Music: The Master Builder

  • Share
  • Read Later

(2 of 5)

What was he so happy about? Artur Rodzinski had cut himself off from the biggest job in U.S. music. Most conductors would give either arm to get his place —and he was quitting, to take over the run-down Chicago Symphony. The prestige-incrusted Philharmonic is the oldest (104 years) orchestra in the U.S., and, next to London's and Vienna's, the oldest in the world. It is also the most widely heard (13 million people listen to its Sunday CBS broadcasts).

Mission Accomplished. Under Toscanini the Philharmonic made musical history. But between his departure (1936) and Rodzinski's arrival from Cleveland (1943), the Philharmonic began to droop; neither Toscanini's hapless successor, John Barbirolli, nor a long parade of guest conductors could get it marching.

Today it is the most improved orchestra in the land. An arguable case can now be made (as it could not when Rodzinski took over) that the Philharmonic is the best orchestra in the U.S. The New York Herald Tribune's able Critic Virgil Thomson considers it "possibly the finest in the world."

The man who brought it to that pitch is a great orchestra builder. Rodzinski tore into the Philharmonic as a contractor would attack a run-down mansion. He ripped out the human deadwood, restored the shaky foundations of the strings, the brass. He drove his workmen furiously, taught them precision and sonority.

When he came, they were torn by hatred and jealousy. The new conductor invited his men to his home. Then Halina asked the wives over. One by one, Rodzinski had his men in for heart-to-heart chats, talked over their domestic harmony as well as their musical problems.

"Every violinist," he explains, "is a

Misha or Sasha who has been built up by his parents to be a Heifetz and sweep the world. In the second fiddle section he has to play tremolo—ta-ta-ta. A soloist never plays tremolo. How do I make them like the ta-ta-ta? By building their self-respect, by calling them to my room, by endless talks."

He had noticed that whenever a solo violinist played before the intermission, the violins played beautifully afterward. "It brings back their childhood memories of how they planned to be soloists. Orchestral work," he says gravely, "is maybe 75 percent psychology."

But when he had got his 100 men playing together, Artur Rodzinski could go no further. For he is not a great conductor. The incandescent genius of a Toscanini or a Koussevitsky—or even of a Stokowski, when Stokowski is on his best behavior—is simply not in Rodzinski. He has no gift for fanning fire and excitement into his players; he can get 100 men playing in harmony, but not over their heads. The guest conductors always got the best notices. On the podium, where he works without a baton but with "my ten batons," Rodzinski himself knows his place: "I never for a second am conscious of Mr. Rodzinski conducting the work. I like to think that the music goes from the orchestra to the audience without going through myself."

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5