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I’m sitting in a darkened concert hall at a recent performance by one of our outstanding regional orchestras, listening and marveling once again at how the musicians respond to the nuances the conductor communicates through the baton.

And then I notice that there’s a little extra action going on a few seats away.

No, not that kind of action. No, we have an audience conductor in our row.

Quietly, not-quite-subtly, just visibly in the subdued light, his right hand is tracing much the same pattern as the conductor’s.

Of course, I have never done such a thing myself. No, no, not at all.

I remembered this when I read a recent news release from the Cleveland Orchestra. Their season sponsor is the international financial services firm UBS, who also support the Verbier Festival Orchestra in Switzerland. UBS is interested in music. VERY interested, enough so that they funded development of Virtual Maestro. I’d call Virtual Maestro a conducting video game, but you might say it’s Guitar Hero for classical music.

Virtual Maestro lets you conduct an orchestra – well, more or less. What you actually conduct is a video recording of an orchestra – the Verbier Festival Orchestra, in fact – shown on a big plasma screen. The repertoire’s a bit limited, but you’re fine as long as you’re keen to conduct Rossini’s William Tell Overture and a few bits snipped from Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth.

You mount the podium, sort of, and raise your baton game machine controller. The musicians raise their instruments. Wave your WII remote and they start to play. The faster you beat time, the faster they play. The more violent your movements, the louder they play.

Now, granted, the expressive variety is a little lacking. Cueing individual musicians and sections is pretty much futile. It’s tough to catch the musicians’ eyes. And your most dramatic Bernstein-style podium acrobatics aren’t going to have any effect. But, by golly, you sure do have a grip on the ppp, fff, largo, and presto of the performance. That’s certainly more response than my fellow concert-goer got from his audience conducting.

If you want to try out your skills at orchestra piloting, you’ll have your chance before and after Cleveland Orchestra concerts, during intermissions, and prior to other Severance Hall concerts and events – for a few weeks. The UBS Virtual Maestro will be at Severance Hall from the 4th through the 25th of May; then it continues its tour of other American orchestras.

To find out when you can have your turn at the podium, see the orchestra’s event calendar.

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