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Thread: Whiplash Conductors

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    Senior Member arpeggio's Avatar
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    Default Whiplash Conductors

    At the recommendation of Heck148 I have started a thread about bad conductors we have played for.

    I would like to start the ball rolling with Arthur Fiedler.

    I was and undergraduate at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro back in 1967. The Greensboro Symphony had a concert where Fiedler was the guest conductor. Their regular bass clarinet player was sick so they asked me if I could cover the part. I said yes and was very excited at the thought of playing for him.

    What an )(&*(*&^hole. All he did was yell at the musicians. He was unhappy with the bass drummer when we were rehearsing William Tell. In the middle of the rehearsal he literally stormed back to the percussion section and was yelling into his face.

    None of the board members had the courage to confront him and tell him to back off.
    It is impossible to make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious. And I am a very ingenious fellow

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    Senior Member pianozach's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by arpeggio View Post
    At the recommendation of Heck148 I have started a thread about bad conductors we have played for.

    I would like to start the ball rolling with Arthur Fiedler.

    I was and undergraduate at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro back in 1967. The Greensboro Symphony had a concert where Fiedler was the guest conductor. Their regular bass clarinet player was sick so they asked me if I could cover the part. I said yes and was very excited at the thought of playing for him.

    What an )(&*(*&^hole. All he did was yell at the musicians. He was unhappy with the bass drummer when we were rehearsing William Tell. In the middle of the rehearsal he literally stormed back to the percussion section and was yelling into his face.

    None of the board members had the courage to confront him and tell him to back off.
    Well. Yes.

    I've worked in musical theatre all my life, and I've worked for and with some directors, actors, and musicians that are certainly full of themselves.

    I've only encountered a "raging" conductor. He was conducting a mostly teen orchestra for a teen show, and actually threw his baton at one of the teens in the orchestra. He wasn't ever asked to conduct for that group again.

    I've also been in an civic light orchestra accompanying an an outdoor production of WEST SIDE STORY. The conductor wasn't cutting it; the orchestra sounded frequently out-of-synch and sloppy. He was a heck of a nice guy, and most in the orchestra loved him, but he was "let go" four days before the Friday Opening Night. The musical director stood in his place on Tuesday, and really knew his stuff. It sounded like the amateur-sounding orchestra had been replaced by a professional symphony orchestra.
    Last edited by pianozach; Oct-02-2021 at 01:36.

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    He was not bad, but I could never follow Frederick Fennell. It may have been me. He loved to give heavy cues a little before you were to enter. It would throw me off.

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    I played for Fennell before he started losing it from old age....I liked him, he was demanding, but knew exactly what he wanted...

    One conductor I liked playing for was Walter Hendl...he was director at Eastman when I was there, and he often conducted the orchestras...a real prick, a domineering tyrant, a clone of Reiner [he was Reiner's assistant in Chicago for years]...he was a great conductor, knew exactly what he wanted, knew how to fix things....every concert had the potential to be superb...rehearsals were murder, tho....if you screwed up he'd be all over you....I saw him reduce students to quivering blobs of jelly from his intimidation...a real sob....concerts were good, because he couldn't stop and berate you!!...

    I've played for some real turkeys, also....names have been changed to protect the guilty - one such was "Donald" - a pompous, posturing jackass, totally inflated[bloated??] with his own knowledge and ability....one never had a conversation with Donald - he pontificated, held forth on the proper way [aka his way] of doing things....a micromanaging moron on the podium -

    One funny series of events was particularly memorable - we were playing Scheherazade - after the violin solo at the beginning of mvt II - there is an extended bassoon solo - "quasi recitando" - the bassoon plays a very free, espressivo solo - the accompaniment is 4 divisi basses, who sustain background chords under the bassoon, these chords change after c10 measures...
    the conductor only has to cue the chord changes - no, not Donald, he starts conducting me in the recitando solo...really distracting, he's on the podium, flipping and flapping about, trying to indicate his 'interpretation", chopping and hatcheting away in some pointless gyrations that he assumed I would follow...I paid as little attention as possible, since his gestures were wildly at odds with what I was playing....I suffered thru the rehearsals with this podium posturing, but came concert time, I decided I'd had enough....I raised my stand sufficiently high so that Donald was completely blotted out, invisible to me....and played away as I pleased and the solo went splendidly each time.....other orchestra members were delighted, and amused, said that watching Donald flap and flail away on the podium was quite comical...

    there were no consequences for me, because the orchestra fired this jerk soon afterwards - why?? many reasons, but the Scheherazade was the frosting on the cake - this guy basically could not stand anyone sharing the limelight with himself, it was all about Donald - so, at the end of each Scheherazade performance, he gave NONE of the orchestral principals a solo bow!! not even the Concertmaster who did a most admirable job on the violin solo!! none for Clarinet, bassoon, oboe, etc - <<it's a group effort, I don't choose to cite anyone as special>> was his reasoning...
    the other orchestra members were furious - their colleagues had done a fine job, and they deserved recognition....Donald took some youth orchestra on tour to Europe, while he was gone, the orchestra board declined to renew his contract and he was out...

    another funny "Donald" story - consistent with his insufferable egotism, Donald appointed himself as orchestra soloist...he had asked the orchestra if anyone wanted to perform a solo with the orchestra, he would entertain the proposals....naturally, none were acceptable, so he came to the obvious conclusion that only he was qualified to fill the role [he was an erstwhile trumpet player].
    Not only would he solo with the Haydn Trumpet Concerto, he would conduct also, since obviously nobody else was competent to conduct on the level that he would "require".

    So he played the solo, perhaps at one time he had trumpet chops, but those days were passed...he kind of got thru the first movement, but ran out of chops in the 2nd, and actually left out notes at the end of phrases, struggled thru the third mvt with lots of notes left out or missed....
    One of the extra clarinet players was listening in the audience...."Charlie" was a real character - he was an amateur clarinet player, loved the instrument. He was a millionaire who owned a steel company...he and Donald did not hit it off, to say the least....he was also getting hard of hearing, probably job related, so when he whispered, it was like anyone else's low-level yell...

    I asked Charlie, rather dubiously, what did that sound like after the performance?? Charlie, with his inimitable volume "whispers" [lol] <<Are you kidding me?? It sounded like someone sucking s--- thru a straw!!>> anyone within a five mile radius must have heard him!!
    Last edited by Heck148; Oct-03-2021 at 16:28.

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    I know of whom you speak. He conducted the orchestra in my home town for a spell. I'd heard there was trouble in his background and I always wondered what the juicy detail was, so thanks for that - and well done for fighting your corner!
    Last edited by Animal the Drummer; Oct-03-2021 at 18:05.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Animal the Drummer View Post
    I know of whom you speak. He conducted the orchestra in my home town for a spell. I'd heard there was trouble in his background and I always wondered what the juicy detail was, so thanks for that - and well done for fighting your corner!
    To whom are you referring?? Fennell?? Hendl?? Donald?? [yeh, right, lol]

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    Quote Originally Posted by arpeggio View Post
    At the recommendation of Heck148 I have started a thread about bad conductors we have played for.

    I would like to start the ball rolling with Arthur Fiedler.

    I was and undergraduate at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro back in 1967. The Greensboro Symphony had a concert where Fiedler was the guest conductor. Their regular bass clarinet player was sick so they asked me if I could cover the part. I said yes and was very excited at the thought of playing for him.

    What an )(&*(*&^hole. All he did was yell at the musicians. He was unhappy with the bass drummer when we were rehearsing William Tell. In the middle of the rehearsal he literally stormed back to the percussion section and was yelling into his face.

    None of the board members had the courage to confront him and tell him to back off.
    That's a bit interesting, since the image promoted on photos, LPs etc. was that of a jovial/jolly uncle type ...
    Last edited by joen_cph; Oct-03-2021 at 18:51.

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    Quote Originally Posted by joen_cph View Post
    That's a bit interesting, since the image promoted on photos, LPs etc. was that of a jovial/jolly uncle type ...
    Fiedler was definitely not a warm, friendly type...he could be very nasty...nobody would accuse of him of being the greatest conductor, but he did initiate the "Pops" format which has been adspted by orchestras, the world over....
    Last edited by Heck148; Oct-03-2021 at 18:56.

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    If there wasn't that potential problem of lawsuits, this is a fascinating topic. So many books on conductors and music bad mouth the horrible and tyrannical, but too often names are omitted for the best of reasons. I have played under some truly horrible conductors, but most of them are no-names who will never be known outside of their small, crappy orchestras. Right now I'm in the midst of rehearsals with a guy who is so bad that last night I began asking questions that were quite pointed and told the rest of the orchestra everything I already knew: he didn't know the music, didn't know what some of the notation meant, didn't have a stick technique worthy of a fifth grade band director, he couldn't hear wrong notes. I will play the concert and I will never play with him again.

    One of the nastiest I ever had to work with was William Revelli - a tyrant, through and through. No humility or warmth. Just yelling insults every chance he got. Terrible experience.

    Then there was the late Irwin Hoffman. A Koussevitsky protege, a comrade of Bernstein. An assistant in Chicago who desperately wanted to take over after Reiner. But he was another one of those whose nasty personality prevented him from rising any further. Fine musician, no doubt. Treated everyone like inferiors, even the sound tech/recording engineer. Put on some terrific concerts, but when he was let go no one shed a tear. One rehearsal will forever stay with me where he was so disgusted with the violin section in Prokofieff's 5th that he made them play a passage solo one by one, actually dismissing two players. The union boss had a lot to say, but couldn't do much.
    "It is surprising how easily one can become used to bad music" - F. Mendelssohn

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    Quote Originally Posted by mbhaub View Post
    If there wasn't that potential problem of lawsuits, this is a fascinating topic. So many books on conductors and music bad mouth the horrible and tyrannical, but too often names are omitted for the best of reasons. I have played under some truly horrible conductors, but most of them are no-names who will never be known outside of their small, crappy orchestras. Right now I'm in the midst of rehearsals with a guy who is so bad that last night I began asking questions that were quite pointed and told the rest of the orchestra everything I already knew: he didn't know the music, didn't know what some of the notation meant, didn't have a stick technique worthy of a fifth grade band director, he couldn't hear wrong notes. I will play the concert and I will never play with him again.

    One of the nastiest I ever had to work with was William Revelli - a tyrant, through and through. No humility or warmth. Just yelling insults every chance he got. Terrible experience.

    Then there was the late Irwin Hoffman. A Koussevitsky protege, a comrade of Bernstein. An assistant in Chicago who desperately wanted to take over after Reiner. But he was another one of those whose nasty personality prevented him from rising any further. Fine musician, no doubt. Treated everyone like inferiors, even the sound tech/recording engineer. Put on some terrific concerts, but when he was let go no one shed a tear. One rehearsal will forever stay with me where he was so disgusted with the violin section in Prokofieff's 5th that he made them play a passage solo one by one, actually dismissing two players. The union boss had a lot to say, but couldn't do much.
    We had a local conductor do that, except it's always the brass players. He seems to just have it in for them. If they can't play passages correctly the first time they're "excused".

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