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Thread: Who is your all-time favorite and least favorite famous Conductor?

  1. #166
    Senior Member dillonp2020's Avatar
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    Favorite: Bernstein (everything but Beethoven symphonies).
    Least favorite: Karajan, his recordings aren't fantastic, add that to his involvement with the National Socialists (not in the mood to argue the extent of his involvement), he sucked. From what I've read, Furtwangler was less involved with the regime than Karajan, so that's why Karajan takes the cake, or doesn't I suppose.
    Last edited by dillonp2020; Jun-15-2017 at 22:03.

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  3. #167
    Senior Member Gabriel Ortiz's Avatar
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    My favorite all time favorite is Kondrashin, mostly due to the performers he has played with, in combination with his fantastic Russian style.

    Which bring about another argument: Conductors who hail from different countries have different styles. For instance, Arturo Toscanini and Serge Koussevitsky. They think and interpret very differently, who emotionalize about things in a different way, and carry different philosophies. Toscanini is a classsicist, and seems to do nothing at all to the music, per the wish of the composers.

    The Russian conductor, is a romanticist. Complete body and soul, and very moving. So much fire and passion, it can create an overwhelming interpretation if done correctly.

    Apples and oranges!
    Would it save everybody a lot of time if I gave up and went mad now?

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  5. #168
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    My # 1 - Wilhelm Furtwangler
    My # 200 - James Levine

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    Senior Member Becca's Avatar
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    One contemporary conductor who has been rapidly rising in my estimation is Semyon Bychkov. I have seen a few really good concerts by him with the Berlin Philharmonic including an exceptional Shostakovich 11th, and last night I watched a very good video of last week's London Symphony concert of the Mahler 2nd.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Becca View Post
    One contemporary conductor who has been rapidly rising in my estimation is Semyon Bychkov. I have seen a few really good concerts by him with the Berlin Philharmonic including an exceptional Shostakovich 11th, and last night I watched a very good video of last week's London Symphony concert of the Mahler 2nd.
    Heard Bychkov conduct Chicago in two epic 8th symphonies a couple years back:
    Shostakovich and Bruckner - very fine, well-conducted, great concerts...I have that Shost #11 with BPO also - excellent...

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  10. #171
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    I'm not sure that I have one "all-time favorite" conductor. It's been more like a dozen or so conductors that have most stood out to me over the decades.

    Also, I very much tend to like certain conductors for specific repertory, which I think they did exceptionally well: such as Furtwangler in the romantics & late romantics--like Bruckner; Stokowski in Debussy, Ravel, Mahler & Rimsky Korsakov; Haitink in Beethoven, Strauss, Tchaikovsky, & Bruckner; Kempe in Strauss, Brahms, & Wagner; Monteux in Brahms, Ravel, and Debussy; likewise Munch, Martinon, Rosenthal, Dutoit, Inghelbrecht, Ansermet, Baudo, Cluytens, Bour, & Boulez in the French repertory; Berglund in Sibelius, most of all, but also Nielsen, Smetana, & Shostakovich; Stravinsky, Dutoit, Craft, Bour, Markevitch in Stravinsky; Abbado in Mahler, Prokofiev, Debussy, Ravel, & Bartok; Bernstein in Haydn & Mahler; Ancerl in Mahler & Martinu; Neumann in Martinu & Dvorak; Kertesz in Brahms & Dvorak; Kubelik in Mahler, Dvorak, Martinu, Smetana, Mozart & Beethoven; Blomstedt in Strauss, Hindemith, & Bruckner; Masur in Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Strauss, Brahms, & Bruckner; Guilini in Bruckner, Debussy, & Mahler; Barbirolli in Mahler, Sibelius, and Elgar; Boult in Vaughan Williams & Elgar; Klemperer in Wagner, Mahler, and choral works by Beethoven & Brahms; C. Kleiber in Wagner & Weber; Walter in Brahms & Mahler; Rozhdestvensky in the Russian repertory; Mravinsky in the Russian repertory; Kondrashin in the Russian repertory; Knappertsbusch in Wagner & Bruckner; Sir Colin Davis in Haydn, Berlioz, Dvorak, & Mozart; Marriner in Elgar & Vaughan Williams; Celibidache in Bruckner & Rimsky-Korsakov; Horenstein in Mahler; Sawallisch in Schumann, Mendelssohn, Wagner, & Strauss; Bruggen in Haydn & Mozart; Hogwood in Mozart & Handel; Gardiner for the choral works of Beethoven, Haydn, & Handel, Milnes in Bach, William Christie in Mozart, Haydn, & a range of Baroque composers, McCreesh in his brilliant Handel, etc. etc..

    But if I was pressed to pick just one conductor, I'd probably choose Eugen Jochum, who I most value for his Bruckner, Wagner, Beethoven, Haydn, Brahms, Orff, and Schubert. Although I don't think Jochum was a great conductor in everything that he conducted. For example, his style of conducting isn't right for Baroque music, such as his recordings of Bach oratorios & the Mass in B minor. Here I would definitely prefer Peter Schreier, who has a better understanding of the style of Baroque music, at least among modern instrument conductors (also for Mozart's choral works too). However, Schreier hasn't conducted the range of repertory that Jochum did. So again, we're back to specific conductors for specific repertory.

    I've also long been impressed by Jochum's character. A lifelong Catholic. He refused to join the Nazi party. The various personal accounts I've heard from people who met and knew Jochum during his years at Tanglewood in Massachusetts have always been very positive. They've all echoed the same story, that he was a remarkably fine, intelligent human being. A composer friend once commented that Jochum was "the nicest man I ever met who was a conductor." So, I admired Jochum. As a conductor, I've found that Jochum's interpretations often get more profound with further listening. For example, pianist Claudio Arrau once said that Jochum was the only conductor he ever worked with in his career that truly understood Beethoven's 4th Piano Concerto. I don't expect many people would have guessed that. Also, when Karl Bohm passed away in the midst of Maurizio Pollini's 1st Beethoven Piano Concerto, Pollini searched far and wide for a conductor to replace Bohm on the project, and decided upon Jochum.

    As for personal remembrances, I have a particularly vivid & cherished memory of Jochum (who was very tall by the way) conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in Bruckner's 9th symphony at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia in the early 1980s. It was very impressive. Indeed I've come to believe that Jochum's highly regarded Bruckner was even finer towards the end of his life. The following live recording in Munich, for example, which was hand picked by the conductor's daughter, pianist Veronica Jochum, from the Jochum archives, conveys something of what I remember from that Jochum concert in Philadelphia so many years ago (though I don't recommmend Jochum's live 7th from the same series, which doesn't represent him at his best, IMO):

    https://www.amazon.com/Bruckner-Symp...ruckner+wagner

    But it was Jochum's Beethoven that most initially imprinted on me. My first Beethoven symphony cycle on LP was Jochum's Philips box set, made in the 1960s with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam (and I later bought his EMI LSO cycle from the 1970s). Fortunately, I had previously bought one of the individual LPs to 'try out' his Amsterdam cycle, and found that there was an brief essay on the back cover of the LP that Jochum had written about Beethoven, which described who Beethoven was to him. It remains the most perceptive account of who the Beethoven actually was that I've read, and I treasure Jochum's words. Many biographers have said less on Beethoven, in many more pages. For those that have never read Jochum's brief essay, here it is:

    "What the New Testament is for Christians, Beethoven could be--and even is to a larger extent--for those who strive after the humanitarian ethos. Is it perhaps that the human being is the subject of all he has to say?

    The human being who in Bach lived, believed, suffered, and died sheltered but also confined within the strictly defined bounds of Protestant Christian existence, humble, bound to a God in an objective order. The human being who in Mozart already enjoyed full freedom in the seraphic beauty of a perfect harmony, almost innocent, in spite of every refinement touching only in 'Don Giovanni' the dark substratum of the world, hubris and destruction, but in the confrontation of forces returning to the law.

    But what is the human being in Beethoven? He is the entity entirely filled with consciousness of himself, the hazards of his existence, his suffering, his nobility, and his greatness. This man Beethoven, who was he?

    Certainly no hero in the sense of the martial victor, no Achilles, radiant even in downfall, but a man pursued by the demons of his inmost being, seaching for freedom, greatness, and above all love. And all wrung under the most adverse circumstances from humiliation and misery, and in the unimaginable lonliness to which deafness condemned him, without ever the sound of a loving voice to break this barrier.*

    As 'God gave him the power to say what he suffered,' he could only put all that white hot emotion, mute suffering, humiliation, and intimations of an ineffable sublimity into musical form. And so he transmuted in the forge of his suffering the human means of expression into musical form, relentlessly wrought into the most exact design. And then the miracle happens, that in this most pure, virile music all that stirs the heart of a human being is turned to speech; suffering, grief, lonliness, but also, and above all, the indescribable sweetness of consolation, happiness, dance, ecstasy carried to the bounds of mystical transport; from the Virgilian secular piety of the 'Pastoral' symphony and the 'Concalescent's hymn of thanks to the Godhead,' of the String Quartet Op. 132, to the visionary perception of a Father beyond the stars and the devotion of the 'Missa Solemnis.' The entire span of the human heart and spirit is in that work, perceptible, communicable. There is appeal and reassurance, the courage to shoulder one's own destiny in the faith in the indestructible, invincible dignity which makes human beings what they are.

    That is Beethoven for me.

    [*That he enjoyed a social position among the Viennese nobility which was exceptional for a musician of the day alters nothing. To him this position was a mere veneer, more or less arrogated, and at the same time despised. Nor was there solace in his many erotic episodes, none of which led to the marriage he so earnestly desired. They only deepen the shadows in the picture of this Goyaesque life.]"

    What a remarkable man Jochum was.

    As for my least favorite conductor, that isn't as difficult, but again, a handful of conductors come to mind. I confess I don't overly treasure Eugene Ormandy's conducting, but have to admit that Ormandy gave us some excellent Sibelius tone poems & Rachmaninov, and the old Philadelphia orchestra was a great orchestra. So I won't choose Ormandy. Giuseppi Sinopoli also comes to mind. Sinopoli took over the helm of my favorite orchestra in the world, the Staatskapelle Dresden, in the years following Herbert Blomstedt's tenure in Dresden, and their magnificent DG recordings with Carlos Kleiber in the 1980s (especially their Tristan und Isolde). Sinopoli set about trying to mess with their sound, and to my ears, made them a worse orchestra. So Sinopoli is definitely a contender. However, I have to admit that I've liked Sinopoli's Mahler 2nd & 8th, so I won't pick him either.

    I also don't think highly of James Levine as a conductor either, or as a man.

    Nor am I huge fan of George Szell's conducting either, which I can find stiff & unrelaxed, highly strung or overly driven, and rather humorless. But then again, Szell did accompany some of my favorite musicians in recordings that I value, such as David Oistrakh in the Brahms Violin Concerto. Also, when Szell got out of Cleveland, he surprisingly became a better conductor, such as on his Sibelius 2nd and Beethoven 5th with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam on Philips, for example. So I won't pick Szell, either.

    But the one conductor that I've liked less and less over the decades has been Herbert von Karajan. Even the recordings that I once valued by Karajan, during my LP days, I like a lot less now. Over time, I've come to see that Karajan was, more or less, a one size fits all conductor, who hid his not so impressive talent behind a carefully calculated, overly lush, rather seductive Berlin orchestral sound, which was applied to all composers, regardless of period or genre. With Karajan, I never hear scores in the kind of detail that other conductors reveal. The music gets blurred by the homogenous, thickly string laden sound that he cultivated in Berlin, and many important details become lost or glossed over. While I would admit that Karajan could be very good in Bruckner, & occasionally in Strauss, & Wagner, I've come to see him as a very overrated conductor. Plus, he joined the Nazi party not once, but twice. So, I'd pick Karajan as my least favorite conductor.
    Last edited by Josquin13; Feb-12-2018 at 22:04.

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  12. #172
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    ^Jeez, that was one helluva long post, Josquin13! You must be exhausted.

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Merl View Post
    ^Jeez, that was one helluva long post, Josquin13! You must be exhausted.
    Just to say that as Josquin13's post was taken up with Jochum's romanticised tribute to Beethoven. Sadly it appears from researched biographies that thought LvB was one of the greatest composers he was a pretty ghastly man to know. He certainly tried the patience of all around him and his concept of the Brotherhood of Man didn't seem to apply to those who displeased him. The music, of course, is something else!
    I'd rate Jochum's set of Bruckner very highly indeed - the best alongside Karajan's in a very different way. It's good that he was a nice man which probably makes him an exception among conductors of his time. Although he didn't join the Nazi party, according to the NY Times, 'Mr. Jochum's career advanced steadily if unspectacularly during the Nazi regime, but he was not stigmatized as a Nazi sympathizer after the war. His relationship with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, which he had first conducted during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, remained close thereafter.' So although not a Nazi sympathiser he certainly conducted under the regime and kept his post at Hamburg. In 1944, Joseph Goebbels included Jochum in the Gottbegnadeten list, but we maybe should not blame Jochum for that. There was after the war some controversy between the British and Americans about Jochum's role under the regime but he was eventually exonerated.

    Old style conductors didn't tend to be 'nice'. Reading Beecham's biography you get the impression that he was not a very nice man to know, for all his 'bon mots' - but he was certainly a marvellous conductor. Really, when you look at the list of these podium giants of the past there are not many you could say were 'nice' people. Of course with the democratisation of orchestras in recent years, podium tyrants like Toscanini have become extinct.

    I'm always puzzled by the 'one size fits all' remarks about Karajan. I have different recordings and even with the same piece he often conducts it differently. I know it's become a fashionable snipe by the critics but although there is a 'Karajan sound' (as with any conductor of merit) I wouldn't say it's a 'one size fits all'.
    Last edited by DavidA; Feb-15-2018 at 13:56.

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    Jochum is really one of the greats. Bruckner aside, a recording he's often associated with is the Brahms concerti with Gilels, and rightly so because it's a masterpiece, but his Beethoven was indeed incredible. Shame he never recorded any with Gilels, would've been a better cycle than Gilels's stilted studio recording with Szell.

    Had Karajan recorded nothing else but Mozart he'd still be a major, major figure. His Cosi is out of this world, the concerti with Gieseking from the Nazi years are as good as it gets, etc etc

    I absolutely adore Bernstein in Russian modernism (Svadebka, The Scythian Suite, Shostakovich), his temperament coupled with rhythmic drive are perfect for this music.

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  17. #175
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    "Just to say that as Josquin13's post was taken up with Jochum's romanticised tribute to Beethoven. Sadly it appears from researched biographies that thought LvB was one of the greatest composers he was a pretty ghastly man to know. He certainly tried the patience of all around him and his concept of the Brotherhood of Man didn't seem to apply to those who displeased him. The music, of course, is something else!"

    I wouldn't myself describe Jochum's essay as a "romanticised tribute". Though "to romanticize" may mean something different to you than it does me. To me, the word means to view something or someone in an idealized or unrealistic way--to make them seem better and more appealing than they actually are. Therefore, to characterize Beethoven's life, as Jochum does, as "Goyaesque" is hardly to 'romanticize' it. (Have you seen Goya's darker etchings?) Indeed, Jochum asks the question who was Beethoven the man? and writes that he was

    "Certainly no hero in the sense of the martial victor, no Achilles, radiant even in downfall, but a man pursued by demons of his inmost being, seaching for freedom, greatness, and above all love. And all wrung under the most adverse circumstances from humiliation and misery, and in the unimaginable lonliness to which deafness condemned him, without ever the sound of a loving voice to break this barrier."

    "No hero", "a man pursued by demons of his inmost being", "wrung under the most adverse circumstances from humilation and misery", "unimaginable lonliness".... to me, all that is an accurate (& not so flattering) characterization. Jochum sees the darker, more troubled aspects of Beethoven's life as sad and pathetic, and yet worthy of human compassion and empathy. Like most human lives. More perceptively, he sees that Beethoven's sufferings were something that gave the composer a common bond to all of humanity. Except that unlike most people, Beethoven had the rare genius to be able to put all that he was suffering and feeling into his music. & remarkably, he was always able to bring his difficult struggles to a positive, life affirming, joyous resolution in his music by the strength of his will to create. Beethoven never stays down for long. In my view, that's an accurate characterization.

    Jochum also recognized that Beethoven had a special relationship to the Creator, a "visionary perception of a father beyond the stars", much like the great composers of Middle Ages & early Renaissance--along with J.S. Bach, G.F. Handel, F.J. Haydn, and W.A. Mozart. Again, I don't see that as an 'idealization' either, but rather an accurate, perceptive insight. Indeed, Beethoven once wrote “In the old church modes the devotion is divine … God let me express it someday”--at a time when he was studying the scores of Palestrina and/or Josquin Desprez (or possibly Ockeghem), with the idea of one day composing his Missa Solemnis. In other words, like Bach & Haydn--who both wrote on their scores, "Ad majorem Dei gloriam" or "To the greater glory of God", Beethoven similarly recognized that a special connection does exist between creative human genius, devotion, and the divine.

    I don't know about others, but when I listen to Beethoven's String Quartet No. 132 or Missa Solemnis, I can't help but find myself in complete agreement with Jochum's words and thoughts. If anything, he's guilty of understatement.

    Granted, there were aspects of Beethoven's character that were less than admirable (though Beethoven was also frequently misunderstood, & still is today, in my opinion. For example, one unkind critic recently described him as a "narcissistic hooligan"). However, possessing human flaws doesn't mean that the moments of ineffable beauty that exist in Beethoven's music aren't a reflection of the man's character, mind, heart, and soul. His music isn't some trick or contrivance. He's not being insincere. Nor do his flaws mean that he wasn't capable of the most remarkable intelligence and humanity--as a man (& artist), either. The man is the music, & the music is the man. All great art has a similar light and dark struggle within it, a duality--just like the human condition. Our lives are mirrored in it. If you want to know who Beethoven really was as a man, in his heart & soul, just listen to his music. If you want to know who Shakespeare was as a man, just read his Sonnets, etc. etc. Yet we live in an age where artists' lives are viewed as somehow separate from their work. That's not how I see it, nor is it what I know to be the truth from my own experience. (Though, of course, we have to be wary of the kind of absurd scenario that Nabokov comically paints in his novel, "Pale Fire".)

    It's also in vogue today to tear down these giants of past centuries by focusing on their human flaws, as if such flaws aren't common to everyone, or shouldn't be there, or weren't absolutely necessary to their progress as artists, and to their greater comprehension of life and understanding of the human condition, in their art.

    I sometimes wonder if people understand (or sympathize with the fact) that artists, writers, composers with a higher genius are often in the most unenviable position of being the recipients of an enormous amount of antagonism, resentment, unkindness, even cruelty and jealousy directed at them, by those that seek to hinder & impede their progress and life's mission. Indeed, such people often have more difficult obstacles to overcome than others. Look no further than Beethoven or Bach. As a result, it shouldn't be too surprising that, in response, they often develop strong artistic temperaments, out of necessity, along with a certain combativeness towards those that wish to bring them down, and a strong dislike of any authority that tries to alter or hinder their purpose, and in return, naturally they get labeled as "difficult" (which was also said about Josquin Desprez, imagine that). Otherwise, most of them would never have realized their immense gifts, at least, not to the same extent.

    In my view, it's better to go back to the source, and read what artists actually had to say themselves, in their own words & thoughts, or what those that knew them more intimately than others and loved them had to say, rather than those who may have resented or been jealous of them, or not understood the nature of genius very well, or didn't know them from Adam:

    https://www.amazon.com/Beethoven-Art...+his+own+words

    As for Karajan, I wasn't trying to convince Karajan lovers not to hold his conducting in high esteem. I know they do. I don't personally, but that's how I feel (after having heard a great many recordings by other conductors). I think the period movement has had something to do with why I've soured on Karajan over the decades. For example, if you listen to his highly regarded recording of Haydn's "The Creation", and then compare it to Gardiner or Christie's HIP versions, Karajan clearly drags the music, and he doesn't do this masterpiece the justice it deserves, no matter how good his singers may be. I feel the same way about his hugely overrated (IMO) Beethoven. & I could also make critical remarks about Karajan's Debussy and Ravel in relation to Dutoit's, or his Sibelius in relation to Berglund's, or his Tristan und Isolde in relation to Carlos Kleiber's version in Dresden. Etc. Though, I admit I also prefer the Staatskapelle Dresden as an orchestra over the Berlin Philharmonic (during Karajan's era). With the Staatskapelle, I always hear the full score, the orchestral details are never obscured, and that's a big plus for me. They're also a better orchestra for Mozart & Haydn than the Berlin Philharmonic, IMO. So it's not just a conductor issue, though, yes, Karajan was responsible for cultivating that thick, velvety string laden sound of his Berlin Philharmonic, which depending on the composer & genre of music, I'm not always a fan of.

    As for Jochum's relation to the Nazis, what was a conductor of Jochum's quality supposed to do during the war, stop conducting and not eat? He never joined the Nazi party. Surely, that was in itself a brave act of defiance, especially when you consider how difficult it must been to be a notable German conductor during the Nazi era, with such oppressive cultural policies being enforced all around him by some of history's worst & most brutal butchers, who yet bizarrely felt a twisted and misguided affinity for German classical music.

    But, if we're going to speak about conductors that actually embraced the Nazi party, shouldn't we rather be talking about Karajan instead? As neither Jochum or Furtwangler were ever guilty of joining the Nazi party, while Karajan did so not once, but twice, just to make sure that the Nazi authorities noticed.

    Merl--Now I'm exhausted. ;-)
    Last edited by Josquin13; Feb-17-2018 at 21:02.

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