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Thread: Conductor-less Orchestras - please opine!

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    Lightbulb Conductor-less Orchestras - please opine!

    Hi, I REALLY want to know about your opinions about this (as I think) excited theme:

    CONDUCTOR-LESS ORCHESTRAS

    I recently received this video about the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, called “The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra presents: Music Meets Business ” - you can download the entire documentary, here:


    http://www.megaupload.com/?d=SIKBDLUS

    anyway, there is a way to see the video without downloading it -
    Here is the link, just press on the "play" triangle and you will see it :

    http://www.megavideo.com/?d=SIKBDLUS

    Some people can say Orpheus only can work because they're not high-numbered. I don't think that proceeds, as we have in history an orchestra with more than 120 musicians playing Shostakovitch and Prokofiev - the Pervyi Simfonicheskii Ansambl - or PERSIMFANS as they used to called themselves. We have many sources saying that this orchestra performed perfectly and with great expressions, as the diaries of Prokofiev, and even conductor Otto Klemperer who was once invited to lead the Pervyi
    Simfonicheskii Ansambl in a concert in Moscow. Midway through the
    program, however, Klemperer laid down his baton and took a seat in the
    audience, and the ensemble finished without him.
    Another anecdote about Klemperer was when he saw the orchestra playing for the first time. It was the Pathetic Symphony from Tchaikovsky. And when they finished, the conductor went to the stage looking for speakers, because he cannot believe of the volume produced by the sound of the orchestra.
    Onstage, the group played in a circle so that each musician was
    plainly visible to all of his colleagues. "The utmost concentration
    and attention is demanded of each player, all of whom are fully
    conscious of their responsibility in that magic circle," the French
    pianist Henri Gil-Marchex, who performed with the Persimfans, once
    wrote. "Each member of the orchestra has his own important part to
    play, and glances, raising of the brow, and slight motions of the
    shoulders... are done by each instrumentalist, but so discreetly that
    the listener...seldom notices it." In January, 1927, Sergei Prokofiev
    appeared with the Persimfans in a program that included his Piano
    Concerto No. 3, as well as his orchestral suites from Chout and The
    Love for Three Oranges. "The conductorless orchestra coped splendidly
    with difficult programs and accompanied soloists as competently as any
    conducted orchestra," Prokofiev, who was rarely quick to praise, later
    said. "Their main difficulty lay in changing tempo, for here the whole
    ensemble had to feel the music in exactly the same way. On the other
    hand, the difficult passages were easily overcome, for each individual
    musician felt himself a soloist and played with perfect precision.
    The Persimfans won worldwide acclaim throughout the 1920s and inspired
    imitators in Paris, Berlin, and New York. In 1927 they were named an
    Honored Collective by the Soviet government. Ultimately, however,
    dissension within the ensemble--coupled with a relaxation of the
    state-held view that guidance and leadership by a trained individual
    are always ideologically offensive--proved the group's undoing. In
    1932 the Persimfans was disbanded.

  2. #2
    Assistant Administrator Chi_townPhilly's Avatar
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    Cool topic.

    I admire Orpheus, and if I'm looking for a pre-Mozart performance,
    I'm as likely to turn to them as any other grouping of musicians.
    Quote Originally Posted by Panchoman View Post
    Some people can say Orpheus only can work because they're not high-numbered. I don't think that proceeds, as we have in history an orchestra with more than 120 musicians playing Shostakovitch and Prokofiev - the Pervyi Simfonicheskii Ansambl - or PERSIMFANS as they used to called themselves.
    To what, then, would we attribute the fact that for over three-quarters of a century,
    no ensemble of similar size has been able to match this effort? [at least not for any length of time].

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    Yes,orchestras CAN play without a conductor, but it's extremely inefficient and requires a heck of a lot more rehearsal time than with other orchestras which do have conductors.
    The Persfams orchestra had to have an enormous amount of extra rehearsal time.
    It would be absolutely impossible for the mainstream orchestras of today,which play a different program every week from September through May or June to function this way.
    As long as a work is relatively simple rhythmically and does not have many tempo changes and passages with irregular meters etc, an orchestra can play easily.
    But it would be absolutely impossible for it to play sopmething like Stravinsky's Rite of Spring
    without a conductor.
    A conductor is rather ike the director of a movie director.He or she has to coordinate the whole enterprise. Each individual musician is repsonsible for his or her part,but the conductor has to study the full score thoroughly,which has all the different parts on each page.
    In reharsals without a conductor, the musicians have to argue over what to do in many instances, but a conductor controls the whole thing. It's very difficult,for ecxample, for an orchestra to make accelerandos(speeding up) or ritardandos(slowing down) without a conductor.
    These are written into the score. Rubato, or rhythmic flexibility at the discressionof the performer,is impossible without a conductor.
    A conductor has to make sure that everything can be heard clearly(balanced). This is extremely difficult to do without one.
    The Orpheues Chamber orchestra also has to have a lot of time to rehearse.
    Having played under so many of them over the years in so many different orchestras,I can say that conductors are a necessary evil.

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    Senior Member World Violist's Avatar
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    For classical composers on back, it's pretty easy to go without a conductor, but when it gets to romantic and a bit further, conductors become the only way to perform orchestrally because it's just impractical for 80+ people to decide on an interpretive aspect when it becomes so important.
    You get a frog in your throat, you sound hoarse.

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    Senior Member Grosse Fugue's Avatar
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    Here is a new idea from a symphony that normaly has a conductor
    http://www.memphissymphony.org/opusone

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    Senior Member SuperTonic's Avatar
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    I played in a conductorless orchestra once. It was a pretty small ensemble though. The concertmaster led the group from his chair.
    I really don't see how it would be practical for a larger orchestra though. For one thing, everyone would have to be able to see the concertmaster. I guess it could be done, but I don't know why you would want to do it.

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    Talking

    Quote Originally Posted by World Violist View Post
    For classical composers on back, it's pretty easy to go without a conductor, but when it gets to romantic and a bit further, conductors become the only way to perform orchestrally because it's just impractical for 80+ people to decide on an interpretive aspect when it becomes so important.
    Well, not really - If you see Prokofiev's diary, he really makes wonderful remarks on Persimfans, and the usually had more than 120 players!!
    Here's the book telling this:
    Persimfans : orkestr bez dirizhera
    by: S.P. Poni︠a︡tovskiĭ.
    Is in russian The Publisher is "Muzyka"
    (English translation is on the way )
    http://ifile.it/4fxwp9c/PersimfanslivroPdfImagens.pdf
    Shostakovich as well had the opportunity to see his first and second symphonies played without conductor. I blame Stalin for the vanishing of that orchestra. The Big Brother wouldn't allow that type of behaviour on music.

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    Quote Originally Posted by superhorn View Post
    Yes,orchestras CAN play without a conductor, but it's extremely inefficient and requires a heck of a lot more rehearsal time than with other orchestras which do have conductors.
    The Persfams orchestra had to have an enormous amount of extra rehearsal time.
    It would be absolutely impossible for the mainstream orchestras of today,which play a different program every week from September through May or June to function this way.
    As long as a work is relatively simple rhythmically and does not have many tempo changes and passages with irregular meters etc, an orchestra can play easily.
    But it would be absolutely impossible for it to play sopmething like Stravinsky's Rite of Spring
    without a conductor.
    A conductor is rather ike the director of a movie director.He or she has to coordinate the whole enterprise. Each individual musician is repsonsible for his or her part,but the conductor has to study the full score thoroughly,which has all the different parts on each page.
    In reharsals without a conductor, the musicians have to argue over what to do in many instances, but a conductor controls the whole thing. It's very difficult,for ecxample, for an orchestra to make accelerandos(speeding up) or ritardandos(slowing down) without a conductor.
    These are written into the score. Rubato, or rhythmic flexibility at the discressionof the performer,is impossible without a conductor.
    A conductor has to make sure that everything can be heard clearly(balanced). This is extremely difficult to do without one.
    The Orpheues Chamber orchestra also has to have a lot of time to rehearse.
    Having played under so many of them over the years in so many different orchestras,I can say that conductors are a necessary evil.
    I agree with you: A necessary evil to a system that push the production in a dehumanizing way. If the production wasn't looking for profit (equals more performance) and having more attention to democracy, solidarity, and to listen to opinions of every musician, I think for sure we would have more conductor-less orchestras.
    There is a book called "The Spirit Level - Why Equality is better for Everyone" form Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett - They argue how inequality makes us do the most unhealthy and absurd things in our lives with our consent. Maybe the conductor is one of those bizarre mistakes imposed by inequality? A Harvard Business School study (Hackman, 2002) looked at job satisfaction. Orchestra players came just below prison guards. Chamber musicians came in at number 1. What’s the difference? The presence of a conductor!

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    Red face

    Quote Originally Posted by Chi_townPhilly View Post
    Cool topic.

    I admire Orpheus, and if I'm looking for a pre-Mozart performance,
    I'm as likely to turn to them as any other grouping of musicians.To what, then, would we attribute the fact that for over three-quarters of a century,
    no ensemble of similar size has been able to match this effort? [at least not for any length of time].
    I blame the way of production of the society. It goes after fast production. You can see where the money is. Fast-food. Fast-music. Fast-orchestras. orchestras are imposed to perform a different repertoire each week. That's remember me Charles Chaplin in character, screwing machines without even thinking what he was doing. In 1990, J. Allmendinger, J.R. Hackman, and E. Lehman began the large-scale study of symphony orchestras and their musicians I mentioned above (1996). Part of their survey was focused on the levels of satisfaction and motivation as compared to thirteen other professions. They found that orchestra members ranked seventh out of the thirteen professions in general job satisfaction with a score of 5.4 on a seven point scale (1996, p. 201). Just above them were the federal prison guards, and just below were “Industrial production teams.” In the category of “satisfaction with growth opportunities,” orchestra musicians ranked ninth, with a score of 4.9 out of seven. This seems to confirm on some level the difficulties that Schuller described.

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    Smile

    Quote Originally Posted by SuperTonic View Post
    I played in a conductorless orchestra once. It was a pretty small ensemble though. The concertmaster led the group from his chair.
    I really don't see how it would be practical for a larger orchestra though. For one thing, everyone would have to be able to see the concertmaster. I guess it could be done, but I don't know why you would want to do it.
    Well, that was ALMOST a conductorless orchestra, because a conductorless orchestra means that you would be able to participate in the rehearsal, giving your opinion, as you are doing here, in this forum. According to that description, the concertmaster was really the conductor. Orpheus Chamber Orchestra rotates the concertmaster - for each piece, different one - and not only that - the concertmaster is only a coordinator that is in charge to organiza the ideas of the group. Demands more time, I know. But that's democracy. There was a large Symphony Orchestra called Persimfans, who solved this problem and everyone were able to see each other:

    http://ifile.it/ugtl3p9/PersimfansFotosdoLivros0008.jpg

    see the picture!! They played on Carnegie Hall! So Orpheus wasn't the first one.
    And please, see the repertoire: Debussy, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner - by the time (1920's) those were contemporary composers REALLY !!!!

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    http://ifile.it/ugtl3p9/PersimfansFotosdoLivros0008.jpg

    see the picture!! They played on Carnegie Hall! So Orpheus wasn't the first one.
    And please, see the repertoire: Debussy, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner - by the time (1920's) those were contemporary composers REALLY !!!!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Grosse Fugue View Post
    Here is a new idea from a symphony that normaly has a conductor
    http://www.memphissymphony.org/opusone
    FANTASTIC!!!

    there is more about here:

    http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/symp.../index.php#/30

    I hope not only American Orchestras could follow MSO example, but all from the world! it's good to dream!!!

    thank you!

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    Senior Member emiellucifuge's Avatar
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    Logical really as conductors (as we know them) did not become standard until the early 1800s.

    Persimfans- I have no means to evaluate their performance but I feel inclined to say that the Soviets backed them for their ideology rather than their music.

    Generally I fail to see how an orchestra can perform any (romantic)* music to any high degree of quality without a conductor.

    * by romantic I dont just mean 19th century but all music which follows from a romantic ideology.

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    @emiellucifuge

    Not really - Have you seen the poster here: http://ifile.it/ugtl3p9/PersimfansFotosdoLivros0008.jpg

    Well they had brilliant reviews from New Yorker magazines and news papers

    or even before this concert, an article welcoming them here in 1928:

    http://www.jstor.org/pss/916271

    What you have to understand is: Stalin destroyed the conductorless orchestras - they simply vanished after 1932 - tell me, why, if from you point, was a good thing "backed them for their ideology rather than their music. " Actually, the period of their existence, 1922-1932 they had problems one after another with the government - of course they were those who defend them, like Prokofiev and Shostakovich, both persecuted by the pseudo-egalitarian regime.

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    Senior Member (Ret) moody's Avatar
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    The NBC orchestra refused to disband after Toscanini's demise, they renamed themselves The Symphony of the Air and lasted for some time. They made an LP of the New World Symphony conductorless---it wasn't too bad.

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