At Bravo! Vail this summer, Nathalie Stutzmann was leading the Philadelphia Orchestra in a reading of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth
Symphony as volatile as the thunder that echoed around the mountains that evening.
It wasn’t so much impulsive as poetic. The players phrased their lines with the arc and the articulation of a singer — a good
one. They seemed to breathe together, too, even to gasp for air.
In the depths of the first movement, immediately before Tchaikovsky’s most consuming cry of desolation, the bassoons,
basses and timpani hold a low F sharp, for just a beat and a half. Most conductors plunge straight into the torment to come;
no pause, after all, is marked in the score.
Stutzmann waited. She inhaled. The beat and a half stretched to four, then eight. That low F sharp came to sound lonely,
bereft. Only then did she let the pain flood out.
Textually, it was blatant. Emotionally, it hurt. And for Stutzmann, that’s what matters.
“What is respect for a score?” Stutzmann, who for three decades was among the world’s leading contraltos before she turned
fully to conducting, said during an interview the next day. “Is it to play exactly what is written, or is it to play what is written
and put your own life in it, your emotions, your feelings, which means sometimes you might need to take a bit of time? Why
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