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Do orchestras really need conductors?


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Showing 1-25 of 31 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 27, 2012 3:06:22 PM PST
Skaynan says:
From NPR:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/11/27/165677915/do-orchestras-really-need-conductors

So do they?

Posted on Nov 27, 2012 3:16:26 PM PST
R. Schroeder says:
Wasn't it Bernstein who said that in rehearsal the orchestra should focus 90% on him and 10% on the score, but in performance 10% on him and 90% on the score? I don't know I'm too lazy to search for it, but I know I have heard that somewhere.

In any case, I think in many cases the conductor would not be absolutely necessary for a performance, but for planning a performance and rehearsing it to get details worked out, a conductor is probably very necessary.

Posted on Nov 27, 2012 3:18:57 PM PST
KenOC says:
Music aside, the marketing people will tell you that the conductor is essential to selling tickets. Thus, without the conductor the orchestra probably wouldn't exist. There are a (very) few exceptions...

Posted on Nov 27, 2012 3:29:32 PM PST
Dichterliebe says:
"The scientists hypothesized that if the movement of the conductor could predict the movements of the violinists, then the conductor was clearly leading the players. But if the conductor's movements could not predict the movement of the violinists, then it was really the players who were in charge."

How is this prediction made, i.e. how does a conductor 'predict' the movement of violinists -- the baton of a conductor arriving at a point in an estimated cluster of points prior to those of the violinists? What of other instruments -- wouldn't sound waves be a better and more inclusive/indicative measurement(s)? What about conductor motions/expressions that aren't as physically measurable by infrared (unless very complicated) such as facial expression, eye contact, gestures to more distant orchestral sections, etc.?

""What we found is the more the influence of the conductor to the players, the more aesthetic - aesthetically pleasing the music was overall," Aloimonos said."

Based upon what criteria and who are these aesthetic experts? Can this difference in musical quality (or pleasure) be measured?

The title of the article is misleading. They measured certain movements of a conductor and responses from violinists but the article doesn't describe an orchestra without a conductor and then compare the results, so it appears the study isn't asking the same question the author asks in the lead.

Posted on Nov 27, 2012 3:46:40 PM PST
Tero says:
Well, as long as the conductor can at least yell at a player. I imagine they are more difficult to fire during a season.

Mitt Romney as conductor? He would fire the extra bassists. "we already have 1."

Posted on Nov 27, 2012 4:41:25 PM PST
KenOC says:
More on the necessity of a conductor, from yesterday's paper: "The Phil has seen attendance gains early in Dudamel's tenure. Its tax returns document a 21% overall increase in ticket sales for orchestral performances in L.A. over his first two seasons."

http://tinyurl.com/bpmc3f5

Posted on Nov 27, 2012 4:53:26 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 27, 2012 4:58:02 PM PST
David M. says:
Almost all of a conductor's real work is done in preparation, and most of it doesn't involve time-keeping. This study only measures a small portion of a conductor's influence over the orchestra, which makes the sensationalistic headline "Do orchestras really need conductors?" especially inapposite.

Posted on Nov 27, 2012 7:03:36 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 27, 2012 7:18:06 PM PST
Larkenfield says:
Why conductors are still needed:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rkp8YSuePPM

An additional reason:
There are stories of Furtwangler simply walking into a
rehearsal from a back entrance to the hall and the orchestra
playing better. So it's not about the conductor's movements
only but his or her *presence* - an indefinable radiance
that some have that brings inspiration and unity to a
performance. How does one measure such an intangible
influence with a dial?! ♬

Posted on Nov 28, 2012 6:20:05 AM PST
HB says:
I think it depends on the music. I have heard conductorless performances of Vivaldi's Four Seasons that were just wonderful and ones with conductors that were awful. However, when you get to the later Haydn symphonies, I think you need a conductor. I have a recording of Orpheus performing three Haydn symphonies. It is a not bad recording but it is hardly inspired Haydn. IMO, a conductor could have helped, especially with the phrasing.

Posted on Nov 28, 2012 6:25:31 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 28, 2012 6:53:49 AM PST
Skaynan says:
I agree HB: I can't imagine Wagner, Bruckner, Mahler, Sibelius or Stravinsky being performed without a conductor, if only for the rhythmic complexity of the scores (For example, how on earth can you do the final bars of Sibelius's 5th without a conductor??? or ROS all throughout? Or Brucknerian "Pauses" and the all-important dynamics? Impossible I believe)

Posted on Nov 28, 2012 6:36:13 AM PST
scarecrow says:
Well the conductor brings a unified vision to the music,the aesthetic philosophy,the meaning!!
and then technical dimensions how can the orchestra find the balance the refinement of timbre of the piece all by itself, and let's take something like Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring", if each musician is playing,they have no way of knowing what comes next overall, Yes! they have some general idea, but then Waht's Taht!
they do to some extent but never, never overall. . . you never get that from the orchestra by itself alone, , , and most musicians will tell you Yes they need a conductor. .

Sir Thomas Beecham was arrogant enough to always proclaim he was not needed by his orchestra, Yes HE, HE was not needed, but his orchestra still needed a conductor . . .

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 28, 2012 9:43:17 AM PST
HB says:
"For example, how on earth can you do the final bars of Sibelius's 5th without a conductor???"

Skaynan,

That is an exceptionally good example. The finale of Sibelius 6 would also be next to impossible without a maestro. You also mentioned Wagner. I think his lovely Siegfried Idyll could be played without a conductor. Has anybody ever seen it done that way? I actually prefer the chamber version to the original (unless the chamber one is original, I am not sure).

Posted on Nov 28, 2012 11:10:11 AM PST
Wagner: Siegfried-Idyll; Sibelius: Valse triste; Puccini: Crisantemi; Wolf: Italienische Serenade; Turina: La oracion del torero; Dvorak: Nocturno; Berlioz: Reverie et caprice
orpheus has recorded the 'idyll'.

Posted on Nov 28, 2012 11:10:35 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 28, 2012 11:16:19 AM PST
Skaynan says:
HB and Jackey: How about "Descent to Nibelheim" from "Rheingold"? Surely that's impossible without a conductor. "Siegfried Idyll"? Could be...

Edit: I see the Idyll was indeed recorded like that. Is it any good?

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 28, 2012 12:48:55 PM PST
K. Beazley says:
David Mayer,

"....which makes the sensationalistic headline "Do orchestras really need conductors?" especially inapposite."

The inclusion of the word "really" voids the whole thing of any shred of objectivity.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 28, 2012 12:55:50 PM PST
K. Beazley says:
HB,

"I think his lovely Siegfried Idyll could be played without a conductor. Has anybody ever seen it done that way?"

Most probably Cosima Wagner on Christmas Day, 1870. I can't imagine a conductor fitting in that narrow stairwell.

Posted on Nov 28, 2012 1:01:14 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 28, 2012 1:11:10 PM PST
the orpheus version is just fine even if it doesn't compare to my favorites,
but they are rare bunch.
is stravinsky's 'orpheus' their signature piece?...That seems much harder to pull off without a conductor than the 'idyll'.
Stravinsky: Orpheus; Danses concertantes

these are my favorite recordings of them, but Considering it is short measure and 15 bucks used, I wouldn't recommend this disc if someone wanted to explore these two scores.

Stravinsky's own now on sony or the Craft naxos...
(i'm thinking that 'dances concertantes' is a score that Craft recorded for columbia after stravinsky was too frail...do I have to get down the box?)

Posted on Nov 28, 2012 1:45:58 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on Jan 29, 2013 12:58:14 PM PST]

Posted on Nov 28, 2012 2:16:07 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 29, 2013 1:00:20 PM PST
R. Kopp says:
Apologies to Andy Warhol, but we don't seem to want our art to be produced by committees in factories. French film critics in the 1950s were intent on identifying individual authors in the *generic* studio productions of Warner Brothers and Universal and MGM and Paramount and RKO. I get it. That impulse to find the artist's signature in a particular piece of work is very powerful.

A lot of people feel cheated if they can't immediately recognize the conductor's personality in a performance. Works in the standard repertoire seem to need to be flexible enough to allow of a wide variety of interpretations while still retaining the stamp of the composer.

Posted on Nov 28, 2012 2:40:22 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 28, 2012 2:41:18 PM PST
"Music aside, the marketing people will tell you that the conductor is essential to selling tickets. Thus, without the conductor the orchestra probably wouldn't exist. There are a (very) few exceptions..."

Idiotically, the CSO mgmt fell prey to this tactic, which Barenboim's PR team seems to have foisted on it and they've adopted ever since.

"Idiotically" because I hope Chicago was one of Ken's exceptions and some of the best performances I've seen took place when they actively ignored the conductor (confirmed by players later). Luckily, during one subscription year, there were lots of guests with a habit of being overserved.

Posted on Nov 28, 2012 3:24:10 PM PST
KenOC says:
I seem to remember that the "Symphony of the Air" gave quite a few conductorless performances after Stokowski moved on, based on Stokowski's interpretations and directions. Can find no mention of this now. Anybody out there with long memories?

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 28, 2012 3:44:58 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 28, 2012 4:33:46 PM PST
R. Kopp says:
Ken,

That's some seriously creative branding on the part of the "Symphony of the Air": they could deliver "Stokowski performances" as long as no one else was at the podium.

Posted on Nov 28, 2012 10:14:22 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 28, 2012 10:14:39 PM PST
KenOC says:
An oldie from Radames, perhaps relevant here.

Q: What do playing Stravinsky's "L'Histoire du Soldat" with a conductor, and using a condom during sex, have in common?

A: Safer with, but more fun without.

Posted on Nov 29, 2012 12:23:54 AM PST
I think having a conductor is essential, but only if the conductor is there 24/7. If you are only goin to have a part time music director, then its better to go without perhaps.

The main function of the condutor is to train and build the orchestra. If you had the musicians doing that, they would constantly fight over how to perform the music, what to perform and who to hire. Having a conductor streamlines the whole process. The conductor picks the pieces to be performed, audutions the musicians for the management and helps with the fundraising. Fundraising is very important, and the muscians couldn't do it to the same degree as the conductor.

A perfect example of a situation where a conductor was needed, was George Szell and Cleveland. Just examine a George Szell style rehersal and ask yourself if the musicians could have done that on their own.

Posted on Nov 29, 2012 6:17:30 AM PST
HB says:
"A perfect example of a situation where a conductor was needed, was George Szell and Cleveland. Just examine a George Szell style rehersal and ask yourself if the musicians could have done that on their own."

As I understand it, Szell took the Cleveland job expecting it to be a stepping stone to the NY Philharmonic. However, it only took about 10 years before Cleveland was the better of the two orchestras and Szell stayed put. In 1957, Cleveland toured Europe and the rest of the world suddenly knew the miracle he had created in Cleveland.
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Discussion in:  Classical Music forum
Participants:  18
Total posts:  31
Initial post:  Nov 27, 2012
Latest post:  Oct 9, 2013

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