Whilst being privileged to take my son up to the top of The Empire State building in NYC the other day, I was watching the late afternoon sun sparkle on the water looking downtown toward the Statue of Liberty. I was struck by the observation that, in that fleeting moment, all the elements were lining up for a fabulous photo; one simply having to wait for that moment when the effects of light and water intermingled to give the optimal photographic result.
Synonymously, it reminds me of the methodology of rehearsing orchestras to elicit the best performance. Making performances is little different to en plein air painting wherein the canvas objects are subject to shifting light densities. Timing when to put the artist’s brush to the canvas is key to the artform – and what an artform! For orchestral conductors, the deft touch needed to paint using the inestimable skill of orchestral players to achieve the perfect result is very difficult indeed. Too often, as conductors, we fail subsequently asking the orchestra musicians to come back tomorrow whilst we practise our artistic insights over again.
My favorite conducting experiences this year have been with the Australian Discovery Orchestra for live-stream concerts. My least favorite experiences – conducting university orchestras of varying abilities in the USA. Someone questioned me recently why I found these student-level orchestras an unenviable proposition to work with, assuming my answer would in all likelihood be about the respective orchestras’ technical shortcomings. But that isn’t the problem.
You expect student-level orchestras to have more-or-less musical and technical deficiencies requiring more rehearsal than professionals require to achieve a solid result, but, what I still get caught out on, is how little student orchestras appear to care about the joy of making music in the moment, the entire experience seemingly vicariously detached from the act of participation.
So this is my New Year’s resolution for 2017: I will no longer conduct ensembles that have even the hint of appearing to be on remote control or exhibit tendencies akin to observing people who clearly wish they were somewhere else. With the plethora of wall-paper music invading every crevice of our modern lives, the idea of contributing more non-inspired music-making to the world seems utterly repugnant.
So, as we move to the close of 2016, may I offer every hard-working, under-appreciated, and passionate professional orchestra musician I have had the privilege of working with this year, all the best for the Holiday Season and we’ll do it all again in 2017 better still, and with even more joie de vivre!
Lastly, if you haven’t seen this, check it out. Inspired fun.