An Orchestra of one?

Hola a todos. I really don’t understand people like this. Mi amigo/My friend and I watched an orchestral performance the other night from the EU. The superb Orchestra gave a very memorable performance. I’ll remember it for some time. In fact, I keep watching it. The camera showed two people sitting in the audience orchestra seating. They were of the senior citizens’ variety. I noticed them because they were talking in between the movements of the Brahms, or rather she was talking to him. They were void of Concert Hall etiquette that says — that in order to be considerate of others — if you know or think that you will have to make some comment to the person you’re going to the performance with, take a pen with you so as to not disturb the other people around you during the performance with your talking, Mr and Ms Inconsiderate. Then write your comment somewhere in the margins of a page or pages of the programme and slide the programme over to your friend to read. It’s not difficult to do that. It’s called being considerate of others, which seems to be on the wane these days. Well, these inconsiderate people didn’t do that or know to do that. She talked to him using the “hand up to the mouth” routine where the people behind her supposedly couldn’t easily hear her but the orchestral musicians could.

Then Mr and Ms Inconsiderate engaged in the most unusual behaviour I’ve seen and I’ve never seen this before. Despite the full Orchestra being on stage, to these two “concertgoers” on the front row there was only one musician on stage and he was all that mattered to them. They stared nonstop at the conductor throughout one of the Brahms’s symphonies. They never took their eyes off of him that I saw. I stopped looking at them because I found them damn annoying to look at down there in camera view. I asked: What is wrong with these people? How was their neck feeling by the end of the performance from having been craned in one position for close to an hour? Their heads remained at a slight tilt but with their head crooked into the level position and their left-elbow painfully posted onto the metal chair arm. Every time the camera showed the conductor from a certain angle, there they were. They were still gawking endlessly at the conductor, missing the entire performance and the musicians playing their instruments beautifully that took place directly in front of them on stage. They saw none of the other musicians on stage including the First and Second Concertmasters who were sitting directly in front of them. They never looked at any of the other musicians. Insanity. (Is there something in the agua/water worldwide causing people to behave like this?) It was as if there were no other musicians on the stage but their god conductor. A thought occurred to me: Might these people have been some of the classical music armchair critics who engage in celebrity conductor worshipping that one sees frequently in U-toob comments? Well, they were most assuredly bowing at the Conductor High Altar throughout the performance. Even if they were the conductor’s parents — which I doubt — why stare at him nonstop the entire time?

Oh I’m well aware that many people worship celebrity conductors. They don’t seem to know any better. But I don’t think this particular conductor falls into the “celebrity” category just yet. His name is not a “household name” like some celebrity conductors that “everyone has heard of” even if they’re not into classical music.

I’m not one who worships conductors. I agree with violinist Nigel Kennedy who says that “conductors are over-rated.” He should know having worked with many “celebrity” conductors. But there is this crowd of sheeple who do indeed worship big-name celebrity conductors and drop their name at every opportunity. I think that’s intended to give their comments credibility as wannabe, untrained musicians. You see, it’s much easier (and cheaper) to be an classical music armchair critic know-it-all because that doesn’t cost anything than to actually go through the decades of disciplined musical training to be a fine, well-trained and esteemed musician.

When I was a chorister in major Orchestra Choruses — we performed under “celebrity” internationally-known conductors most of the time in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, at Wolf Trap and in San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall except when the Chorus Director was conducting — I think most of us in the Orchestra Chorus saw the conductor as just another musician — which they were — not as some god. I’m not disparaging any conductors, it’s just that the performances that one hears is not just because of the conductor. It’s because of the superb musicians and their artistry sitting before the conductor.

And these people I’m writing about had to sit in the front row. The front row is often where annoying people sit I’ve noticed — is that because they know they will be on-camera and they adore the attention? — especially those inconsiderate people who feel it is their right and privilege to talk during the performance and or between movements. Or in some cases, to make-out during the performance as if they have mistaken the front row of the Concert Hall environment for their living room or bedroom. Related: This is not a performance of A Clockwork Orange. Damn odd, Ms Bucket. “It’s bouquet.” (Think: The British comedy “Keeping Up Appearances.”)

But the interesting thing about this conductor that these two were worshipping, they must be unaware that he makes every performance about all the other musicians on stage. He’s extremely humble and modest and goes out of his way to avoid attention, and he immediately begins applauding the superb musicians before him and continues to do so throughout the bows. It’s not about him seems to be his thinking, which I highly respect. Yet, these idiots were sitting there engaged in the act of conductor worshipping. I wonder when they got up out of their chairs if they genuflected to the podium? Well, by the looks of them I’d say they didn’t. They probably had a problem just walking down the aisle of the Concert Hall to get to their attention-seeking orchestra seats. I guess it never occurred to them that they could have just stayed home and watched the same video performance we watched after it was uploaded and they would have seen more than the conductor’s back for close to an hour. But upon reflection, since they were there only for the conductor, all the rest (meaning all the other musicians on stage) was just in their way.

And the conductor didn’t play a note the entire performance! Yet he was being worshipped and glorified by these people.

Mi amigo said that he usually doesn’t really find conductors that interesting to watch. He said, “All they do is wave their arms around.” In some cases that’s true. I don’t see too many conductors who conduct the way we were trained in conducting at the Conservatory where one is to conduct within the frame of the body. Think: Robert Shaw (Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus) or Margaret Hillis (Founder and Director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus) and their conducting styles. Too often celebrity conductors have these grand-looking gestures and body movements. Some conductors don’t even cue various sections of the Orchestra for their entrances. “You’re on your own.” And the finest Orchestras can perform without a conductor; I’ve seen them do so. In that instance, the First Concertmaster and principals take the role of the conductor with subtle gestures. And some pieces sound pretty much the same no matter who conducts it. With the Brahms’s Symphony No. 4, I think the conductor of that does make a difference especially in the slow movement and a superb performance of that would be dependent on the conductor’s interpretation and the stellar skill level of the orchestral musicians. So, it’s never always about one musician (the conductor) as the self-appointed classical music armchair critics seem to think.

I’m glad to see members of the audience look like they’re really getting into the performance with their body movements and enjoying the artistry of the musicians on stage. But these two didn’t do that. They showed no movement of their bodies; no signs that they were getting into the performance. No, they just stared endlessly at the conductor.

The thing that these conductor-worshipping plebs don’t understand is that it doesn’t matter who the conductor is if the musicians on stage are not of the highest musical caliber, training and skill level. Whether it’s an Symphony Orchestra or a Symphony Chorus, a conductor — no matter who it is — can only do so much with what he or she has to work with. Period. The finest conductors cannot perform “miracles” with a podunk, inferior, amateurish ensemble. An example of that that comes to mind is that superb James Burton who is the BSO (Boston Symphony Orchestra’s) Choral Director raised the audition requirements for the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (TFC) causing a large group of TFC choristers — who should have been gone years ago frankly! — to resign and others who failed the new audition requirements. I suspect that James Burton knew that he could only do so much with the “Oliver” choristers he had to work with who were left over from John Oliver’s years. Burton and the BSO and their conductor wanted to raise the TFC back up to the level of choral excellence expected of them as the Official Chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops. Well, Burton is currently doing that from a brief clip I heard of the TFC awhile back. They have improved. They are singing with perfect intonation now. They weren’t before, especially their dreadful screechy, screaming, cackling and wobbling sopranos (you should have heard them in Beethoven’s Ninth and Mahler’s Resurrection; some of those sopranos sounded like they were screaming on their top notes and ruined the entire soprano section), and the altos weren’t any better. The tenors and basses sang with perfect intonation — how did that happen when the sopranos and altos didn’t?! — but I heard occasional cracking tenor voices in their Beethoven’s Ninth. Not good, and that’s not one expects to hear from the finest Orchestra Choruses. Maybe under James Burton, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus will win its first Grammy Award in the Best Choral Performance Category. Although I’m not sure how they’re going to rehearse since I read that COVID-19 is unfortunately spread through singing. So, one wonders when performances of the BSO and TFC will return to any normality? Probably not any time soon, if one is using intelligence and medical science as opposed to the daily dysfunction and insanity coming from the septic, low-life, redneck, trashy team en la casa blanca. (Disclaimer for the partisan cultists wearing the red and blue team jerseys: I didn’t/don’t support Obama, Hillary, Pelosi et al and I don’t support Milquetoast Biden). Those arrogant, pompous and self-absorbed trash in the white house don’t even have the intelligence to wear a face mask when they go into a medical centre. You can’t fix stupid.

So I wish people would stop worshipping conductor — even though I know they’re not about to — because these conductor-worshippers show what little musical knowledge and understanding they have about what makes the finest performances. It’s not all about the conductor by any means, you conductor-worshipping morons. What is wrong with you? Well, nobody has that much time!

If you want a superb performance, then you have to have superb musicians on stage, not just a superb conductor. Why is that so damn difficult for these thick conductor-worshipping stupid people to understand? I won’t have it! I’m sick of stupid and I’ve learned that one cannot fix stupid. It is what it is. Chau.—el barrio rosa