Though Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg did not particularly wow critics in his orchestral debut Tuesday, two seasoned teachers of conducting who viewed a video of Mr. Bloomberg leading the Encores! orchestra through “The Star-Spangled Banner” said that for a rank beginner, the mayor acquitted himself pretty well.
“I can kibitz over whether he’s kind of hammering the beats, or whether he’s a little aggressive,” said David Hayes, head of the conducting program at Mannes College the New School for Music and music director of the school’s orchestra. “But it looks to me that he at least had an idea of how to organize his gestures to underline some of the things that are going on musically.”
Mr. Hayes particularly praised Mr. Bloomberg’s sensitivity during the relatively unbombastic passage (“and the rockets’ red glare …”) — “he adjusted his gesture to something that was a little more flowing” — and his skillful leading of the orchestra out of the long held note at the end of “banner yet wave” and into the climactic “O’er the land of the free” measures.
“There’s a kind of swooping gesture he makes that gets you out of the fermata going into the next bar,” Mr. Hayes said. “I’ve seen a lot worse. That actually was pretty clear about what he was doing.”
JoAnn Falletta, music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Virginia Symphony, gave Mr. Bloomberg high marks for maintaining visual contact with the players.
“He’s constantly scanning, from the violins to the woodwinds, moving back and forth, keeping an eye on everyone,” she said. “He’s moving back and forth, watching them, keeping an eye on everyone. That’s something you’re always supposed to remember — you’re conducting a full orchestra, stay in touch with all of them.”
Mr. Bloomberg’s chief spokesman, Stu Loeser, said that by way of preparation, the mayor simply “spent a few minutes backstage comparing baton technique with Encores’ conductor, Rob Berman” before the concert, a gala celebrating the reopening of New York City Center.
Though waving a baton in time to the music can seem like a simple enough task, many novice conductors, the teachers said, are afflicted with deer-in-headlights syndrome.
“What was always amazing when I taught a Conducting 101 course,” Mr. Hayes said, “ — and these were fine musicians, just not conductors — is that they freeze up and say ‘Oh my God everybody’s looking at me,’ and you’re like, ‘Yeah, they’re waiting for you to do something.’ ”
By contrast, the mayor, who is not exactly known for his easy stage presence, seemed calm and, well, “remarkably self-composed,” Ms. Falletta said.
“His posture was great,” she said. “He seemed to enjoy the climactic moments, and he showed them.”
Not that Mr. Bloomberg should quit his day job. Ms. Falletta noted that the mayor’s “arm movements seemed more declamatory than some conductors’, in that he was emphasizing particular words of the text.” Mr. Hayes said that during most of the piece, Mr. Bloomberg was gesturing on the beats, rather than preparing the players for what was about to happen. “He’s kind of with them all the time.”
But the mayor seemed to grasp that one of the conductor’s main jobs is, as Mr. Hayes put it, “to create a musical atmosphere that allows a kind of organic whole to be clear to everybody.”
And, in what could be a harbinger as Mr. Bloomberg heads toward the second half of his third term, he finished gracefully.
“He ended with a sort of denouement,” Ms. Falletta said, “gently brought the anthem to a close. I thought it was a very individual style.”