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 Professional Conductors
Author: Aaron 
Date:   2007-09-20 01:24

Hello all,
Just wondering for those of you who are well-acquainted with professional orchestra conductors, how much theory do they know and put into practice?


Thanks
Aaron M

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 Re: Professional Conductors
Author: EEBaum 
Date:   2007-09-20 01:37

what kind of theory?

-Alex
www.mostlydifferent.com

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 Re: Professional Conductors
Author: Aaron 
Date:   2007-09-20 02:21

Music.

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 Re: Professional Conductors
Author: ChrisArcand 
Date:   2007-09-20 15:06

Well, knowing how the music works when you play it seems pretty essential to me, of any performer, conductor, composer, arranger, accompanist, instructor....So learn your theory.

As far as how much...I'm guessing that since they're making their living off
of music, they probably know a lot about how it works. Theoretically, of course.

CA



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 Re: Professional Conductors
Author: Ken Shaw 2017
Date:   2007-09-20 16:53

Professional conductors know their music theory cold.

Most also have strong aural "rendering" skills and can play a score by mentally reading it. Many (Lorin Maazel, for example) have photographic memories. He can look at a score once and have a picture in his head, which he can play back or analyze at any time.

Maazel also has a strong sense of perfect pitch. He says he knows when to shifts gears in his car not by the speedometer or tachometer reading, but by the pitch of the engine.

Toscanini once noticed, during a loud orchestral tutti, that one of the second violinists had forgotten to remove his mute at the end of the previous movement.

Alfred Zetzer, the former Cleveland bass clarinetist, said that when he got a new mouthpiece, George Szell noticed it after a single note.

Ken Shaw

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 Re: Professional Conductors
Author: GBK 
Date:   2007-09-20 18:26

Ken Shaw wrote:

> Alfred Zetzer, the former Cleveland bass clarinetist, said that
> when he got a new mouthpiece, George Szell noticed it after a
> single note.


Ken... Isn't there another story about Marcellus briefly experimenting with playing a (GG?) crystal mouthpiece, and Szell asking him if he was totally pleased with the sound he was getting?

...GBK

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 Re: Professional Conductors
Author: crnichols 
Date:   2007-09-20 19:47

I heard that story about Marcellus from my old teacher Steve Barta. As I recall, Marcellus played on a Crystal mouthpiece with a double lip embouchure for a period. If I remember correctly, Capriccio Espagnol was recorded on this setup in the late 1950's. This was before he discovered the Kasper/Morre setup.

Christopher Nichols, D.M.A.
Assistant Professor of Clarinet
University of Delaware

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 Re: Professional Conductors - Marcellus Crystal Mouthpiece
Author: Ken Shaw 2017
Date:   2007-09-20 21:00

I've been told that Marcellus played an old Woodwind mouthpiece when he came to Cleveland and that he eventually broke it or wore it out. It may be apocryphal, but I've heard that he left his clarinet on the chair during a break. Sunlight hit an irregularity in a skyight, focusing the sun on the mouthpiece and melting it.

Whether or not that's true, Marcellus certainly experimented with mouthpieces in the 1950s and definitely said he recorded his amazing solos on the 1958 Russian LP (Polovtsian Dances, Capriccio Espagnole, Capriccio Italienne, Kovanshchina Prelude) on a crystal mouthpiece. Szell eventually asked him "Do you REALLY like the sound you get on that thing?" and he took the hint and switched to a Kaspar. See http://test.woodwind.org/clarinet/BBoard/read.html?f=1&i=140177&t=140108.

Ken Shaw

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 Re: Professional Conductors
Author: David Spiegelthal 2017
Date:   2007-09-21 14:28

Conductors can be such a pain in the butt sometimes -- I play in one very good wind ensemble with an otherwise excellent conductor who is always busting on me about my sound (on bass clarinet) --- no matter what I do he's never happy. But after ten or so years of playing for him, I've just learned to ignore his gripes (he hasn't fired me yet........)

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 Re: Professional Conductors
Author: Kevin 
Date:   2007-09-21 14:46

Professional conductors have to know their theory just as well, if not more so, than any other position inside the music profession. That includes composers, theorists, professors, performers, etc.

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 Re: Professional Conductors
Author: Kevin 
Date:   2007-09-21 14:50

The English conductor Oliver Knussen was once conducting a rehearsal of Elliott Carter's Symphony for Three Orchestras at Tanglewood, and stopped the music during a very loud, fast, dense section when he noticed that the 2nd orchestra's 3rd stand inside violist was lagging behind half a beat or so.

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 Re: Professional Conductors
Author: wrowand 
Date:   2007-09-21 15:19

That would be more impressive if he didn't have the visual cue of a viola bow moving out-of-sync with the rest of the section (assuming Knussen isn't blind).

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 Re: Professional Conductors
Author: David Spiegelthal 2017
Date:   2007-09-21 15:44

I was playing in a community wind ensemble once with Col. Arnald Gabriel (retired conductor of the US Air Force Band) and, during a loud tutti passage, he stopped the group to kindly inform me that I had missed an accidental on one note. And he was right.................Scary.



Post Edited (2007-09-21 16:42)

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 Re: Professional Conductors
Author: davyd 
Date:   2007-09-21 17:54

A question I've asked from time to time in rehearsals is: "Does this note (which might be a misprint) belong in the chord?" I would expect any conductor, professional or otherwise, to have a clue about this. Most do; some don't.

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 Re: Professional Conductors
Author: Ken Shaw 2017
Date:   2007-09-22 00:42

Anyone can found a group and call him/herself a conductor. I went to a rehearsal band once where we played the Overture to Rossini's Italian in Algiers, which begins with pianissimo pizzicato strings, played by the clarinets. The "conductor" screamed that they had to be loud, long and legato. He "knew" every note of the orchestra parts, and that was the way Toscanini had done it.

I didn't go back.

Ken Shaw

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 Re: Professional Conductors
Author: skygardener 
Date:   2007-09-22 11:35

Aaron- Why the original question?

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 Re: Professional Conductors
Author: rtmyth 
Date:   2007-09-22 13:49

Leinsdorff, Szell, Metropolis, Mazell and I'm certain many others had it all. Even Copland, Strauss and Stravinsky were competent. .

richard smith

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 Re: Professional Conductors
Author: Aaron 
Date:   2007-09-22 18:29

Skygardener-
I was wondering whether or not a conductor such as Barenboim who is incredibly musically gifted would have the same gift for music theory. And if professional conductors do have extensive theory background, I was also wondering about the extent to which it's utilized in their profession.

Aaron M

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 Re: Professional Conductors
Author: EEBaum 
Date:   2007-09-23 06:15

I'd imagine most conductors have a decent amount of theory under their belt. Undergrad at any respectable music school gets you pretty far.

There's also a certain level beyond which the advanced theory becomes much less relevant to performers and conductors, compared to composers and academics.

It also depends on your definition of "extensive theory background." PhD level structural analysis? perhaps not. Ability to identify a third inversion V9/iv? Sure.

-Alex
www.mostlydifferent.com

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 Re: Professional Conductors
Author: Gregory Wanamaker 
Date:   2007-09-23 15:21

Furtwangler actually studied theory and analysis with Heinrich Schenker and found Schenker's notions of linear and reductive analysis very useful in score study and understanding complete works - especially those of a large scale. This is very evident in his WWII era recordings of works like Beethoven 9, Wagner's Tristan Prelude and Liebestod, etc... Give 'em a listen!

An undergraduate musicianship core curriculum is really better thought of as music REALITY than music THEORY.

In the upperdivision and graduate levels, however, the study of theory and analysis will aid in the understanding of different ways of looking at a single piece so that a musician can interpret it honestly and originally. This is really what musicianship is all about.

The most successful musicians (conductors included) are COMPLETE musicians with strong backgrounds in performance, theory, counterpoint and composition.

How individual conductors put this into the practice of conducting depends on the individual conductor.

Enjoy!

Greg

Gregory Wanamaker
http://www.gregorywanamaker.com

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 Re: Professional Conductors
Author: Bob Phillips 
Date:   2007-09-23 19:58

I hear the misery of folks above here in this thread suffering with bad conductors. I play in ensembles where the conductor has about the same level of skill as the rest of us, and that is a considerable weakness.

On the other hand, many of us would rather leave the conducting to another so that we can play our horns.

BUt,
Last night, I heard the Utah Symphony under Keith Lockhart --who "also" conducts the Boston Pops. Man, I wish I had $300,000 a year to get him to shake his stick at me!. His baton makes everything about tempo and articulation crystal clear. In one piece, the entire 70-80 piece orchestra played rubato, following his clear lead. The rolling tempo changes were small, but very effective, and everyone in that (great) ensemble "tracked" with Lockhart perfectly.

He knows what every exposed part should be, and grins/clasps hands together and nods when they are well done.

He even has a decent singing voice (Hey, it was a pops concert).

I have Rafael Mendez stop the community band to tell me, "2nd Tenor, that is a G#!" OK, blush.

For an insight into professional conductors, keep an eye out for a re-run of Michael Tilson Thomas's three part series on the orchestra. You'll find that he knows the pieces covered COLD. He plays from the score on his piano, studies and thinks about it, brings it to fruition. He can play every note in the score --maybe not on the Ab sopranino clarinet, but on his piano!

A great conductor is a great musician --totally competent --probably only different in his/er interpretation.

Bob Phillips

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 Re: Professional Conductors
Author: rgames 
Date:   2007-09-24 16:52

Music Theory is basically the collection of the traditional "laws" of music (such as they are). But as with any artform, laws are descriptive, not proscriptive like the laws of physics. So, whether or not a conductor needs to be well-versed in music theory is dependent upon what he wants to conduct.

Pick any conductor with a deep knowledge of traditional western music theory (harmony, voice leading, etc.), and ask him how that knowledge helps him when he conducts Ligeti.

By the time adjustments to the laws enter the canon, they have been conducted and performed a number of times. Witness the changes in harmonic structure from the baroque to the classical to the romantic, etc. Somebody (many bodies, in fact) had to conduct these changes before they became part of accepted practice. Did previous experience with theory help them to embrace the changes? It's hard to say, but it could easily be argued that lack of exposure to established practice would help a conductor to embrace the changes to that practice. So maybe no theory is better...!!! (Unless you prefer to have your musical chronometer stuck in one spot, which, unfortunately, is most music patrons).

Where theory REALLY helps is in composing. I spend more time writing music than playing/conducting music and I rely on theory to a much larger extent when writing than I do when playing. But, again, I use it as a crutch, not really as a creative tool. Maybe I need to get a film cue done ASAP but I'm having trouble with the ending - well, I can just throw together a few bars to define an unambiguous tonic then throw together some form of a cadence and it's good to go. Not the most creative approach, but it does get the job done in a situation where there's limited time.

That's part of the craft of composing; creativity comes in defying established craft (i.e. music theory), and that's what all artists strive for.

rgames
______________________________
Richard G. Ames
Composer - Arranger - Producer
www.rgamesmusic.com

____________________________
Richard G. Ames
Composer - Arranger - Producer
www.rgamesmusic.com

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