Push your musicians to the limit?
Yesterday I performed (as a singer in the choir) in the performance of Symphony #9 by Beethoven in the Concertgebouw with the following line-up. Cappella Amsterdam (professionals) supporting the VU Kamerkoor (amateurs), the Orchestra of the 18th Century (of course the best professionals) and soloists Katherin Dain, Esther Kuiper, et etc, all led by Jonathan Darlington.
First off, generally speaking I was extremely happy with the professional, empathetic, vigorous, musical, and precise conducting by this gentleman. Finally! I conductor who can do it all, and that with a healthy and friendly attitude.
The singers were invited to join the O18 because they were hosting a Beethoven Festival. They had an absolutely gruelling schedule of daily rehearsals of various pieces and three evening performances in a row: day 1 Beethoven 1 and Violin Concerto, day 2 Erioca and the 5th piano concerto, and day 3 the 9th Symphony. We, of course, only joined for the 4th movement of the 9th. My observation, having heard this orchestra in collaborations numerous times, was the following: they had a very amicable and yet powerful musical bond with this particular conductor (I've seen them hate a conductor as well). The musicality of the strings, timpani, and some winds, including the fabulous 1st bassoonist just bloomed under his direction. In particular I have to mention the 1st violin section, which under the leadership of Alexander J. was technically and musically impressive. It was a huge Beethoven, raw and over the top where needed, emotionally vulnerable, without boundaries.
The 1st and 2nd movements of the ninth were the height of their passions, abilities, and technique.
And now I get to the "however." The third movement I attribute to a management blunder. The embouchure and concentration of winds and perhaps also conductor were struggling with fatigue. Intonation, which I have a high ability to forgive in such circumstances, became an unavoidable irritation. The 4th movement rekindled the energy and brought the symphony to a roaring standing ovation. However, that 3rd movement still bothers me. The O18 is simply a fabulous orchestra that under this particular conductor, could have sounded at their very best. I think that the management needs to analyze how far they can actually push these musicians without compromising quality. A full rehearsal day on the same day as a concert of the 9th, after a long full week and two concerts of different repertoire is simply too much to ask of the wind's embouchure and the concentration of all the players and, let's not forget, the conductor!
The orchestra is embarking on a new path, and many great steps are being taken to ensure the future of the orchestra. To that, bravo!
Off to see Panula again
Probably for the 3rd and last time, I'll be taking a masterclass from Jorma Panula again. This time the repertoire is Ravel La Mere L'Oye, Dvorak's Carnival Overture, and Mozart 39. We received an email yesterday (3 days prior to masterclass) that we would also be conducting Brahms 3 and Sibelius 6. So instead of writing this blog, I should actually be studying my ass off.
Sibelius 6 I did with Panula last year, but even as I look at the score, I wonder, why did I do that then? Strange how time forms the bizarre mushroom in your skull called the brain. And Brahms 3.. I did that with Panula in 2007. He must recycle. Not bad pieces to do so with. The violin part is in any case less daunting than it was back in my orchestral violinist days. Crossing the fingers (well, toes are more appropriate) at the leaps of faith still applies.
I remember in any case that the orchestra in Budapest was not so musically warm and communicative as I had hoped. Of course they played well, but there was a wall between us conductors and them. This situation is different. There will be a 19 piece ensemble (I'll play along as well, seems much more fun than sitting around waiting my turn). Far from complete...
What's been on my mind recently is the future of classical music. I see my orchestra petering out (literally). In my choirs there are young people, but not nearly enough to replenish the old, especially tenors and basses. The Netherlands, (and the world), on the other hand, becomes fuller and fuller and fuller of people who have nothing to do with, or no interest in, or not enough schooling for practicing a musical art form. The world is becoming full of emptiness.
Less is more less is more less is more...
Some day I might start my own school where-in children sing and play an instrument daily. It's been on my mind.
I have performed in hundreds and hundreds of concerts in my lifetime. As a child, I was the fast one, the one that got annoyed at the slowness of others and the ineptitude of various conductors. I was the one that wanted to participate, to move to the music. I longed to move the group. I was a leader. I guess that it's only natural that I wanted to become a conductor. It sounds ridiculous, but I think it's the same reason that girls are often obsessed (as I was) with horses. To control something big, to have an emotional bond with the animal, to feel the wind course through your hair on a trail ride canter, the exhilaration, the smells, the empathy, the danger. Your youthful energy and enthousiasme makes it possible. The thing is, is it necessary to retain this as age sets in? As the need subsides? Is it a sign of maturation, in a positive manner, that the need to lead changes and slightly subsides? Does that fact that experience teaches you to temper yourself and to accept the tempo around you instead of push it on, show signs of a bore-out, or is this natural?
The concept of conducting has always been a questionable issue for me. What is the need for a conductor? Are we simply there to pull up those who can't pull their own weight to join those who can, or do we only give that extra bit of fire, or do we, as a benevolent dictator, lead the group to follow our own "brilliant" vision of how something should go, or do we simply feel empathy for the group dynamic and subtly help it to bloom?
Over the years and before a huge variety of ensembles that I've stood in front of, I have been all of the above. Perhaps a palette is needed due to the incredibly diverse levels that one deals with in the music world.
Sigh. The search continues. How closely it resembles political systems. The question that I have been grappling lately is: a conductor-less ensemble (including chamber music groups.). Does it represent communism in it's best form (one in which everybody pulls their own weight before it descends into lethargic "hangmat" socialism), or is it truly a democracy?
Hebe de Champeaux
conductor, mezzo-soprano, violinist, composer