I recently watched the 2002 Russian film Russian Ark, a 90 minute film done entirely in one take. The premise was a bit bland, there’s not really a story in the traditional sense, it’s more like a romanticized time-traveling tour through a grand museum. (The Hermitage museum in Saint Petersburg; looks like an awesome place to visit, even just for the beautiful grand palace architecture.) Anyway, near the end there’s this dance scene with an orchestra playing in this huge ballroom and the conductor looked really familiar. I was sure I had seen him in college.
In my college days, George Mason University offered students free concert tickets (if there were any left), which I took advantage of whenever I could. Usually free student tickets get placed in the way way back of the balcony, but one time I was seated in the front row, so close I could reach out grab the conductor’s ankle. OK, maybe not that close, I was a bit off to the side, but it was pretty close. I could definitely read the string musician’s score from my seat, so it was quite close. I had hardly any view of most of the orchestra, but I was up close and personal with the front row musicians and looking right up the right side of the conductor. And the conductor was hard to forget. He was really into the music, and was a bit distracting for someone in the front row, because I could hear him grunt throughout the music, and even see the sparkle of small bits of spittle that would fly out when things got particularly impassioned.
So I’m watching Russian Ark and the conductor looked familiar and I thought: “That’s the guy! Isn’t it?” So I had to look through my programs to confirm that, yes, it was the famous Russian conductor Valery Gergiev. You can see that he has a memorable face, and does indeed grunt and make noises while conducting. Below, for example (at 45:45). Fun stuff.