In a response to a Slipped Disc post, the television director Rodney Greenberg recalls the maestro’s obsession with personal appearance before the cameras rolled.
What I remember about the Karajan event (Beethoven 9th live from the Philharmonie, New Year’s Day 1978) is how the schedule had him standing on the podium an hour before transmission while the lighting supervisor angled his lamps to best effect to achieve the most precise and flattering lighting on Karajan’s face. I don’t know of any other maestro personally ordering this ritual, certainly not Bernstein, but in Berlin they were used to it. It ties in with your comments about his highly-contrived films for Unitel – made under his total control, to the extent of fixing cardboard audience cut-outs in the balcony at the Philharmonie to disguise the empty seats on camera, if it wasn’t a public concert. A lot has been said about the look of the all-male extravaganzas he later filmed with fearsome precision in his own studio, with their back-lit phalanxes of players (including the word “fascistic”).
Your words “individual sections set up in a single line” are spot-on. It was a device pioneered by K for Unitel, whereby small units of the orchestra (the flutes and oboes, or a row of horns, or four violins) were brought back days after the concert specially for artfully-lit close-ups, miming to a playback of the relevant music. These segments were then spliced in. Unitel were proud of this technique and carried it forward into the Bernstein films. A music student would be brought in to beat time out-of-shot. He went home and told everybody he’d conducted the Vienna Philharmonic at the Musikverien.
The best story about these close-up sessions is when HvK decided to enforce a ban on facial hair (bald players were given wigs before the cameras rolled). His much-admired principal flute, James Galway, would have to shave his neat beard off. Jimmy tells how he stunned the maestro by resigning. “That’s it then Herbie, I’m off.” The irony being that the close-ups were so tight you only saw the instruments and the fingers. Players might just as well have been wearing Christmas hats and Santa Claus beards.