Although there is much more to music than symphony orchestras, their musicians and conductors, they are often the most discussed part of the classical music scene. Perhaps it is because most of the money spent on the art form goes to them, in addition to opera companies. Recently, two items in the media caught my eye. One was CNN’s series on Daniel Barenboim, the other the music director situation with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Barenboim is an interesting personality. He has never been your typical egomaniac conductor: his interests have always been much wider and trying to help humanity has been high on his list. There have been other musicians like him, violinists Kreisler and Menuhin come to mind. Barenboim’s ‘West-Eastern Divan’ youth orchestra has made the headlines often, as it has been the first successful integration on Jewish and Muslim young musicians, who have found a common language and belief in music. Of course this hasn’t always been easy and has been increasingly difficult as a result of the recent armed conflicts between
Following is from a transcript on conducting:
CNN: What makes a great conductor?
Barenboim: … To be a great conductor requires a lot of knowledge of the essence of music, it requires knowledge of the phenomenology of sound, how that works. It requires the ability to make people want to play, it requires the ability to animate the orchestra, to teach, to cajole, and at the same time, to learn from what you hear from good players in the orchestra. In every orchestra there is somebody that always shows you something that you haven't quite thought of before. So it is a very complex, wonderful way of life.
CNN: Is it a position of power?
Barenboim: No, it's not. The conductor decides on the orchestra, the times, the music etc. But when the orchestra plays and it is either unwilling or unable to play like the conductor wanted, he is totally powerless. And as powerlessness often does, it makes people think they are very powerful. And that's why conductors' egos are so famous.
On press and music critics:
CNN: Do you feel misunderstood when you are described in the press?
Barenboim: When I played my first concert with an orchestra, I was eight years old in
Here are some excerpts:
So here are the lessons learned by the Philadelphia Orchestra in the wily pursuit of music directors and other acts of senseless hope:
You can't impose love on a loveless marriage.
And if your orchestra is not in perpetual music-director search mode, you're living dangerously.
It hit many musicians like the dull thud of pragmatism, this decision in January to hire Eschenbach as the orchestra's seventh music director, starting in September 2003. At a meeting announcing the decision, players responded with silence. No applause, no excited stamping of feet. Silence. And then the resentment poured forth.
One musician used the word "underwhelmed." Another said he felt "betrayed."...
What a way to usher in new musical leadership.
Waiting for chemistry could take years, but the orchestra really has no choice if it remains committed to the idea of musical quality as the criterion. No one can afford another arranged marriage. Too much is at stake, and some critics believe that the orchestra is already injured.
Music-making is not accounting or hospital administration. Its success depends entirely on love - even if it is love by way of fear and respect, as it was with Sawallisch. Chemistry counts. The notes on the page are only the beginning. Meaningful interpretation develops somewhere in the air between the podium and the orchestra risers.
At the end Peter Dobrin names twenty conductors worth consideration in his opinion. As so often, it is more interesting to discover who is absent from the list, not who made it. Surely the orchestra will find a capable director, or perhaps they will end up with a different solution by having multiple conductors in charge. At least they are looking.