In the July 2012 edition of Limelight magazine, Francis Merson wrote an incisive article entitled ‘The Australian Maestro Myth’. What made this piece worthy beyond its inherently good style, was that it poked at the surface of the murky depths of the state of orchestral conducting in Australia from the perspective of home-grown, aspiring Australian conductors. It doesn’t take a degree in fortune-telling to predict that the current state of play, and predictions for the future, were bleak.
So, I have been intending to comment on this piece now for nearly 18 months, but forestalled my commentary for a couple of reasons: the primary one being that vindictiveness is rife in the Australian orchestral sector – and that includes certain (but not all) self-empowered administrators responsible for the selection of conductors. Now, personally, I don’t care as long ago realised that aspiring to conduct regularly in Australia was nothing more than folly and took other roads to accomplish that aspiration.
I have huge amounts of admiration for those Australian conductors who keep trying, but I never quite saw the point; having been advised by someone at the time whom I admire – but now regrettably deceased – who offered “Not a good strategy, Kevin!”
What gave the game away? I always remember someone in the ABC telling me 25 years ago that they were “waiting to see whether I was going to become a conductor or composer before deciding to give me a shot in front of the orchestras.” Protesting with the obvious plea of “But what about Bernstein?”, I was given that avuncular look of an indulgent but nonetheless disappointed parent with the response, “But Kevin, you’re not Lenny are you!” ‘Well, of course not! Who is?’ should have been my savvy retort (it wasn’t by the way, having been left gobsmacked) but the admonition was consistent with the ‘which box do you fit into?’ mentality that remains pervasive within the Australian cultural cringe.
I heard someone remark the other day that this ‘cringe’ no longer exists. Oh, dear.
So off Kevin goes to Europe, via the UK, to build a career. Fortunately I never developed the ridiculous traits of the ‘Showman Maestro’ (don’t you love the guy in the photo above!). Actually I did it once in front of one of the great conducting teachers in this world (Harold Farberman). I still have the scars and the memory of being unceremoniously and immediately cut down to size! I was a much better conductor thereafter, need I add.
In the next instalment, I am going to take a critical look at Francis’s article and specifically some of the interviewee responses included in the piece. It would be fair to say that my responses to some of these quotes is – well – scathing given the pomposity and supercilious answers to why Australian conductors do not get more opportunities. I might have to leave the country again, but it will make good reading.