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New Trend

Posted by acdtest on November 7, 2003

New Trend

reg Sandow, of the ArtsJournal weblog, Sandow, reports on comments by some professional orchestra musicians concerning advice to young conductors. Among the comments were such useful and commonsensical suggestions as, “Speak up”; “Don’t mumble”; “Speak loudly enough so the players in the back can hear you”; “When you stop the music to say something, don’t talk before we stop playing.” And useful and sensible musical suggestions such as, “Admit your mistakes, if you make any”; “Hold postmortems, after performances”; “[T]alk about what went right and what went wrong”; “CONDUCT us! Actually conduct the performance going on in front of you. Don’t just wave your arms as if you’re following along with a CD.”

Excellent advice, all of it, and advice every conductor should take to heart.

But then, there’s this: “Use the resources of the orchestra. Ask our advice about how to conduct or play tricky passages.” “Ask the musicians how to fix things that aren’t going well.”

Excuse me? What sort of equalitarian lunacy is that? Any conductor who truly needs to take such advice to heart (as opposed to playing at following it as a courtesy tactic, and one which is perceived by the experienced orchestra members as only a courtesy) is a conductor who has no right stepping up on the podium in the first place. Such an inept conductor will justly earn only the professional contempt of his musicians by his asking for such advice, not their trust and affection. A conductor having to ask for such advice in earnest is much the same as a military commander in the midst of a firefight having to ask his troops how best to fight the battle instead of authoritatively telling them. The very idea is manifestly — and dangerously — absurd.

Mr. Sandow, whose profession it is to keep abreast of new musical trends and developments, comments by remarking,

I sense a new trend in the classical music business — the empowerment of orchestral musicians (not just from these [suggestions], but from many other straws in a new, fresh wind). And I think this empowerment is an important part of classical music’s future.

If I take Mr. Sandow’s “is” as a “will be,” he may well be right about that (it fits perfectly within the contemporary Zeitgeist), but for classical music’s sake, I sure do hope he’s dead wrong.

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