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Thread: Meanest conductor ever?

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    Default Meanest conductor ever?

    Just recently came across this video:



    I know Karl Böhm had a reputation for being not exactly the nicest conductor on Earth. But this is pretty harsh. Apparently, he still cared, even in old age. Feel really bad for the culprits. Still, I have to admit I love Böhm's work.
    "What's intended in this end section of course is a sort of, how shall I say, exhilirating immersion in total negation - which itself produces a sort of sublimity." - Brian Ferneyhough

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    That sweat-drenched face was bearing down upon us like the archangel of vengeance himself as we almost disemboweled ourselves with feverish effort. Then suddenly, a spine-chilling wail: "Pi-a-a-a-n-o-o! Bassi! Contrabassi! You grunt away like pigs! You sound as if you were scratching your bellies -- szshrump! szshrump!" he would bellow, while, tearing at his clothes, he viciously pantomined the scratching. "Corpo del vostro Dio! PI-A-A-NO!"

    "But Maestro," a player would sometimes protest in a small, hesitant, and resentful voice. "My part is printed 'forte.' " "What you say?" the Old Man would growl menacingly, unbelievingly, distracted for the moment from his tirade. "It says 'forte,' " the player would reply, this time in an even smaller, more apologetic voice.

    "What? Forte? FORTE?" with an air of incredulity. "What means 'forte'? Ignorante! Is a stupid word -- as stupid as you! Is a thousand fortes--all kinds of fortes. Sometimes forte is pia-a-a-no, piano is forte! Accidenti! [Damn it!] You call yourself a musician? O, per Dio santissimo! You play here in THIS orchestra? In a village cafe house you belong! You don't listen to what others play. Your nose in the music -- szshrump! szshrump! You hear nothing! You cover up the oboe solo! One poor oboe -- one! -- and you szshrump! szshrump! Where are your ears? Look at me! Contra-ba-a-ss-i!" in a long, drawn-out wail. "Tutti! Tutti! Vergogna! [Shame!]"

    -- Quoted from Samuel Antek, "This Was Toscanini", 1963


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    Quote Originally Posted by Andreas View Post
    I know Karl Böhm had a reputation for being not exactly the nicest conductor on Earth. But this is pretty harsh. Apparently, he still cared, even in old age. Feel really bad for the culprits. Still, I have to admit I love Böhm's work.
    Apparently that's nothing compared to the glares Mahler would routinely give players (during concerts) who failed to live up to his instructions or made mistakes. The worst part is that that glare would certainly lead to a harsh talk later on.
    Last edited by Mahlerian; Sep-09-2014 at 07:00.

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    Quote Originally Posted by KenOC View Post
    That sweat-drenched face was bearing down upon us like the archangel of vengeance himself as we almost disemboweled ourselves with feverish effort. Then suddenly, a spine-chilling wail: "Pi-a-a-a-n-o-o! Bassi! Contrabassi! You grunt away like pigs! You sound as if you were scratching your bellies -- szshrump! szshrump!" he would bellow, while, tearing at his clothes, he viciously pantomined the scratching. "Corpo del vostro Dio! PI-A-A-NO!"

    "But Maestro," a player would sometimes protest in a small, hesitant, and resentful voice. "My part is printed 'forte.' " "What you say?" the Old Man would growl menacingly, unbelievingly, distracted for the moment from his tirade. "It says 'forte,' " the player would reply, this time in an even smaller, more apologetic voice.

    "What? Forte? FORTE?" with an air of incredulity. "What means 'forte'? Ignorante! Is a stupid word -- as stupid as you! Is a thousand fortes--all kinds of fortes. Sometimes forte is pia-a-a-no, piano is forte! Accidenti! [Damn it!] You call yourself a musician? O, per Dio santissimo! You play here in THIS orchestra? In a village cafe house you belong! You don't listen to what others play. Your nose in the music -- szshrump! szshrump! You hear nothing! You cover up the oboe solo! One poor oboe -- one! -- and you szshrump! szshrump! Where are your ears? Look at me! Contra-ba-a-ss-i!" in a long, drawn-out wail. "Tutti! Tutti! Vergogna! [Shame!]"

    -- Quoted from Samuel Antek, "This Was Toscanini", 1963
    Priceless! Although, maybe that was just the Italian temper and style, which perhaps sounds harsh in translation but is not meant to be quite that insulting ... Or perhaps it was. Not every Italian is a Fellini character, I suppose. :-)
    "What's intended in this end section of course is a sort of, how shall I say, exhilirating immersion in total negation - which itself produces a sort of sublimity." - Brian Ferneyhough

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mahlerian View Post
    Apparently that's nothing compared to the glares Mahler would routinely give players (during concerts) who failed to live up to his instructions or made mistakes. The worst part is that that glare would certainly lead to a harsh talk later on.
    I wonder, does this still exist? Are there conductors like that still around? If not, should they? The autocratic style seems long gone. Democracy in politics usually produces mediocrity and middle-of-the-road solutions, which is great, since it keeps the extremes at bay. But in art?
    "What's intended in this end section of course is a sort of, how shall I say, exhilirating immersion in total negation - which itself produces a sort of sublimity." - Brian Ferneyhough

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    Worth mentioning Frank Shipway here, who died last month in an automobile crash at 79. He never really made the big time, perhaps because he was out of step with our kinder, gentler age. From his obituary in The Telegraph:

    "On one occasion the members of a Belgian orchestra went on strike in protest at Shipway’s dictatorial style. 'I cannot have friends in the orchestra,' he once explained in a television documentary -- adding that, for a true conductor, the orchestra had to be regarded as an opponent."

    I seem to remember Mahler saying something similar.


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    Threre are loads of stories about Sir Thomas Beecham, who appears to have excelled in insults to musicians, composers, other conductors, critics, audiences (and just about anyone else he came into contact with) but one of the most memorable of his insults is this one:

    At a rehearsal, when he was dissatisfied with the playing of a female cellist, the famous English conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, reportedly said this: “Madam, you have between your legs an instrument capable of giving pleasure to thousands, and all you can do is scratch it.”
    "Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils." Berlioz, 1856

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    Giving individual players a rough time during rehearsals is one thing, but humiliating them in front an audience is another, it seems to me.

    I've been to one of the farewell concerts of the conductor of my local orchestra earlier this year. He played Stravinsky's Sacre for the second half, and the bassoon messed up the opening. It sounded really weird, as if the instrument was clogged up or something. The player did in fact seem to hastily clear the bassoon of residual saliva in between playing the opening lines, which helped, but of course it was quite a heart-stopper.

    Now, afterwards, during the applause, the conductor disappeared behind the stage, as usual, and when he came back to take his first curtain call, he slowly walked right through the orchestra, holding out his hands in a wedge-like position, as if he were an ice-boat, and made his way to the bassoon player. When he got there, he shook his hand emphatically and bowed, though very obviously not ironically, but in good humour. The player made apologizing gestures, but the conductor cheered him up. Great applause.

    Pretty classy. Now, as to what the conductor really felt and thought, we will never know, of course.
    Last edited by Andreas; Sep-09-2014 at 09:47.
    "What's intended in this end section of course is a sort of, how shall I say, exhilirating immersion in total negation - which itself produces a sort of sublimity." - Brian Ferneyhough

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    Benny Goodman, nice music horrible person.

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    Arturo Toscanini was known to yell at his players. In a documentary I saw years ago about his life and career, one musician interviewed argued that what he did was forgivable, because the maestro was often hard on himself. Pretty touching I felt (and still do remembering it).

    And Gardiner? I read somewhere that he too was hard on his players (hard, perhaps on way to put it).
    Last edited by Orfeo; Sep-09-2014 at 16:24.
    David A. Hollingsworth (dholling)

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    Re clip, Bohm's mild. Authoritarians/perfectionists like Toscanini, Szell, Reiner, HvK, Solti, could have their challenging moments. Anger issues, even.

    But numero uno meanie for me is...drumroll, please... Artur Rodzinski. He packed a pistol.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dholling View Post
    Arturo Toscanini was known to yell at his players. In a documentary I saw years ago about his life and career, one musician interviewed argued that what he did was forgivable, because the maestro was often hard on himself. Pretty touching I felt (and still do remembering it).

    And Gardiner? I read somewhere that he too was hard on his players (hard, perhaps on way to put it).
    The recent Gardiner episode was with the LSO. Same orchestra Celi had a highly-publicized blow-up with.

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    Quote Originally Posted by KenOC View Post
    That sweat-drenched face was bearing down upon us like the archangel of vengeance himself as we almost disemboweled ourselves with feverish effort. Then suddenly, a spine-chilling wail: "Pi-a-a-a-n-o-o! Bassi! Contrabassi! You grunt away like pigs! You sound as if you were scratching your bellies -- szshrump! szshrump!" he would bellow, while, tearing at his clothes, he viciously pantomined the scratching. "Corpo del vostro Dio! PI-A-A-NO!"

    "But Maestro," a player would sometimes protest in a small, hesitant, and resentful voice. "My part is printed 'forte.' " "What you say?" the Old Man would growl menacingly, unbelievingly, distracted for the moment from his tirade. "It says 'forte,' " the player would reply, this time in an even smaller, more apologetic voice.

    "What? Forte? FORTE?" with an air of incredulity. "What means 'forte'? Ignorante! Is a stupid word -- as stupid as you! Is a thousand fortes--all kinds of fortes. Sometimes forte is pia-a-a-no, piano is forte! Accidenti! [Damn it!] You call yourself a musician? O, per Dio santissimo! You play here in THIS orchestra? In a village cafe house you belong! You don't listen to what others play. Your nose in the music -- szshrump! szshrump! You hear nothing! You cover up the oboe solo! One poor oboe -- one! -- and you szshrump! szshrump! Where are your ears? Look at me! Contra-ba-a-ss-i!" in a long, drawn-out wail. "Tutti! Tutti! Vergogna! [Shame!]"

    -- Quoted from Samuel Antek, "This Was Toscanini", 1963


    at 6:45 he's quite blasphemous, and then he calls the orchestrals dickheads.

    I've read that Fritz Reiner was pretty harsh too.
    Last edited by norman bates; Sep-09-2014 at 23:12.

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    Senior Member Marsilius's Avatar
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    Fritz Reiner and George Szell were, apparently, both bullies.

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    Reiner was known as "The Tyrant from Budapest." To be somewhat fair I used to have a recording of him conducting a Rachmaninov piano concerto - It was sensitively done. That recording got lost in my moving to Moscow.
    Something to rock your cradle with:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Su-d6_pBFY

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