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Old 11-18-2016, 11:13 PM   #1
Humoresque
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Great conductors

As I've mentioned previously, I'm presenting 2 lectures on Carlos Kleiber for our city community of music lovers - the first one early March - entitled "The Great Conductors". (My first was on Harnoncourt earlier this year after he died. But I concentrated then on Harnoncourt the HIP conductor, pedagogue and musician.)

I'm inevitably going to get the question "what actually makes a great conductor?" and I'm trying to address that right now. As in the past, my lectures have to start with a basic question or premise and then I proceed to argue the case. They're expositionary.

Can anybody help with an answer to the question "what makes a great conductor"? I'm not sure that I have the answer to that and I don't want to be left in front of the audience looking as if I haven't given it due consideration.

For me, the conductor's work has essentially been completed the day he/she stands astride the podium. Particularly in opera and ballet. Many conductors will say that you only have to start and stop a great orchestra; that they'll make their own way. That's to say the overall vision of a work is established - or should be - during the rehearsals. And Kleiber had an inordinately large number of rehearsals. Today there are precious few rehearsals so how does a conductor forge a reputation for 'greatness'? If he/she had a permanent contract with a particular orchestra as Kapellemeister or Music Director that would provide more scope to evaluate 'greatness'. Bayreuth comes to mind.

Then there are works post WW2 which definitely need a conductor because of the complexity of the scores. Again, how would we determine 'great conducting" from that? Is it a call that only musicians and critics can make?

Please let me have your ideas.
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Old 11-20-2016, 06:58 AM   #2
Peter
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I think the keyword is respect - respect the conductor has for the score and respect the musicians have for the conductor. Take someone like Karajan - he was not always loved but he was greatly respected because of his musical integrity. So a conductor has to have the ability to subvert himself in order to bring to life the dead notes on the page and inspire his musicians to communicate the composer's intentions successfully to an audience. I do think yes that ultimately a conductor's reputation is determined by the musicians who have to live and work with him/her - if an orchestra doesn't respect a conductor, they're not going to go far!
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Old 01-01-2017, 11:51 AM   #3
yolhanson
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It often comes down to credibility. Many famous conductors are also instrumentalists, many of whom would be considered "great" in their respective fields. They go into the job with knowledge and experience.
This gives the orchestra the sense that the conductor knows what it takes, and has had similar experiences.

A personal example, if I may (not concerning "greatness"): I became bandmaster of a regional brass band, you know, the type of community band that plays about 20 times a year at carnivals, fetes, special events, etc. These guys were good players and many of them had been playing for 20 or more years.
I was new to town and none of the members knew me, but they did know about the successful band from which I had come (about 100 miles away). I already had a great deal of credibility when I took the job. It helped enormously, of course, that I knew about music and was quickly able to teach them certain things.
I also treated them well, sharing a joke, having a beer, playing an instrument when we marched, helping to load the gear, etc.
Having said that, I never let them get away with anything when it came to music, and they knew that.


My point? If you have credibility and are willing to treat people well, you'll be respected.

Greatness is another thing. I think that requires a certain drive; a relentless pursuit. I can't think of one great person who didn't push him/herself to the limit. Sometimes, they don't live to see the greatness.

Obviously, a great conductor can't do it posthumously. It's a very temporal thing.
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