Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What do conductors do?

Here is an interesting article from "The Guardian" about conductors and what they do to influence an orchestra's performance:  Even more interesting is the discussion that appears in the comments section.  I am beginning to think that its only a brilliant conductor who actually influences the musical performance.  With unionized orchestras, an average rehearsal last about 2.5 hours.  This mostly permits a run through of the performance.  After having attended several open rehearsals, most conductors play through the music and rarely stop the rehearsal for interpretive issues.  Unless they are are very precise with their movements during a performance, they may influence the performance only subtly.  There is also the belief in the classical music world that a particular conductor's recording (and performance) of a piece of music can be used as a "gold standard" for that piece.  The best that can be said is that for that particular listener such is the case.  Music and the experience of it is an interaction between the listener and the performance.  What I think is a stellar performance may not move someone else.  My "gold standard" is not someone else's (I guess that is a restatement of beauty being in the eye of the beholder).  And conductors who present unusual interpretations and performances are often criticized for deviating from some standard. Honeck's Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 contains many deviations from the norm (louder brass, highlighting of internal voices). But critics, especially in the UK, have termed it "vulgar" and full of American technical ability but lacking in subtlety.  Yet, his interpretation is greeted with standing ovations, which (in places other than Atlanta, where a SO is commonplace) usually means the audience loved it. So whose opinion matters most? 

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