The above quote is from violinist Nigel Kennedy, and he should know having worked with many conductors, and I agree with him from having worked with many conductors myself. Of course conductors hate hearing that they are overrated. And with some exceptions, some conductors are not overrated. They do their job quite effectively. But I’m thinking of the non-celebrity type for whom the classical music armchair critics have no interest in. They’re only interested in big-name, celebrity conductors so they can drop their names as often as possible to give the appearance that they know something about music. The conductors I worked with at the Conservatory where I trained I enjoyed working with and they were Faculty Conductors. The conductors I/we worked with in the Orchestra Choruses (Choral Arts Society of Washington, University of Maryland Chorus and San Francisco Symphony Chorus) were the celebrity-type conductors, internationally-known.
There are basically two types of conductors: There are the conductors like Andrés Orozco-Estrada or Paavo Järvi or Adrien Perrochon or Gregory Carreño who function as good conductors. Gregory is outstanding in conducting a Chorus. And I certainly don’t want to leave out Václav Luks of Collegium 1704 and Collegium 1704 Vocale. He’s a wonderful conductor of both Orchestra and Chorus. He actually conducts effectively, rather than just “waving his arms around.” All of these conductors that I’ve listed as my favourites give cues and other indications to the sections of an orchestra for their entrances and they are good in working with a Chorus (having already been prepared by the Chorus Director), which cannot be said about all conductors. Then the other type of conductor is the big celebrity-name — one wonders whose posterior he had to eat out to get to become such a big name? — who stands up there on the podium and waves his arm around with his face almost gazing at the ceiling with a nearly-orgasmic facial expression and flailing arm movements.
None of my favourite conductors are big-name celebrity conductors. They are lesser-known although they are with major symphony orchestras in the EU and in América del Sur (South America).
But reading comments under classical music U-toob videos, one gets the impression from the classical music armchair critics that the conductor was the only musician on stage and he alone performed the work that was performed. Quite a feat that the conductor played all the instruments of a Full Orchestra at the appropriate time to pull off such a splendid performance, don’t you think?! The classical music armchair critics often give no credit what-so-ever to the musicians on stage who actually played the piece they heard. No, it’s all about Mr God Conductor. It’s the way they’ve been brainwashed.
Imagine thinking of a conductor as a musician instead of a conductor! [tongue-in-cheek] Well, most conductors usually play one or maybe two instruments.
People — the sheeple — have been so brainwashed that there must be a conductor on stage, so when there isn’t a conductor they really don’t know what to do, or think. Many people seem to panic! Something is terribly wrong in the world when musicians can play without a conductor. That’s the reaction from the musically-ignorant sheeple. Then others play semantics’ games over the language used to describe the performers. Is he a virtuoso musician or a splendid musician? (roll eyes). Can there be one without the other? They can be one-in-the-same, without mincing words and playing mindless word games.
Bottom line: If one has a problem with no conductor being on stage, then fucking click off and go watch something else! How about that? The conductor-worshipping conservatives can’t fathom a conductor not being on stage. No need to have a stroke just because some god conductor is not out there waving his arms around.
My favourite conductors are the genuine musicians who go out of their way to give nearly all credit for the performance to the stellar musicians sitting there on stage, rather than making it all about himself. I can count my favourite conductors on one hand, and mine are not celebrities. Well, they’re celebrities of sorts where they live or conduct in the world, but most people have probably never heard of any of them.
It seems that many if not most well-trained musicians feel as Nigel Kennedy does — I know I do — whereas the amateurs and those without any musical training see most celebrity conductors as deities. The Holy and Indivisible Trinity god conductor. Is that because they don’t know any better?
I performed with various well-known/celebrity conductors when I was in Orchestra Choruses in DC’s Kennedy Center Concert Hall with the National Symphony Orchestra and touring (inter)national orchestras, and in San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, but I’m not aware that any of my fellow choristers had this “star struck” approach to any conductors. Even when Margaret Hillis — whom I had a lot of respect for as a Chorus Director because of her reputation and her fine work with her Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus — even when she prepared the San Francisco Symphony Chorus as interim Chorus Director, I felt privileged to finally have the opportunity to work with her but the other choristers seem to see her no differently than anyone else. She wasn’t some “superstar” standing before us even though we all had a lot of respect for her, because she was Margaret Hillis with her reputation with the Chicago Symphony Chorus. I never heard any chorister say, “Isn’t this great that we get to be conducted by [name of celebrity conductor]? Instead, the conductor was, well, just the conductor. None of us talked about “how amazing” any conductor was the way I’ve heard some Millennial musicians these days do in the UK (such as some of the choristers of the National Youth Choir of Britain). With them, every conductor and Chorus Director they work with is “of course he was amazing” they write (roll eyes). In the Orchestra Choruses I sung in, I think most of us had more respect for our own Chorus Director who actually prepared us than the orchestral conductor. Because occasionally, the orchestral conductor would change something with the Chorus in our dress rehearsal, and we (choristers) didn’t necessarily agree with the change. We preferred how we had been impeccably prepared by the Chorus Director.
The classical music armchair critics, however, who are into conductor worshipping are only into big-name celebrity conductors, and they do so love to drop their names in comment sections to give the illusion that they know something about music as self-appointed authorities. Have any of the armchair critics ever studied music at all? A course or two in high school doesn’t count.
Awhile back, I saw two people sitting in the front row of the audience in Frankfurt — that’s a city in Deutschland/Germany for the geographically-ignorant people in the non-United States — and these two people in the audience starred non-stop at the conductor for the entire performance. They never looked at the other musicians on stage. Well I take that back. The guy did glance for about a second at the First Concertmaster but then he was back with his eyes glued on the god conductor. These two in the audience barely even blinked the entire time. No, they were not the conductor’s parents, but these two had been heavily brainwashed with conductor-worshipping. They were within camera view so I kept seeing them, unfortunately, and found them damn annoying. To them, it was clearly all about the conductor.
Even though the conductor doesn’t play a note in any performance unless s/he conducts from a keyboard, the classical music armchair critics have been so brainwashed with conducting worshipping. The same is true about orchestral mis-management. I’ve noticed that with females representing orchestral mis-management. Who else but a female would constantly use hearts for every comment gushing over the conductor? When a U-toob feature is so over-used — such as putting a heart by every comment — it loses its meaning and effectiveness. But that’s something the female sheeple of orchestral mis-management don’t consider. They’ll “heart” all conductor-worshipping comments. Oddly, they don’t “heart” comments praising their own musicians. WTF? But keep in mind that much of orchestral mis-management — do they know anything about music at all? — seem to have little respect for their own musicians since the musicians are the first to have their salaries and health benefits cut by orchestral mis-management. I’ve not read or heard where orchestral mis-management demand the same of their principal conductor. Why is the conductor’s salary and health benefits sacrosanct and not decreased? Do the elitist of orchestral mis-management take a pay cut themselves when the musicians salary is cut? Don’t count on it!
I have little to no respect for most orchestral mis-management from observing how they treat their fine musicians. Too often they treat them like dirt. I guess these plebs haven’t considered that without their fine musicians they wouldn’t have an orchestra.
And as of this writing, for weeks now during this COVID-pandemic, one major orchestra in Deutschland has been performing in chamber orchestra size (up to 50 musicians on stage) without face masks but with required distancing. No official audience but some people seated in the audience, if that makes sense. I really question this situation. It gives the impression that orchestral mis-management doesn’t really care which musicians become COVID-19 infected and or die, and as of this writing the COVID infection rate is rising rapidly in Deutschland, so are they going to continue doing what they’re doing and taking the chance? Whereas, an Orchestra and Chorus in the Czech Republic did it the correct way: All members of the Orchestra and Chorus wore face masks as well as the conductor as you can see here and they were distanced.
The fact is, for tonal music, the finest musicians in the world don’t need a conductor, depending upon the piece, as seen in this video of the Brahms’s First Piano Concerto with pianist Boris Berezovsky:
If the piece is tonal, and depending upon the piece of course, there’s no need for a conductor. I read a discussion about this recently and one commenter mentioned the Berlioz Requiem as possibly needing a conductor. I would agree with that. He seemed to know what he was talking about. We performed the Grande Messe des morts, Op 5 by Berlioz when I was in Dr Paul Traver’s University of Maryland Chorus. We were the guest Chorus with the National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap one Summer night with John Nelson, conductor. John said to us at the end of our rehearsal with him on the University of Maryland College Park campus, “I have to say, this is the best-prepared Chorus I’ve ever worked with.” Thinking to myself I said: Well of course it is John, this is the renowned and superb University of Maryland Chorus with our stellar reputation. That’s why I wanted to have the opportunity to sing with this Chorus. What did you expect? It was a nice thing for him to say. I’m sure Dr Traver was pleased to hear that. Anyway, for that piece because it’s such a massive symphonic choral work for both the Orchestra and Chorus — with such large scale choral forces — it might be wise to have a conductor for that to hold it all together. There are places in that piece where the tempi might be treacherous without a conductor.
If there’s a piece with gaps (rests) in the writing, you’d likely need a conductor to keep it together.
But as you can see in the Brahms PC #1 (link above), there was no need for a conductor. In that case, the First Concertmaster and the section principals served as conductors and it worked beautifully.
The conservatives are the first to scream and moan about needing a conductor and that’s per conservative (and often ridiculous) tradition. Yet these idiots fail to realise that in chamber music — for a Piano Quartet or Quintet — per tradition, there’s no conductor for a quartet or a quintet and those performances work just fine. Would these “you must have a conductor” disciples want a conductor on stage for a solo recital with piano accompaniment? What about a piano recital? Gotta have a conductor, right? They seem to think that no musicians can possibly get through any piece without Mr God Conductor being in front of them waving his arms around.
Now, if you don’t have the finest musicians, a conductor is likely needed because amateur musicians, for example, can’t necessarily keep consistent time while playing, for example. And if they are not well-rehearsed will likely overlook some, all or most of the markings in the score.
Or another example: hymn singing in a parish or cathedral church. Without the organist serving as “conductor” by keeping the tempo moving, the congregation would bring the hymn to a halt. I’ve seen/heard that happen many times. Some idiots whinge about how the organ is “too loud.” It’s supposed to be loud to lead the congregation otherwise the congregation will begin dragging and dragging and bring the hymn to a dirge.
I have few positive things to say about orchestral mis-management in the non-United States. They have dumbed-down their programming considerably catering to the lowest common denominator of stupidity. Related: NSO promoting gun violence at Wolf Trap.
Elitist orchestral mis-management also engage in celebrity conductor worshipping. Are any of orchestral mis-management plebs trained musicians? Or are they just busy-bodied people who live under illusions that they know what best for trained musicians? (Just like the useless and conservative prudes who run merchant, neighbourhood and restaurant associations in San Francisco and elsewhere.)
Orchestral mis-management are the first to call for pay cuts for their own musicians but I never hear about them (mis-management) taking a pay cut for their elitist ass. They’re really quite sheeple and “star-struck” in their worship of celebrity conductors, yet orchestral mis-management don’t demand that Mr Celebrity Conductor take a pay cut or cut in benefits. No, it’s just the highly-trained musicians who actually perform the music. The real workers. Not the guy who stands up there flailing his arms around, when the musicians on stage could likely play the piece without him.
The classical music audience and armchair critics have been heavily brainwashed with ugly nationalism, so that topic always comes up and orchestral mis-management promote it as well. So if a piece is by Rachmaninov, to the racist nationalists, only Russian-born musicians can properly play Rachmaninov, which of course is absolutely rubbish.
I remember when I gave a solo piano performance in San Francisco years ago, I played pieces from different countries and different composers all on the same programme. I thought nothing of it. Afterwards, people asked me, “How did you do it?” I was thinking: How did I do WHAT? “How did you play all those different pieces when they were by all different composers and different nationalities? I thought to myself: WTF is this person talking about? I’d given no thought to it. I merely wanted a variety of pieces rather than the perfunctory Chopin pieces that everybody else was pumping out/playing. I didn’t care to be in the Chopin rut just because it was the latest fad. I played mostly Rachmaninov — some of his Études–Tableaux specifically, but also a piece by Poulenc, Scarlatti, Herbert Howells, and one or two others. Well, people were just “wowed” by that. The programme brought in a full house on a stormy wet day. Well, my programme was very unusual considering what most other pianists played on the same series. I don’t know why. Well-trained musicians can play any music they have studied regardless of what country it was composed in or composer just as well, if not better, than musicians born in the country the piece was written in. Cristina Ortiz plays the best Rachmaninov Third I’ve heard and she was born in Brazil. For Rachmaninov’s Sinfonische Tänze/Symphonic Dances, an orchestra from Deutschland and a conductor born in Colombia (Andrés Orozco-Estrada) are my favourite for that piece. But the conservative nationalistic-brainwashed fossils who promote ugly nationalism will tell you that “Russian music requires a person of Russian ancestry to play it right.” What an ignorant thing to say.
And when a Russian-born pianist such as Dmitri Alexeev, for example, plays Chopin (Poland), Schumann, and Brahms (both German), is Dmitri’s playing of these pieces inferior to pianists born in Poland or Deutschland? Hardly! Do you see how silly this nationalism/racism is? Or is it “Mother Russia” that is so sacrosanct and special with these idiots?
The thing is: Not all Russian musicians like all Russian music — just like not all USians like music composed in the US — so obviously one would not get the best performance when a musician is asked to play a piece by a Russian composer and he or she doesn’t particularly like the piece or that composer’s music. So there! It has nothing to do with where one was born or what country the piece was composed in. And what about when Los Latinos, Los Hispanos or Chicanos well-trained musicians play or conduct pieces by non-Latin composers? Is Andrés Orozco-Estrada’s conducting of performances of Rachmaninov inferior to that of a Russian conductor just because Andrés was born in Colombia? (He lives in Vienna).
Has everyone gone insane? Is that why idiots come up with this drivel? This does show just how ludicrous nationalism in music is, but I don’t expect it to end in my lifetime. Not until a certain generation — having been brainwashed with this rubbish — dies off. Chau.—el barrio rosa