash. Raking leaves into pile. Over and over. That way when you doze off for a couple of minutes you don’t feel like you’ve missed anything. The scenery would be pastoral, the sound calming. The lighting wouldn’t change very much either. And smells. Wonderful smells of all kinds.

The Seven Best John Williams Scores

Start getting excited right now: October 10–12 the Seattle Symphony will be presenting The Movie Music of John Williams. On the off chance you don’t already know, John Williams (left) is one of those rare artists, musical or otherwise, whose work has completely blended into the fabric of our culture. On paper he just writes music for the movies, but in reality his work transcends cinema; it’s an inseparable part of our shared history. 

The classic Duhhh Dum! passage from Jaws isn’t just recognizable as music from a popular film; it’s become sonic shorthand for impending danger. The music from Indiana Jones is the grand soundtrack template for adventure in and of itself. The music from Star Wars is synonymous with… you know, wars amongst the stars. Even if you have somehow managed to go your whole life without seeing any of these films (how and why did you do that, by the way?) you certainly have these refrains buried somewhere in the folds of your brain.

Ranking the best of Williams’s scores is a futile endeavor, particularly for guy like me who’s been obsessed with movies since birth. This is like picking my favorite out of a litter of adorable puppies. Which isn’t to say that many of his scores sound alike (though, c’mon, it’s kind of true) but that my number one will just end up being randomly picked out of the box because I can’t take five puppies home, as much as I’d like to. Number one could just as easily have been any of the others, except for that puppy who bit me and peed all over my shirt. That puppy is Hook

 7. The Harry Potter Franchise

John Williams has been making music for Hollywood since the 1950s, but he didn’t start inserting himself into the DNA of film as a whole until the ’70s. He had a great degree of success scoring disaster movies and, most notably, Robert Altman’s The Long GoodbyeHe even won an Oscar for Fiddler on the Roof, but after Jaws in 1975 he became THE go-to man for gigantic, beloved blockbusters. What’s absolutely incredible is that he was still able to create the perfectly inseparable theme for yet another mega-franchise 25 years later, for an audience a generation removed from his prime years. John Williams’s sensibilities are simply too shrewdly populist to ever become antiquated. Technically, Williams scored only the first three Harry Potter movies, but his most famous contribution, “Hedwig’s Theme” (you’ll recognize it, trust me) has been used in all of them, because of course it was. 

 6. Nixon 

This one is for me. Oliver Stone’s Nixon is nowhere near the kind of beloved classic all of the others on this list are, but I’ve seen it no less than 10 times. One of its greatest strengths is Williams’ monumental score, which I think is his finest, most adult work to date. His most admirable gift is his ability to distill all of the contrasting emotional beats of his subject into something that feels perfectly singular. That sums up this masterpiece perfectly; the primary theme is at once grandiose, terrifying, triumphant and tragic, just like the life of the man himself. If you haven’t seen this movie, I recommend at least watching the beginning so you can catch the goose-bump-raising opening passage. I promise it will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck while also making you think “Yep, that sounds like Nixon, all right.”

5. Superman

Who else could do the perfect music for Superman? Listen to the Superman music right now. Better yet, download it onto your mobile device and go about your day with this music thrumming in your ears. You’re gonna be smiling and waving at everyone. You’re gonna be looking for bad guys to punch, people to save. You might even just start running down the street with your fists pumping in front of you. Look, I’m obviously basing this on personal experience, but I’m not wrong. The music, let’s face it, is WAY more fun and exciting than any of the Superman movies themselves.

This is one of the reasons I fear going to the Seattle Pops show, because when they play the Superman music, I’m afraid I’ll start jumping up and down on my seat. But maybe we all will, and it’ll be a bonding experience.   

 4. Jaws

This wasn’t the first time Williams hooked up with Steven Spielberg, but it was the first time the two worked together to create a piece of cinema that completely subsumed the world’s imagination. This might very well be the most effective score of all time. Just try watching the beach scenes with the sound off. Better yet, don’t ever do that, ever. The thrills are like 55% Duhh Dum. Duhhh dum. Dum dum dum dum dum dum dum (you know how the thing goes). I’m getting freaked out just thinking about it and the only body of water even remotely close to me is a hot tub. But… I suppose there still could be a shark in that hot tub. Duuuhhhh Dum.

 3. Star Wars

You see what I mean, about trying to pick a favorite puppy? How is Star Wars only number three on this list? It’s Star Wars! The opening credit blast of space triumph, the “Imperial March,” “The Force Theme,” Williams really outdid himself on this one. Yet another in a LONG list of movies that you simply cannot fathom with a different composer. If Star Wars hadn’t had John Williams, it still would’ve been pretty good, but the music is a large aspect of what made it great.

 2. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

E.T. gets the nostalgia bump to the number two spot. This was the first movie I actually remember seeing. I was three or four. I think I might have actually come online as a sentient being while watching this film, because I don’t really remember anything before this. And you know what’s the most vivid about this first memory, right? WHITE DEAD-LOOKING E.T. IN THE RAVINE. The image that scarred a generation of toddlers.

This was the soundtrack to the very beginning of my life. I defy you not to tear up a little when that unbelievably perfect E.T. themereally kicks in. Especially at the end, when Elliot and E.T. are saying goodbye, the UFO is taking off, the wind is blasting Elliot’s hair, he’s crying, you’re crying, everyone’s crying and Williams’ music is jacked into overdrive like he just doesn’t care that you don’t want to be seen crying when the lights come up. It’s insanely powerful, and it makes me cry-happy like few things in the universe. I would’ve enjoyed this climactic music as a child much more if I hadn’t gone catatonic from WHITE DEAD LOOKING E.T. IN THE RAVINE.  

 1. Indiana Jones and the Three Great Adventures He Had. THREE.

So, this is the puppy I ended up with. I’m happy with my choice. All of the other puppies are still wonderful, but this puppy? He’s the one for me. Everything I like about movies, music and being alive are all wrapped up in that incredible title theme. All the music is great in these three movies, but let’s face it, you’re not thinking about the train chase theme from Last Crusade or the horrifying human sacrifice theme from Temple of Doom. You’re thinking about that absolutely perfect Dun da dun dunnnn Dun da Dunn, Dun da Dunn DUNNN, Dun da dun DUN DUN. All other film composers trying to create the sound of adventure will forever only pale in comparison. With Raiders of the Lost Ark, Williams created a score that is inextricably linked not just to the film and the characters within it, but to the very ideas and emotions related to the genre as a whole. He’s done it before. He’ll probably do it again. 

Seattle Pops: The Movie Music of John Williams runs October 10-12 at the Seattle Symphony.

Dramatic MonoBlogue

Is it Tuesday already? Okay, then. Here’s your pre-midweek muster roll of local arts news.

City Arts announced finalists for the Fall Art Walk Awards, including this fanciful kinetic assemblage by Casey Curran, selected by wizard Shaun Kardinal, who informs me that if you turn the little crank at the bottom, the thing comes alive!

Seriously, if you haven’t been to the Art Walk Awards, look into it and RSVP now. Free booze, music and all the finalists on display in one place awaiting your vote. It’s a party.

-PNB Artistic Director Peter Boal announced a couple of key promotions at the season-opening Jewels premier last Friday. Jerome Tisserand, who joined the PNB in 2007, was promoted to principal dancer. Leta Biasucci, who joined in 2011, was promoted to soloist.

-The mop-up of the Balagan Theatre’s sudden implosion continues. ArtsWest announced they will honor Balagan season subscriptions at no charge. They also offer complimentary tickets to Balagan subscribers for the planned co-production Dogfight, opening October 23.

-Lastly, here’s a video of a butterfly landing on a flutist’s face in the middle of the Carl Nielsen International Flute Competition in Denmark. Amazingly, she made it past this round into the finals. Let her unflappability be your guiding light for the week:

In Case You Missed It: “A Viewer’s Guide to George Balanchine’s Jewels and an interview with John Markus, former Cosby Show head writer and co-author of The Fabulous Lipitones (running at Taproot Theatre through October 18.)

Coming soon to Encore Arts: Q&A with director Stephanie Shine on the return of Book-It’s I Am of Ireland and a look at the movie music magic of John Williams in advance of the Seattle Pop’s upcoming concert series.

Taproot Theatre Announces 2015 Season

Taproot Theatre Company have just announced their 39th season. With five mainstage shows, the season runs the gamut from drama, to comedy, to beloved classics.

The season opens with The Explorers Club by Nell Benjamin. A comedy about wacky scientists, it tells the story of a woman who has been nominated for membership in the famed London Explorers Club. Set in 1879 – she’s discovered a mythical city, but will the admittance of a woman in the club wreak havoc throughout the British Empire?

Based on a true story, the regional premiere of The Best of Enemies, by Mark St. Germain, will be staged next. It’s the story of a racially segregated school in North Carolina in 1971, until the Ku Klux Klan and a Civil Rights activist are forced to work together.

Jeeves returns to Taproot in the spring (he was last seen in Jeeves in Bloom in 2013). In a regional premiere, Jeeves Intervenes, by Margaret Raether, is based on P.G. Wodehouse’s classic Jeeves and the Hard Boiled Egg. It’s a comedy. It involves weddings and love and schemes and, of course, the quick-witted Jeeves.

Their summer offering will be Godspell, a musical conceived and originally directed by John-Michael tebelak with music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Inspired by the Gospel of Matthew, it boasts a Tony Award-nominated score.

The season ends with a world premiere of Nathan Jeffrey’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic tale, Dracula

Roy Arauz New Head of Seattle Musical Theatre

Local director and theatre producer Roy Arauz has been apppointed Seattle Musical Theatre’s new artistic director.

Arauz is well-known in Seattle’s theatrical circles, having worked with such varied arts organizations as ArtsWest, SecondStory Repertory, Redwood Theatre and Studio East. He is also the founder of the fringe drama group Arouet, a company that has been staging plays since 2009. With Seattle Musical Theatre, he’s worked within the organization as an artist, manager, and dancer-choreographer.

Seattle Musical Theatre is celebrating its 37th season, mounting revivals of popular musicals at its venue at Magnuson Park. The coming season includes Man of La Mancha, Rocky Horror Show, Fiddler on the Roof, Sweet Charity and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.