Power behind the baton: the conductor who prepared Cate Blanchett for Tár | Cate Blanchett

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Cate Blanchett’s new movie position as an imposing orchestral conductor is incomes her a shot at one other high performing award. But it has already given the Oscar-winner the expertise to steer an actual orchestra by way of a rating.

The actor, who performs fictional American conductor Lydia Tár in the movie, Tár, mastered the complexities of the job by coaching with Natalie Murray Beale, a longtime star in the area who lives in London and who spent weeks teaching Blanchett for the half.

Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár in Tár
Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár. Photograph: Courtesy of Focus Features/AP

Murray Beale, the hidden pressure behind the highly effective efficiency, supervised the orchestral scenes after guiding Blanchett throughout rehearsals.

“Cate can conduct now, if she wants,” Murray Beale instructed the Observer. “She is very musical, sings beautifully and now she has the tools to conduct. I suggested she learn the musical lines of the pieces by heart, rather than learning the score or copying another performance.” Murray Beale, 46, conducts opera, concert events and movie scores and, like Blanchett, is Australian.

“We developed her own style, but she’s an actress who changes all the time and we didn’t want it to be fixed, since at that level of conducting there is no strict, standard way to do it. A top orchestra is virtuosic, so you don’t need to do all the basics; you can express yourself more. We looked a lot at the physical aspects, ensuring she would not be too reverent of the conductor’s podium, because after all it’s just her workplace.”

Some early audiences have protested about director Todd Field’s portrayal of a manipulative and egocentric girl in a uncommon place of authority, however the musicianship and the examination of poisonous energy have satisfied many who work in classical music.

“I’m delighted that colleagues say it is authentic,” stated Murray Beale. “We went into great detail on the psychology of conducting. These abusive behaviours do still exist. There are not many places where a boss has such power. A conductor is a gatekeeper. I have witnessed anger in rehearsal and even a tussle between conductor and musician. It’s a highly competitive field.”

As a younger conservatoire scholar in Australia, Murray Beale herself was affected. “I experienced inappropriate behaviour from a teacher, which I reported. And yet the person concerned was protected. It’s very difficult for institutions because they don’t want things to reflect badly on them.”

The conductor believes “the old boys’ club” has been damaged down “to some extent”. “There is much more diversity now and the musicians have much more voice. That is a significant, positive change.”

Field’s resolution to forged a lady in the position of an abusive “maestro”, she argues, permits audiences to see the downside “with fresh eyes”. Whatever cinemagoers resolve about the remedy of the topic, Murray Beale provides, there may be an overriding worth to exhibiting a lady as a extremely expert, admired musician.

“It’s very easy for people to have a strong personal reaction to this film, but for me the lack of visibility for female conductors is the real problem. So it was exciting to realise this film will be seen all over the world, particularly in places where women are never shown in such authoritative roles.”

One of the hardest parts of conducting is the job of absorbing all the musical materials, however for Blanchett, Murray Beale suspects, the most troublesome second was her first encounter with the full orchestra in Dresden, Germany, the place the movie was largely shot. “Because of the lockdowns we hadn’t had much practice with that. Luckily, we were able to have some rehearsals. I said to Cate, ‘Just don’t be apologetic,’ and she developed a fantastic rapport. Whenever the musicians were drained and fatigued, she was able to flip the atmosphere by making them laugh.”

And Murray Beale quickly detected a useful, sudden parallel between the plot of the movie and the musical work of a conductor. “You need to create a lot of tension as a conductor, building up the sense in a concert piece that at some point it all has to break. I think this screenplay, and particularly the way the film has been edited, are just like that.”

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