Benjamin Zander is one of the greatest improvisers I have ever met. The talk he did today was pure impro and was sublime.
He’s also an astounding orchestra conductor. The concert he gave Sunday was pure mastering and was sublime.
Maestro, let the music start!
Prior to the talk he gave tonight, he invited 70 of MIT students to attend the Boston Philarmonic Orchestra concert he conducted last Sunday. As he always does, prior to a concert, he gave a talk to explain the program and the music we were going to hear. Maestro Zander believes classical music should be for everyone and, since 1979, has been conducting the Boston Philarmonic Orchestra, which vision is ‘passion of music making without boundaries’.
After the talk, the music began and took our breath away. My attention was focused on the stage and the musicians all the time. It seemed I couldn’t concentrate on anything else but the music. I couldn’t think about my shopping list or the topic thesis that had been torturing my mind lately, even if I wanted to. The musicians were taking all the concentration I had and concentrating it in their performance. That’s what makes Maestro Zander exceptional to me: taking your mind on a two hour journey with Sibelius, Profokiev and Strauss and forbiding any parasitic thoughts to embark on that journey with you.
Maestro Zanders was once the professor of Stefan Jackiw. The 28-year-old musician was interpreting Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 63 by Prokofiev last Sunday. I can’t find the words to express how moving his music was and how he managed to transport me from my seat to his harmonious world. Here’s a performance I came accross on YouTube that talks for itself.
He has genius, undoubtedly. But I suspect Bejamin Zanders’ Art of Possibility has something to do with it…
The Art of Possibility
Let’s skip to tonight and the talk Benjamin Zanders was giving on MIT campus. What was this talk about? I was expecting he would tell us about classical music. He did, for the first last minutes. And for the remaining 1 hour and a half, Maestro Zanders talked about the Art of Possibility.
Benjamin Zander’s father was Jewish and had fled from Germany under the Nazi regime. He was interned in a camp on the Isle of Man during WW-2 for two years. Seeing his inmates so desperate, he decided to start a university in the camp. The next thing he knew, 40 classes were running weekly, without books, blackboards, papers or professors. “People were simply talking to each other and sharing their knowledge in one of the most desperate conditions”. It isn’t the circumstances that are crucial but the opportunities we see in them. That is the art of possibility Benjamin Zanders is talking about.
And what has this to do with the role of an orchestra conductor?
Leadership and shining eyes
When he was 45, Benjamin Zanders had a revelation. The conductor doesn’t make any sound. The power of the conductor comes from its power to awaken possibilities in the musicians it conducts. And to measure this, Maestro Zanders has a good monitoring tool: he looks at how shiny his musician’s eyes are. And his goal is to conduct a shiny eyes orchestra, and empower his musicians to tell the story he wants to tell through their instruments.
How does he measure his success at the end of the day? He recalls all the eyes he made shine. And then he asks us: “Who am I being if my musicians’ eyes are not shining?”.
Benjamin Zanders expresses unconditional trust towards his musicians. He gives them As even before hearing them for the first time. In this way, his musicians feel they are able to accomplish anything he envisions. He creates an excellent relationship with them and empowers them to take risks, to exceed their own expectations and to overcome their fear of failing. And, from what I have seen (and heard), it seems to be working pretty well with the musicians he conducts.
This seems to be working extremely well in his case.
How about applying this vision to other professions? Could we apply this vision to CEOs of companies? Benjamin Zanders has his idea on the matter. He gives talks to C-level executives who are inspired by his experience as a conductor and his capacity to achieve astounding results with his musicians and students. He gave a TED Talk in 2009, participated in several World Economic Forum conferences, travels around the world to disseminate his vision.
Finally, here are a few next steps I will follow and I recommend:
- Order The Art of Possibility Benjamin Zander co-authored with his life partner, Rosamund Stone Zander, to start practicing the art of making eyes shine,
- Continue the conversation through classical music. Maestro Zander suggested Mahler Symphony number 9. But there are millions of options. The world is full of possibilities, I have been told.
Speaking of possibility… a next concert to come
Today, a week after I first published this post, I received a call from Benjamin Zander. He asked me to invite the MIT community to the concert he will be conducting on Sunday, November 18th.
A few words on the concert, in Maestro Zander’s own words: “The program is so riveting and powerful that I cannot imagine that you will not be transfixed by the experience. Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony is one of the most moving statements of courage in the face of oppression ever composed. The other work on the program is the single most popular piano concerto, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, with George Li, a genius young pianist who is causing a sensation in the music world. I will be explaining the music in the pre-concert talk, as I always do, at 1:45, with the concert beginning at 3:00.”
The possibility is all yours to decide now. Especially since MIT students are offered a special discount and can attend the concert for $8. You can call the Boston Philarmonic Office to book your ticket ( 617.236.0999) or follow this link to the concert booking. Feel free to contact me if you need the special MIT code.
I already have my ticket, how about you?