THE BLOG
12/07/2016 04:35 pm ET

Ben Zander: Young Man In A Hurry

At 78, Ben Zander is a young man in a hurry.
The conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and the Boston Youth Philharmonic Orchestra has more energy than most people half his age.
A third of his age.
You name the fraction; Maestro Zander has the juice.
To wit:
I don't know what you did last summer, but Zander took 120 teenagers in his orchestra first to Carnegie Hall where they played two free concerts to packed houses, with thousands in the audience never having attended a classical concert before.
The programs he chose for his charges were so difficult that even the New York Times wondered how kids could play such demanding music--and play it so well.
While in New York, Zander finished fundraising a cool million, so that he could take his kids not just to New York but to Spain for two weeks, where they played to enthralled houses across the Iberian peninsula.
Those kids better have their passports in order, because they'll be heading to South America this summer and back to Europe the summer after that.
But it's not as though Zander is only active in the summer.
He's just coming off the first round of concerts with his Boston Philharmonic, the highly acclaimed adult ensemble that specializes in terrifyingly difficult and innovative programs.
He auditions and re-auditions his youth orchestra members every season, which means that while you and I are watching Game of Thrones, he's listening to no less than 275 teens play their violins, cymbals, or whatever.
Of course, that's not all. Zander flies to London in March to take the baton for Beethoven's 9th with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at Royal Festival Hall.
Zander is hardly a cruise control conductor.
He has ideas.
"The inventor of the metronome," Zander says, on a fall afternoon as he navigates his boat down the Charles, "was a friend of Beethoven's.
"Beethoven loved the idea of the metronome, because now he could communicate his tempi quickly and easily.
"Most conductors ignore his tempi, which he put onto all nine symphonies.
"They play the 9th symphony in around 82 minutes, but if you look at what Beethoven actually wrote on his scores, it should not take more than an hour."
So Zander is quietly preparing to upend two centuries of musicology and perform Beethoven's 9th at what will seem like a shockingly breakneck pace.
"It's what Beethoven wanted," he insists, clearly taking great delight in épater-ing the bourgeoisie.
Zander has won two Grammy nominations; perhaps the recording of Beethoven's 9th he'll produce this spring will finally net him the award itself.
Of course, there's more.
Zander, a born teacher, has discovered the joys of teaching online, using the internet as a force multiplier for his master classes.
One of his videos has already scored more than 66,000 hits, he notes with great pleasure.
"They're watching all over the world," he says happily, steering his craft among the rowing skulls congesting the late afternoon Charles.
You may need a nap after hearing all this, but Zander clearly does not.
He's certainly in no mood to quit anytime soon, however.
Zander has a special fondness for Tchaikovsky, leading to his programming of Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony in his recent round of concerts.
"I only do it every eight or ten years," he says, "so I'll probably only be doing it one more time after this."
Of course, that would put him in the mid to late 80s, but why stop when you're on a roll?
Zander quotes the writing of his former wife and, by all accounts, BFF, Rosamund Zander, whose writing on positivity and possibility infuses every thought, word, and deed.
"Imagine if I went negative in front of my youth orchestra," Zander says, obviously not imagining any such thing. "It would be over in a minute.
"Energy," Zander says, "is like manure. You can't stack it up. You have to spread it around!"
Zander next spreads around his energy conducting the BPO on November 17th.
Tickets are going fast, but not as fast as Zander himself.
Catch him if you can.

For further information, http://www.bostonphil.org/concerts/2016-2017

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