The Nation's Pulse

Meet Jonathan

Who is this sensational boy conductor?

By 3.3.11

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Except for a few jealous conductors who hate child prodigies, the music world has leapt aboard the "Jonathan" phenomenon, a precocious boy whose video clip has now passed 5,362,000 views on YouTube.

By way of comparison, the video of Shaquille O'Neal stiffly conducting the Boston Pops last December is barely over a million, and Sarah Silverman's standup routine on Jews and German cars is in the mere 800,000s.

This is no "dancing baby" animation. This is a three-year-old child who has all the fluid moves, all the tempo changes and all the dynamics down pat in conducting a recording of the fourth movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony standing on a podium in his parents' living room. He knows the music.

Several viewers say they start their day with this video, it conveys such an overwhelming feeling of joy and amazement. "I have to get a fix every day. That's been going on for weeks now," says one woman.

I have watched it ten times. In the first few seconds it appears to be just another cute kid waving his arms to a recording of a symphony. Then you realize he is locked into the music, expressing himself with his full body, frowns, smiles, rolling of eyes. He glides from mood to mood, from being possessed to jumping with joy at Beethoven's percussive blows and syncopations.

"This is what we all feel," wrote one mother from Boston, "but we can rarely show it, especially when we 'grow up'."

Jonathan can be viewed in action here:

The boy's identity is still a mystery. His mother's off-camera voice at the end seems American-accented but she has not yet come forward to claim him. In one written comment, she says he was provided with a baton and podium at his own request. In the video he seems right at home on it.

Jonathan has a gift rarely seen at any age -- that of a joyful, emotional conductor capable of bringing classical music to life. As one viewer wrote, "Now we know where Leonard Bernstein went."

Another says he took a conducting class in music school where half the students were less proficient than Jonathan, "including me".

Many ask, "Who is this kid?" Several urge his parents to call Juilliard and get him on a career track. Dozens want to see him in front of an orchestra.

One man heard Jonathan's voice shouting "Louder!" to the recorded music but is convinced he said it in Russian, "Gromche!"

The video is running on several Internet sites. Composer-conductor Allen H. Simon posted it on ChoralNet, a site for conductors. He says he just happened to see the clip on the Internet and copied it knowing nothing about the boy. His conducting colleagues have been fascinated by the boy's natural moves.

For most viewers, the charm of this performance is the combination of genuine talent and child-like behavior. At one point Jonathan needs to wipe his nose on his sleeve, which he does without losing the beat. And at the climax he accidentally drops the baton and collapses in giggles, rolling on the floor.

That's one act Bernstein never tried.

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About the Author

Michael Johnson spent 17 years at McGraw-Hill, including six years as a news executive in New York. He now writes from Bordeaux in France.