Conducting 103

14 04 2009

To any professional conductors reading this, I would first like to point out that my experience with orchestras is limited to school orchestras, and only for a few years. That said, I have tried to bring as much professionalism as I possibly could to every conducting opportunity – I’ve tried very hard to learn the music, learn each instrument’s parts, and come to rehearsals with as clear an idea of how the music should go as I possibly could. This (and other posts) are really more of a reflection on what I’ve learned over the years. Should you have reason to disagree with anything written, I would greatly appreciate your comments…I can’t promise I’ll agree with you right away, but a different perspective is something I rarely get in my line of work, and as such, is an opportunity to learn.

Let’s say you’ve got the leadership thing down pat – what else does an aspiring conductor need?

Taking my cue from Dmitiri Mitroupoulos, music director of the New York Philhamonic right around during World War 2 (before Bernstein, who was before Solti, who was before Barenboim).

He once said, “There is nothing to conducting; absolutely nothing – it’s all in the music.” Well, I confess I do not possess his near-mythical abilities as to say there is indeed, nothing to conducting, but I do agree that pretty much 90% of what you need in order to conduct is right there in the score: In so many words, if you know the music inside out, conducting will not be so difficult.

But then, if you don’t love the music, you wouldn’t really bother learning it as thoroughly as you should.

This leads me to the second thing an aspiring conductor should have: He or she must love the music with a passion – indeed, you could say that he or she must be possessed by the music. Not just a generic love for music (nearly every adolescent boy and girl in the Western world would say they love music) – we’re talking starry-eyed, gazing-into-eternity, I-couldn’t-sleep-last-night love for the music to be conducted.

Love the music, and you will have (or start to have) musical conviction, which you will need in order to steer 80+ musicians in any particular direction. You will not be satisfied with a mediocre reading of the piece; you will start to push the musicians to become better; you will find yourself longing to communicate the essence of the piece with the listeners (which could include some of the musicians themselves); you will study hard, because you will want to give the music justice with a polished, informed performance.

Of course, this is not easy, especially if you’re trying to make a career out of conducting: it took me years of listening before I could even imagine the possibility of conducting the second movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. There are four movements in all…so I need to learn to love the other three before I dare declare I can conduct his 9th.

Mind you, loving the music does not justify over-the-top, excessively-aggro interpretations of whatever music is being played – but frankly, I would prefer an impassioned performance, however misinformed the interpretation might be, over a “professional interpretation” that lacks fire. Of course, any conductor worth his or her salt will strive to strike a balance between the two.

In closing, my advice would be this: if you’re in a position to choose what music gets played in your orchestra, choose music that you love – nevermind if the orchestra doesn’t quite agree with you at first; if you love the music, they will see it, and if you persevere in leading them through it, before long, you will have the musicians loudly proclaiming the virtues of your lineup.




One response

17 04 2009

Have you read the chapter on Robert Fulghum(?)’s book All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (or something of the sort) where he talks about how he conducted the 9th? 🙂

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