Author Archive | Kevin

How To Conduct [Insert Title]?

Worry_WortIntermittently I return to the subject of whether assertions made in treatises on orchestra conducting and conducting technique are valid. I return to the subject again today.

Recognising that there are quite a number of younger conductors who follow this blog (albeit intermittent of late) I think there is a responsibility to engage in discussion about things to do with conducting that weren’t readily available when I started out in this business.

One of the recurring issues is, “Is what you read in the ever expanding subject matter of orchestral conducting reliable?” The answer is more often ‘yes’ than otherwise, but there is a growing body of literature; mostly emanating from American college and university academic conductors, that raise some concerns.

One of the nasty truisms of academia – and especially so in the performing and creative Arts disciplines – remains the concept of ‘publish or perish’. Alternative methodologies and frameworks of Performance as Research (PaR) as it is referred to in the USA or PARIP (Practice in Research as Performance) elsewhere, and other exemplars of practice-based academic enquiry regrettably remain problematic for many universities, their associated research funding mechanisms and processes of academic promotion.

Consequently, as opposed to seeing how conducting orchestras and Opera as creative production can constitute intellectual enquiry through performances, we have seen the publication of a plethora of texts on conducting technique as ‘how to’ books over the last 5 – 10 years.  These tomes tend to reflect more associations of experience from within the hallowed halls of learning than performances with professional orchestras.

And herein lies the problem: professional orchestra players learn an ‘inside the orchestra’ vocabulary of execution which negates the need to observe or follow the pedantic approaches to conducting espoused in these texts.  It’s true too, that the development of this player-group vocabulary has arisen over the last hundred years of orchestral performance practice to negate the often seen shortcomings of the person at the front of the orchestra waving the stick! It’s not a question of the validity of this reality, it just is.

It would be far more useful if the ‘academic’ conducting fraternity could, and would, use PaR or PARIP methodologies as enquiry into what conducting gestures (as they see them) actually mean to professional players in terms of what they collectively see and, as a consequence of this, what they interpret the meaning of these gestures to be. This would provide much needed feedback to determine whether what is actually being taught to conductors actually reflects what orchestral players need. Continue Reading →

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An Unusual Double: Puccini and Irish Music

TRI_New_Irish_TenorsSo, I am working away here in Italy doing research for conducting Tosca later in the year whilst I’ve been finishing off new orchestrations (with my colleague Troy Rogan) for symphony gigs by TRI: The New Irish Tenors in the U.S. starting in March.  It’s been a rather unusual double-act to say the least.

What I’ve noticed is this: a great melody is a great melody, but a great melody with great storytelling allied to a great tune is utterly compelling.  And funny enough, both trad. Irish music tunes and Puccini opera arias have both in spades.

So it’s very weird to be humming ‘Boolavogue’ (an Irish trad. tune) whilst walking about in Rome videoing and photographing the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, the Farnese Palace and Castel Sant’ Angelo respectively as part of a new 3D-interactive experience about Puccini’s verismo opera masterpiece – TOSCA that we’re producing (and how I have always loved that this marvelous opera was for so many years derided as “..that shabby little shocker.”)

Anyway, if you’re in or around Orlando, FL on March 3 go see TRI with the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and enjoy an early St. Patrick’s Day festivity.  Great Irish singers who’ll bring a tear to you eye I imagine.

Back soon,

Kevin

 

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Feliz Navidad & A New Year Resolution

NYC_SkylineWhilst 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. Continue Reading →

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A Conductor Is Not A Policeman…Or A Circus Clown

Kevin_Purcell

Photo_Simon Schluter

In the immortal words of Neil Diamond, ‘hello again!’

So what has been happening?  Recording sessions, concerts, a new musical to write, a previous musical to revise, a TV series demystifying Opera….the list goes on.

But we’re not here today for that update, although it is coming down the pipeline soon.

Today’s small topic is about ‘What you are doing is not conducting, and would you please stop referring to it as such when you are being nothing more than a policeman!’  OK, it’s a long title, but it represents the core perspective of this post.  Yes, you’re right, something is bugging me and it is this: Continue Reading →

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Recordings in June and July

I have had remarkably little time in the last month, other than to keep my head above that euphemistically imaginary line labelled ‘Drowning’.  I have started to consider how much music can one conductor keep in his/her head at any one time.  Without doubt, I have discovered my limit!

This month sees the culmination of two recording projects, for release in 2017, that have been long in the planning and about to be short in the execution.

The first of these projects is the new CD of the music of contemporary American composer, Nan Schwartz to be recorded at the marvellous Synchron Stage facility in Vienna. The original Synchronhalle was built in the 1940s, adjacent to Rosenhügel-Filmstudios as part of “Film City Vienna”. In the 1960s, eminent classical artists such as Karl Böhm, Herbert von Karajan, Yehudi Menuhin, Sviatoslav Richter and Mstislav Rostropovich used the halle for some of their now-legendary recordings.

Nan Schwartz

Nan Schwartz

Nan Schwartz comes from a family musical pedigree that is astounding, yet simultaneously defining in the emergence of her own unique musical voice in Amercian Music. Contrary to the availability of her Jazz arrangements, television and film music on records and CDs, the lack of available commercial recordings of Nan’s concert music is a major oversight – one that is about to be corrected.

Her family legacy includes a father who played with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and performed on nearly every Frank Sinatra recording, and a mother who performed such chart-topping hits as “Chicago” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street” for musical legend Tommy Dorsey before going on to work as a studio singer for Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Judy Garland, Henry Mancini, and Sonny and Cher, among others.

With a record 7 Emmy nominations, a Grammy win for her elegant and sophisticated arrangement of “Here’s That Rainy Day” for Natalie Cole, two 2014 Grammy nominations (Gianmarco & Amy Dickson), and a 2013 Grammy nomination (The London Symphony Orchestra) Nan’s melodic, harmonically-rich music, is a perfect vehicle for symphony orchestras to peform.  No doubt you will start to see her name on orchestra concert programs in the near future.

The second project is the recording of Brenton Broadstock’s concerto for orchestra, Made in Heaven, that I premiered with the Australian Discovery Orchestra two weeks ago in one of their live-streamed Internet concerts.  This is a marvellous piece and a wonderful homage to ‘Kind of Blue’, the iconic Jazz album of 1959 from Miles Davis.  It is incredible how this large-scale work (for a very large orchestra) captures the heart and soul of this Jazz masterpiece without ever using a single melody from any tune on the record – it’s like a classical music counterpart to the five tunes that make up the album.

Made in Heaven will be recorded in Bratislava in early July.

More soon,

Kevin

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