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Precision. Attention to detail. Confidence. Inspiring. These are more than simply hallmarks of every GMC we make, including the 2017 Acadia -- they’re also the hallmarks expected of a professional conductor of a world-class orchestra.
Maestro Kazem Abdullah is certainly deserving of that title. A native of Indiana, Abdullah, 36, has served as the Generalmusikdirektor of the city of Aachen, Germany since 2012, and has led orchestras the world over. Abdullah’s nuance and commitment to his craft continue to earn praise from audiences and critics alike.
TV audiences will soon have a brief opportunity to witness Abdullah’s talents for themselves, as he conducts a small orchestra in a new television spot for the 2017 Acadia. We recently sat down with Maestro Abdullah to learn more about his passion for music and what sort of commitment is required of a professional-grade musician.
You have a long history with music, starting with playing the clarinet as a child. When did you first decide to venture into the world of conducting – and what drew you to it?
I have always enjoyed making music. Music excites, heals, expresses, and provides a true out of body experience for me. As a solo performer, it is stunning -- but playing as part of an ensemble, it is overwhelming for all the senses and greatly cathartic.
I knew I wanted to venture into the world of conducting when I started playing in orchestras and began to enjoy the shared pleasure of music making with so many fabulous musicians. It’s a tremendous opportunity to shape musicians’ interpretations of the music they’re bringing to life. It allows me to experiment with tempos, phrasing, shading and technique to see what colors and nuances the orchestra can draw out of that music, making it more alive; more life affirming; more joyous.
How does a musician’s attention to detail affect the music they perform?
Every musician must carefully scour the score in front of him or her for clues beyond the written notes and phrases about how this music should be brought to life for the listener. He or she must tear the text apart, must break down each musical phrase; must constantly ask him or herself, “Why did the composer write this in this way?” Only through this intense preparation can the musician seek out the truth and meaning and value of the score before him or her.
What sort of attention to detail and precision is required of a maestro?
The maestro by far has to be the most prepared. The instrumentalists must know their individual parts like the back of their hands but the maestro must know the entire score inside out, and must have a concept in his head and his heart about how all these sounds fit together to make one cohesive, wonderful piece. The maestro sits at the very epicenter of the music making, he cues the musicians, he monitors their sound – everything from volume to phrasing – he directs everything that they do so he must be very much in tune with them and the music, and he must be very precise in his direction to them about how to play.
Is that commitment to detail – be it on the part of one musician, one maestro, or even an entire orchestra – something an audience can immediately appreciate?
For some, yes, but it does take some time to appreciate what distinguishes a good performance from a great one. It is very much like being introduced to exquisite dining or fine wines. But it is important to note that as a maestro and as a musician, you must always play as if the composer him or herself were sitting in the audience and can anticipate every choice you make with what you do with that music. You must always assume that you are playing for professionals to ensure that you are always on top of your game.
What’s the most challenging aspect of successfully conducting an orchestra?
I think the most challenging aspect of successfully conducting an orchestra is something I eluded to before. Just as it is in life, each member of the Orchestra wants to know “Do you see me? Do you hear me? Do I matter to you?” As the maestro, you must take the time to listen to each musician’s take on how a piece of music should be played. You need to acknowledge the thinking that goes into that and the value it holds for a listener. You have to challenge it to make it better and mold it to make it palatable for an audience but it is something you must do so that each players feels validated and gives nothing short of his or her best for every performance.
And the most rewarding?
The most rewarding aspect of conducting an orchestra is making with what seems like a million instruments, the large scale of sound and wonder that is caused by such a colossal expression of sound. It is glorious and awe inspiring to be able to do that.
Are there any particular qualities of a piece of music you find most endearing, or make a piece of music most enjoyable to perform?
It is great fun to interpret music that is complex from a rhythmical perspective or that requires unusual harmonies. This experience brings something new to the ear and to the listener and that is always exciting.
What qualities make a piece of music truly timeless?
For me personally, the qualities in the music that make it timeless are the arch of the phrases, the elegance of the melodies. I think of Mozart here, especially his last symphony No.41, in particular. His music is as fresh and alive today as it was when he first composed them. There is something in all of his music that is deeply emotional, human, and simple -- but at the same time complex.
Do you find yourself drawn to other pursuits outside of the concert hall which also reflect the precision; the detail; the harmony you strive to produce in music? Does being a musician allow you to appreciate the craft that goes into something more than you might otherwise?
As someone who seeks only to give 100% of myself 100% of the time, I can recognize similar commitment to excellence in others and in other disciplines, and it is something that makes me very happy. As a musician, I can also identify and appreciate hard work and dedication in all facets of life – education, sports, art, and so on. These are all activities that reflect working towards finding the right blend of precision, detail and harmony. Personally, I have a commitment to fitness, sport, and cooking, and apply the same drive I have for music in order to improve my form in my golf or my tennis swing, or tinker with recipes to find even better ingredients or combinations.