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Thread: The best way to improve an orchestra?

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    Default The best way to improve an orchestra?

    "The best way to improve an orchestra? Get rid of the bloke with the baton."

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/20...ok-tom-service

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    Senior Member World Violist's Avatar
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    Good for Spira Mirabilis. However, this article undermined its own credibility when it mentioned that the orchestra is 30 people strong. When you put together 80 or 90 people, it's just not practical in the least way to do this. There would be impasse after impasse, nothing would get done except after about a month for a single piece...and you know, doing the small Beethoven symphonies in a small orchestra with no conductor is fine, but try doing Bruckner 9 or Mahler 8 without a conductor. It's literally impossible.

    Conductorless orchestras have their niche, and I think the HIP movement has taught everyone that people need to stop thinking in absolutist terms like this. Getting rid of a conductor won't make an orchestra better unless the members have a plan to make the orchestra better some other way, and these guys did.

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    Senior Member emiellucifuge's Avatar
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    Before I clicked on the thread after having read the title my first answer was going to be something along the lines of:

    'if you have decent musicians I think the best way to improve would be to hire a conductor who will really inspire and bring them to new heights.'

    Ironic.

    Fascinating as this is, I have to agree with WV. Leadership and singular vision is necessary on a grander scale. Besides, in a few years we shall see. Maybe they've fallen into petty power politics and disagreement.
    "Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody." - Rousseau

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    Quote Originally Posted by World Violist View Post
    Good for Spira Mirabilis. However, this article undermined its own credibility when it mentioned that the orchestra is 30 people strong. When you put together 80 or 90 people, it's just not practical in the least way to do this. There would be impasse after impasse, nothing would get done except after about a month for a single piece...and you know, doing the small Beethoven symphonies in a small orchestra with no conductor is fine, but try doing Bruckner 9 or Mahler 8 without a conductor. It's literally impossible.

    Conductorless orchestras have their niche, and I think the HIP movement has taught everyone that people need to stop thinking in absolutist terms like this. Getting rid of a conductor won't make an orchestra better unless the members have a plan to make the orchestra better some other way, and these guys did.
    As egos and costs get larger and larger, I can see the concept moving to larger orchestras. The public would just have to get used to the panorama without a dark object waving a stick. You don't see their fronts, but for start & finish. We'll just have to wait and see.

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    Quote Originally Posted by emiellucifuge View Post
    Before I clicked on the thread after having read the title my first answer was going to be something along the lines of:

    'if you have decent musicians I think the best way to improve would be to hire a conductor who will really inspire and bring them to new heights.'

    Ironic.

    Fascinating as this is, I have to agree with WV. Leadership and singular vision is necessary on a grander scale. Besides, in a few years we shall see. Maybe they've fallen into petty power politics and disagreement.
    I wonder if a larger orchestra's players could put aside their petty differences for the sake of survival. Also, in some cases I think it might boost morale--the thought of losing a person that earns 20 to 30 times what they do.

    Certainly, an orchestra's principals would have to carry a little more weight. The Concertmaster would largely be the leader and visionary.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vaneyes View Post
    As egos and costs get larger and larger, I can see the concept moving to larger orchestras. The public would just have to get used to the panorama without a dark object waving a stick. You don't see their fronts, but for start & finish. We'll just have to wait and see.
    How could it move to larger orchestras if it's neither practical nor in some cases even possible? That's what I'm getting at; it's not a matter of costs and what's familiar to the public. If you're going to put money ahead of artistic quality, why even do music in the first place?

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    Quote Originally Posted by World Violist View Post
    How could it move to larger orchestras if it's neither practical nor in some cases even possible? That's what I'm getting at; it's not a matter of costs and what's familiar to the public. If you're going to put money ahead of artistic quality, why even do music in the first place?
    That's the question some now and more will be faced with. Have you not seen or read about shrinking orchestras? Who's to say the conductor won't be included in future reorganization/shrinkage?

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    Senior Member Meaghan's Avatar
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    Vaneyes, please understand that the following question is not meant to be confrontational, I'm just wondering--have you ever played in an orchestra?

    Speaking as someone who has played in several, I will say that I can imagine the smaller ones learning to function without a conductor, but playing Mahler (for instance) without a conductor would be quite impossible.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vaneyes View Post
    As egos and costs get larger and larger, I can see the concept moving to larger orchestras. The public would just have to get used to the panorama without a dark object waving a stick. You don't see their fronts, but for start & finish. We'll just have to wait and see.
    I'm sorry to say your comment (and the later one about 'shrinking' orchestras) shows you have little or no understanding of how an orchestra functions. Let me explain:

    You are playing at the back of a viola section of 10 musicians. To your left you have the cello section, to your right some of the second violins. In front of you are your viola-section colleagues and behind you there are trumpets and trombones blowing almost into your ear. When the orchestra is playing you can hear a little bit of what you are playing yourself, quite a bit of what the rest of the viola section is playing (because it's likely to be the same as what YOU are playing), plus little bits of cello and second violin. And then there are those trumpets and trombones periodically blowing down your ear. You can see the first violins, but you can only faintly hear them sometimes. You can also see the woodwind and horns (who will most likely be on the opposite side of the stage), but you can't actually HEAR what they're playing. Therefore, neither you nor anyone else in the orchestra actually knows how the AUDIENCE would be hearing the music - how the balance would work out. You are hearing the music from WITHIN the orchestras, while the audience hears it from the OUTSIDE. You have music in front of you that you don't know particularly well. It has many changes of time signature and tempo (speed). How do you know how to gauge those speed changes? And, even if you think you DO know, how will you negotiate them exactly the same as 80 other musicians, all with their own view of what would be correct? The simple answer is that it would be impossible; it would be a complete mess and would fall apart and grind to a halt within a very short space of time. That is one of the things a conductor does - he keeps everyone together by the beat of his baton. He also indicates how the changes of speed will be negotiated, he will adjust the balance between sections of the orchestra and will give cues to instruments with long periods of rests where they don't play. He will also have an overall view of the interpretation of the piece of music being played (yes, orchestral musicians have to subserviate their own views for the sake of a unified orchestra).

    2) An orchestra comprises the range of instruments specified by the composer to perform that piece of music. If you 'shrink' the orchestra, you leave instruments out and parts of the music will begin to go missing. The more woodwind and brass players the composer calls for, the larger your string section needs to be to balance the volume of sound produced by those sections. You can't simply play a Tchaikovsky symphony with 20 or 30 string players - they would simply be drowned out. The sonority would be all wrong too.

    3) Conductorless orchestras have been around for many years. But you will find they are always small chamber orchestras (maybe up to 30 players) where the musicians can (at least partly) sit close enough together to hear each other. You will also find that the repertoire is carefully chosen. I have actually managed a conductorless orchestra and I can assure you that some repertoire has to be discounted purely on the grounds that you "can't do it without a conductor". There is also the danger that the orchestra will sound bland, with the music performed almost by committee. I have heard several recordings by the technically superb Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (who perform with a conductor), but have always found their performances rather 'safe' and lacking in real fire. They have to do it this way or they risk coming apart at the seams.

    In short, you cannot dispense with a conductor. Having been a manager in the orchestra profession for 30 years I am only too well aware that there are many awful conductors. And too many who are paid way too much. However, try taking them away and see what you're left with.

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    I'm not surprised to see this topic raising so much interest, as well as hackles. The idea is radical as the orchestras get larger. I find it intriguing and await further development, or a petering out of such thought. Some orchestras have already folded their tents, choosing not to shrink. Others may try alternatives. We'll just have to wait and see.

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    As I see, the largest problem here is unability to hear other members. What about providing all musicians in the orchestra with headphones (or a single headphone: good, professional, and in-ear - well, you know these things) so that they would hear all other parts except their own? In this case even a large orchestra could sound competitive being conductorless. Just a suggestion.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hemidemisemiquaver View Post
    As I see, the largest problem here is unability to hear other members. What about providing all musicians in the orchestra with headphones (or a single headphone: good, professional, and in-ear - well, you know these things) so that they would hear all other parts except their own? In this case even a large orchestra could sound competitive being conductorless. Just a suggestion.
    To be honest, this looks like making up an excuse to do away with a conductor, and missing the point. In larger orchestral pieces, it's not entirely about keeping time, it's about the piece having a single definable interpretation. It just won't happen with 80 or so different, individual people. I'm sorry, but that's difficult enough within a string quartet, let alone a 30-piece orchestra.

    Besides, with earphones you wouldn't be able to tell whether you're in tune or not, and it would be ridiculously difficult to set up for every live performance you do, and it would look like a badly engineered studio recording every performance because of all the mics that would require. At that rate I would much rather stay with a conductor, since this alternative would just be an inconvenience.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hemidemisemiquaver View Post
    As I see, the largest problem here is unability to hear other members. What about providing all musicians in the orchestra with headphones (or a single headphone: good, professional, and in-ear - well, you know these things) so that they would hear all other parts except their own? In this case even a large orchestra could sound competitive being conductorless. Just a suggestion.
    In addition to World Violist's point, having headphones on won't help one iota with those changes of tempo (yes, you might hear it going askew, but what do you do about it that's going to be exactly the same as everyone else?) or those rhythmically complex passages with many changes of metre. Which one of the 'headphone brigade' will guide everyone through those passages? And how?

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    Or, get conductors that understand that they need to give space to the musicians.

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    Quote Originally Posted by conductorx View Post
    Or, get conductors that understand that they need to give space to the musicians.
    This is correct.

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