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Thread: Conducting Beethoven...

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    Senior Member Rasa's Avatar
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    Default Conducting Beethoven...

    So, I started rehearsals for Beethoven's 1st Symphony, me being the conductor. I thought I would be neat if I kept some kind of log about it, and this seemed the right place to do it. (Not to mention that this forum, which I pushed for myself, is in serious need of a bump).


    I'm a third year conservatory student in piano, and it has always been my ambition to study conducting. However, to study it at the conservatory, I need to finish my instrument schooling first, so I've been looking here and there for a teacher. This summer, I finally found one who is now teaching me the basics of the conducting technique.

    After a few unpleasant experiences with a harmony band, I got my first real assignment last year when I rehearsed and conducted three movements of Janacek's Idyll for strings. The rehearsals were definitely difficult for me, since it was my first time leading an ensemble in anything and I hadn't picked up too much about being a conductor.. It being strings only was ideal, because it limited the amount of parts and problems. The concert itself went pretty good, with no stops and some very musical moments.

    The orchestra I get to conduct is an Amateur orchestra, whose regular conducter I've known since a long while. They have a sturdy strings section (slight gap in the 2nd violins), and a slightly less sturdy woodwind section (some problems with absenteïsm during rehearsals...). The orchestra has no proper brass section. Most brass players favour playing with marching band, and French horn players are rare altogether. For these parts, the orchestra hires professional musicians who do one or two repetitions and the concert. All members of the ensemble are older then me, I'm twenty and most of them must be around 45 or older. I wonder if this gives some authority issues. (I don't mean authority as in: stand in line and click your boots, but: efficient working etc...)

    When I started my courses with my new teacher, we started working with Beethoven I as a practical example score. The conductor of the amateur orchestra picked up on that fact and propsed me to conduct it for real. I swallowed a little bit (internally): after all it's a major work, with full orchestra and of considerable lenght (about 30 minutes). But ofcourse I agreed: never say no to chances like that.

    So there I was, with one big question: how on earth am I going to pick up on enough conducting technique and learn the score in about two month's time?

    Skipping to last thursday: the first rehearsal. I knew the score pretty well, large parts of it by heart. I used the whole first repetition to read the score with the orchestra. By the time we got the the exposition of the second theme of the first movement, I was in for a nasty surprise. Of all the woodwinds that showed up, only the clarinet was a 1st player, and he didn't have a proper score. The reading of that theme consisted of a little more then a nice "plom plom plom" accompanyment, and I often find myself giving lead-in to musicians who didn't play the corresponding line... I found myself missing French horns (who play a not unsignificant part in this symphony) and a timpani player. And as always, confusion about rehearsal marks (I always do them, since repetitions are an important part of the sonata and menuet form)

    In the second movement, it's the second violins who have to open: they play the theme by themselves. Unfortunately for me, two pretty scared-looking violinists didn't quite start playing when I started them up. Was I not clear in my movement? Possibly. At any rate, it took about 2 tries before they played the theme together. Just like in the first movement, a lot of the lines were missing. Even the clarinet lines, who turns out, had an unreadably score because it was handwritten.

    The third and fourth movements were more of the same: missing lines, rehearsal mark fun... Reading the whole score took about all my repetition time and this was convenient. This had been the longest hour of my life...


    All in all, I was not displeased with myself or the orchestra reading. The fact a lot of woodwinds were missing was a shame, but hey: you work with what you have.

    By next week, I'm starting with a more in detail look of one of the movements (probably the 4th), and will take a very close look on what the 2nd woodwinds play or don't myself.

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    Senior Member emiellucifuge's Avatar
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    Hi,
    I am 15, started conducting lessons with Christian karlsen, who was a student of the great Jorna Panula.
    I may have had some more practical experience (with talented childrens orchestras) so dont feel patronised if i give some advice!

    When working with people it is important to be crystal clear in your intentions, if something is not how you want it - tell them explicitly, dont leave things vague - be precise. You say you were not displeased, it is important to give praise when appropriate, you can also give them something to improve on for the next rehearsal.

    Of course if youve done all that just ignore me

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    Senior Member emiellucifuge's Avatar
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    Oh and ive been doing Haydn 104, and also parts of Griegs Peery Gynt, but will move on to Beethoven 1st soon.

    I hope we can initiate some form of correspondence.

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    Junior Member Herr Direktor's Avatar
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    A few things to remember when conducting:

    You are always right.

    Know the score better than you know your own family. My last conducting teacher always said - confidence through preparation. He is absolutely right.

    Cues are not "thank yous" to the orchestra - you lead the orchestra.



    That said - the 1st is essentially Mozart with better parts for the winds, and should be treated as such.

    Enjoy!

    HD
    "I can't think of a more horrible piece of hackwork." - A. Toscanini on Mahler's 5th symphony

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    Wonderful idea. I'm interested to see how this plays out. I completely agree with the concept of "confidence through preparation". When I know a piece truly by heart (or at least, incredibly well), I find that the conducting just flows out of me.

    Best wishes!

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