Tag Archives | Kevin Purcell

Orchestra Musicians Never Fail To Amaze Me

Kevin PurcellThis is a duplicate post I wrote for the Australian Discovery Orchestra website about a recent experience.

I had the great pleasure last weekend of working with an essentially ‘scratch’ orchestra comprised predominantly of musicians teaching instrumental music in Schools in Melbourne and regional areas; including some musicians from the ADO roster, all of whom gave so generously of their time.

The ADO, through Managing Director, Janine Hanrahan, and Artistic Administrator, Briony Buys, was asked to curate this concert for the inaugural Independent Schools Victoria (ISV) Arts Learning Festival. I was delighted to return to Melbourne to work with the orchestra on a program of music specifically composed for Children.

We really need to celebrate the capacity of orchestra musicians who live in Australia: their willingness to tackle difficult music – with far too little rehearsal time; an undaunted enthusiasm for the task of finding their musical way through a barrage of notes, rhythms, dynamics and endlessly shifting tempi and, ultimately, their conviction that they can “pull it off” when the moment really counts – the concert!

We underestimate and under-appreciate orchestra musicians generally.  I believe this is true in most places in the world with very few exceptions. What is asked of them – in terms of the minutely exacting technical and artistic expectations  – is a continuing feat of human dexterity and skill-level that belies any general understanding of what they individually and collectively accomplish in the process of making music. Continue Reading →

Why No Symphony Orchestras Make Money

An interesting article from April 4 on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) web site by Alex McClintock recently caught my attention.

McClintock cites Robert Flanagan, a professor of Economics at Stanford University from his in-depth analyses of the economics of symphony orchestras entitled, ‘The Perilous Life of Symphony Orchestras’.  The book has been in print for several years.

The problem, although admittedly oblique, is that the author’s assertion that “….no symphony orchestra in the world would be financially viable on its own” is deduced primarily from business models that have been the mainstay of Orchestra administrative and governance policies for over a century – and largely focussed on U.S. orchestras to boot.

That is not to say that Flanagan’s book does not do a serviceable job at distilling many of the primary problems facing orchestras around the world as not-for-profit entities. It does it, in fact, very well.

My suspicion is that the conclusions drawn, not only by Flanagan but by many other commentators interested in this field, are all a little too neat and cosy; too tidy in reducing the reasons for the financial peril facing many of orchestra ensembles around the world.

The unpalatable fact is that many of these organizations have been so badly governed for so many years that the horse has not just proverbially bolted, but has aged and died of natural causes long after the gate was left unbolted. Continue Reading →

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 →