■ The podium is not a throne. You have to bring the musicians your musical idea and convince them that it is a good one. Not the only one, because nobody owns the truth, but you must have a clear idea of your interpretation, and they will be inclined to follow you.
■ Arturo Toscanini said, “The arms are the extension of the mind.” So it is important not to be a clown on the podium. Great conductors of the past, like Fritz Reiner, almost didn’t move. Today, because we are generally a more visual society, people are impressed by the dynamism of the conductor. Some young conductors have nothing to say to the orchestra during rehearsals, but at the concert they make a big show. People think that physical energy means deep music, deep interpretation. It’s not true. The less you do, the more the music can go to the public without the interference of puppets moving.
■ We can feel immediately if the silence of the audience is the silence of people who are concentrating or the silence of people who are sleeping. When they are with you, you feel this energy. When you feel a dead place behind you, that can affect the performance.
■ During a performance here in Chicago, someone coughed at the beginning of a pianissimo. I was just giving the downbeat, exactly together with a beautiful sound of the cellist. So I had to stop, because he ruined a moment of intense emotion. To recoup the atmosphere, you need three, four, five minutes. I have also stopped at the Musikverein in Vienna. That is a sacred hall, untouchable, where Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler, and Verdi physically performed their work. I could hear a telephone ringing. I couldn’t stand it, so I stopped and said, “So answer now! Answer!”
■ Somebody asked the great Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi what is the secret of his talent. And he said three words: “Lavoro, lavoro, lavoro.” Work, work, work. That’s it. Because a genius without study and research is just crazy.
■ It is scientifically proven that when the cows listen to the music of Mozart, they make very good milk. When they listen to contemporary music or avant-garde music, they make acid milk. Or maybe ricotta, I don’t know. I’m not against this music, but most of it we appreciate with our brain and not with our heart. Physiologically, we are still made for tonal music.
■ Mozart, more than anyone else, is the music of perfection. When he wrote his music, he was in direct contact with God.
■ Picasso was a great painter in the traditional way, but then he felt he wanted to put in his paintings the drama of our world, and he completely changed history. In the same way, today’s classical music uses brutal, aggressive chords, and uses percussion, street players, and string instruments not in the most melodic way. This is because composers today want to express their troubles. We have to perform this music, because in helping these composers, it is possible that we’ll find a new prophet.