News in Brief ◆ April 1, 2014
NEW YORK, NY -- Alighted on his podium in front of the orchestra, in full view of the stage and the audience, the brooding and lofty conductor provides every musical gesture to guide an opera performance from beginning to end. Despite never making a musical sound, the conductor may be the single biggest factor determining the unique style of an opera. However, during a recent rehearsal at the famed Metropolitan Opera House, one Area Musician was left wondering whether he was witnessing the breathtaking musical gestures of a maestro in full command of his powers, or the graceful wing flaps of an endangered California Condor.
“You know, it’s just like...some days you’re not sure whether you’re trekking through the high Sierras observing one of these magnificent carrion birds take flight, or in the MET pit watching intently for that perfectly-gestured cue from Maestro xxxxxxxx,” said the musician.
According to Local Ornithologist Gail Bergstrom, the differences between the two creatures can be very subtle and difficult to detect for the layman, much less a “trained” orchestral musician. “In both cases, their vocal calls are mostly limited to grunts and hisses, and they often spend hours a day preening,” said Bergstrom. “Owing to the nature of their eating habits, they also must bathe frequently.” The Area Musician hastened to add, “The younger ones only have a 6 foot wing span, but make up for it with their exuberant flapping. The mature adult’s decorative black coat with white accents can really confuse you, and when they really get moving that fine dark plumage can just be all over the place!”
Both the Area Musician and Bergstrom readily admitted that the noble beast commands respect by its very nature. “Hovering high above, aloft and scanning with keen eyes, master of its environment, and ready at any moment to descend and feast...how could you not respect that?”
Bergstrom noted that in the rare instances when they gather in groups, “it's really astonishing to witness their well-developed social structure, where the competition to determine pecking order is decided by body language and competitive play behavior.” Added Bergstrom, “their mating displays are particularly arresting.”
Traveling long distances at high altitudes takes its toll on the species, as has their relationship with humans. Ancient peoples worshipped the creatures, but modern western society has brought them to the brink of extinction. Luckily, recent conservation efforts have made great strides reintroducing this majestic creature to its appropriate habitat.
“It’s great to see them just being themselves in their natural environment -- really incredible to watch. Artful, even," said the Area Musician. "But sometimes...I mean...maybe it’s just the fatigue of playing a 4 hour Wagner rehearsal in the morning, and then a 4 ½ hour Strauss opera that same night, but sometimes your eyes just start to swim a little, you know? And it can be really tough to tell whether that swooping gesture is showing the critical transition to a waltz tempo, or the prelude to catching an incredible updraft and soaring to 15,000 feet.”
At press time, celebrated Maestro xxxxxxxx was seen perched at the edge of the stage, scanning the horizon for his next meal.
Happy April Fool’s Day.
Your MET Orchestra