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Thread: The Importance of the Conductor

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    Newbies Bibliography's Avatar
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    Default The Importance of the Conductor

    I stumbled upon a TED talk that partially answered this question for me.

    However, the lecture seemed good enough to deserve a thread of its own, so I might as well ask you (especially all you orchestra people) something:

    Could anyone suggest some examples of classical music that highlight the role of a conductor? For example, the same piece played by different orchestras under the same conductor and/or by the same orchestra conducted by different people.

    I've never truly understood the importance of a conductor (unless there is something in him that gets on the musicians' nerves and they banish him, I could understand that), so I'd appreciate any help with this.

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    Senior Member nickgray's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bibliography View Post
    I've never truly understood the importance of a conductor (unless there is something in him that gets on the musicians' nerves and they banish him, I could understand that), so I'd appreciate any help with this.
    To put it simple: classical music is written on paper and no matter how many precise instructions the composer lefts he can't possibly account for everything, also every person has his own view of how to "play that passage of Symphony X, bars aaa-bbb". The conductor is the most important person in an orchestra, because it is he who decides how a piece is to be played/interpreted and he gotta have extensive knowledge of all the instruments, music history, music theory, composer's life, etc., etc. The real work is done on the rehearsals, the baton waving is, uhhhh, let's say less important (obviously you gotta "show" to the orchestra tempo changes, sort of "remind" them where to play certain parts, showing dynamic changes, etc.).

    edt: seeing a pic of Shostakovich as your avatar here's an example: how one would play the first movement of the seventh symphony? Let all hell break loose, like Svetlanov did in his '60s studio record or go slowly, dark and heavy, like Bernstein? Or the last movement of the fifth, fast or slow, exciting or ironic and sarcastic? How playful you wanna get in the ninth?
    Last edited by nickgray; Oct-24-2009 at 22:17.
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    Quote Originally Posted by nickgray View Post
    The real work is done on the rehearsals, the baton waving is, uhhhh, let's say less important (obviously you gotta "show" to the orchestra tempo changes, sort of "remind" them where to play certain parts, showing dynamic changes, etc.).
    Now that it's written down it seems ridiculously simple, yet I did not even consider that before and now feel completely foolish to have asked such a question.
    I've never paid attention to interpretations before and have now grown used to the one version of Symphony No. 7 I have. It seems things I like might be the perfect places to start. Thank you very much for the suggestion.

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    Nick mentioned that the real work is done in the rehearsals. I find this is very often understated which is a shame.

    The performance you see is very much that - a performance with reminders that tie back to the rehearsal.

    A great conductor is also a great rehearser. If you ever get an opportunity to watch an orchestra rehearse for a performance, do it. You will learn so much about a conductors role. The way they communicate, the way they help the musicians interpret phrases, balance the tones and dynamics, provide imagery to help the musicians understand the piece, etc. It's quite an experience to be a part of and to observe.

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    As to AfroBoy's post, you can see countless videos of great conductors rehearsing great orchestras on Youtube (Bernstein and von Karajan being notable examples, though there are many others).
    You get a frog in your throat, you sound hoarse.

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    Senior Member senza sordino's Avatar
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    I'm playing with two different orchestras right now. And the difference between my two conductors is huge. And yes, what happens in rehearsal is where all the real work of the conductor happens. Keep in mind my two orchestras are not professional, we will perform, but not for money.

    One conductor makes us play slowly until we play it right, then we repeat, each time more quickly. We have good structured rehearsals. Each rehearsal we play only some of the repertoire.

    The other conductor has us play everything at tempo. Then when each piece is done, he tells us what we did wrong, tells us to go home to practice, then on to the next piece at tempo. Each rehearsal we play everything.

    One conductor gives me confidence to play, the other makes it tougher.

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    Senior Member starthrower's Avatar
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    The Art Of Conducting

    [YT]v=LYnqU4AJvtA[/YT]

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    'What does a conductor actually do?'

    http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/201...rs-actually-do

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    Other views:

    Nigel Kennedy: "I think conductors are completely over-rated anyway, because if you love music, why not play it? Why wave around and get off on some ego *****? I don't think the audience give a ***** about the conductor. Not unless they've been pumped full of propaganda from classical music writing or something. I mean, no one normal understands what the conductor does. No one knows what they do! They just wave their arms out of time."

    Stephen Kovacevich: "Conducting is the last bastion of quackery outside the medical profession."
    Last edited by KenOC; Nov-08-2014 at 02:58.


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    Accidents can happen:



    The great orchestras can sound different with a different conductor, sometimes dramatically, and conductors get known for certain attributes. Imagine the difference between a Toscanini and a Furtwangler. They’re not in the same universe. Evidently, Nigel Kennedy never had a string break as a soloist. But many of the baroque works do not seem to require a conductor and the soloist can both play and conduct. Conductors such as Barbirolli, Klemperer, Walter, Kleiber and others can become almost instantly recognizable and listeners look for their performances.
    Last edited by Larkenfield; Aug-12-2019 at 03:22.
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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KenOC View Post
    Other views:

    Nigel Kennedy: "I think conductors are completely over-rated anyway, because if you love music, why not play it? Why wave around and get off on some ego *****? I don't think the audience give a ***** about the conductor. Not unless they've been pumped full of propaganda from classical music writing or something. I mean, no one normal understands what the conductor does. No one knows what they do! They just wave their arms out of time."

    Stephen Kovacevich: "Conducting is the last bastion of quackery outside the medical profession."
    I don't think anyone with any sense would take anything Nige says very seriously. Just a middle aged middle class fella trying to be a working class rebellious teenager!

    Both of these guys should stick to what they are good at - playing an instrument.
    Last edited by DavidA; Aug-12-2019 at 11:11.

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    Quote Originally Posted by senza sordino View Post
    I'm playing with two different orchestras right now. And the difference between my two conductors is huge. And yes, what happens in rehearsal is where all the real work of the conductor happens. Keep in mind my two orchestras are not professional, we will perform, but not for money.

    One conductor makes us play slowly until we play it right, then we repeat, each time more quickly. We have good structured rehearsals. Each rehearsal we play only some of the repertoire.

    The other conductor has us play everything at tempo. Then when each piece is done, he tells us what we did wrong, tells us to go home to practice, then on to the next piece at tempo. Each rehearsal we play everything.

    One conductor gives me confidence to play, the other makes it tougher.
    It happens with professional orchestras. During a test session in the 1940s both van Kempen and Karajan conducted the Dresden Philharmonic. Van K started the session and then HvK took over. The sound of the orchestra changed the moment Karajan started conducting. I asked the conductor Hans Vonk once why this happens and he said it just did!

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    Senior Member Larkenfield's Avatar
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    What does a conductor do? Oh nothing, as if it didn’t make a difference in the sound of the performance.

    Last edited by Larkenfield; Aug-13-2019 at 17:50.
    "That's all Folks!"

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Walter Legge in On and Off the Record gave an example where him and his wife sang with Toscanini conducting them and he said it was just as if Toscanini held them in a vice like a puppet.
    Another example where he discussed with Karajan how to bring an orchestra in and Karajan brought the Philarmonia in two completely different ways simply by changing the way he gave the beat.

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