I was recently at a conducting conference in Oxford, UK, designed by academics for academics. Beyond giving a paper concerning technical issues with live-streaming concerts and the inherent challenges of new strategies in audience engagement, it was, for the most part, an uninteresting conference populated by college and conservatory conductors (both instrumental and choral educators) – some of whom I must say have very peculiar ideas as to what constitutes conducting as a communicative musical artform.
There was one session, however, in which the very wonderful conductor, William (Bill) Christie, was interviewed about his career and work in historically informed productions and research into Baroque French Opera. This session alone was worth the price of admission, so I was glad that I went to the conference in the final wash-up.
But the conference, as it went on, made me give thought to the very vast differences there are between conductors who work as conductors in the professional music industry (arcane as it is) and others who spend inordinate amounts of time and energy undertaking “research” into what is referred to as, ‘Conducting Studies’.
I regret to say that I think such research studies have little value if the foci of studies appear to overlook the significant challenges facing Classical Music consumption: identified as the inherently underwhelming business models currently being perpetuated by orchestras, producers and record companies, and, not the least, a general resistance to the problems of diversity and education for coming generations of potential audiences worldwide.
Issues pertaining to the importance of locality to orchestral performance and programming, similarly, need more investigation. In this respect, the work of Classical Next (C:N), the Association of British Orchestras (ABO), the League of American Orchestras (LAO) and the International Artist Managers’ Association (IAMA) is considerably advanced when compared to the offerings I recently sat through in Oxford.
Why am I on about this? The reason is simple: conductors and studies into conducting practice are core to the work of orchestras and classical music ensembles everywhere. If the conversations that are being had don’t align to the evolving conversations and think tanks being implemented across the classical music industry, then conferences such as attended run a significant risk of being yet more academic verbage with little real-world application.
Maybe the next one will be better?