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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000032.txt from 2005/04

From: "Karl Krelove" <>
Subj: [kl] "European" Seating (slightly OT)
Date: Sun, 03 Apr 2005 14:18:48 -0400

For what it's worth to the discussion of baton vs. baton-less conducting, I
attended a concert last night of the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by
Roger Norrington. The orchestra played, I thought, superbly throughout in a
program designed with a London theme - Vaughan Williams "London" Symphony,
Haydn Symphony #104 (also called "London") and the Elgar Cockaigne Overture
("In London Town"). Norrington conducted the two twentieth century works in
what we in America would probably consider a "normal" way with a baton in
the right hand showing more or less constant time patterns, albeit
frequently expressive ones, and lots of cuing and further expressive
directives with the left hand. For the Haydn, however, he adopted a totally
different style, I suppose in his view better suited to the smaller
orchestra and more straightforward ensemble of an eighteenth century
symphony. He used no baton - conducted open-handed - and dispensed entirely
with any time-beating at all for bars on end, shaping phrases, emphasizing
dynamic shifts and even panning around toward the audience in mid-gesture
when he wanted to call attention to a humorous musical effect. Of course the
orchestra got along quite well without the stick or the time-beating.

And they sounded wonderful - both with and without a baton.

I do have a question or two for the list members on the European side of the
pond. The Philadelphia Orchestra (in its second season under Christoph
Eschenbach) has adopted as a season-long experiment a string seating with
1st violins on the conductor's left, then cellos, then violas and finally
2nd violins on the outside at the conductor's right (opposite 1sts). Last
night Norrington had the strings seated this way, and in some opening
remarks he made quite a point of calling attention to it as the way the
orchestra would have been seated until "Stokie" (Leopold Stokowsky) came to
Philadelphia and changed everything. (He also chided that "Stokie" had been
responsible for the continual vibrato that modern string sections use,
implying it wasn't even standard as recently as the early 20th century.)
I've always known of this seating as "European seating" but I wonder, since
Norrington made such a point of making it an historical issue, whether
European orchestras today commonly use it, the more usual American seating
with the 2nd violins inside the 1sts and the cellos on the outside opposite
them or something else. He also had the brass (except for the French horns)
behind the 2nd violins on the outside of the orchestra and horns on the
other side behind the cellos. Is this idiosyncratic to Mr. Norrington or is
it in some areas also standard?

Very curious...

Karl Krelove

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