Monday, December 2, 2013

Conductor or Not

Traditionally in an orchestra, there is a conductor that leads; however, we do see some Youtube videos or public orchestra performances without conductors. On November 24th , The New York Times talked about one special Philharmonic performance without official conductors. After Itzhak Perlman resigned as the Westchester Philharmonic’s artistic advisor and primary conductor in the middle of the 2010-11 season, the orchestra began to play with guest conductors and soloists who lead the orchestra. According to Joshua Worby, the philharmonic’s executive director, who has been involved in negotiations in recent weeks, the orchestra hopes to install two new conductors soon. But for the moment, the guest-leader policy continues, and arguably to concertgoers’ advantage, since the next person to assume the role will be one of the leading pianistic thinkers of the day, Jeremy Denk. He is being billed as the soloist-leader in a November 24th concert featuring Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 at the Performing Arts Center of Purchase College. A Mozart sonata and works by Beethoven and Haydn will round out the program.
Personally, I do not agree with the idea of a professional soloist conducting the orchestra. Although I’ve seen videos of Zimerman Beirnstein conduct the orchestra during his performance of Five Beethoven Piano Concertos, I think the orchestra still needs an official conductor, that is one that has been specifically trained to do just that. The most important role a conductor plays is to lead symphony members through rehearsals and performances. He or she accomplishes this in part by standing on a podium in front of the musicians, while executing a series of specific arm movements. The musicians interpret these movements, gaining information such as how fast or loud to play. A conductor learns standard conducting patterns as part of his or her education, but each develops his or her own style or approach over time. Fundamental knowledge of every instrument is standard as well (which is not necessarily a prerequisite for professional soloists), and during the rehearsal process, conductors might physically demonstrate or verbally describe exactly what they want orchestra members to do to get specific sounds. Without an in-residence conductor, the orchestra does not have many opportunities to rehearse with conductors and get accustomed to them and their conducting style or incorporate their specific musical demands.

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