Why Don’t Conducting Books Talk About The Music?

Riccardo_MutiWell, actually, some do.  I am reminded of Riccardo Muti’s truly insightful commentary in a podcast he did with British music journalist, Norman Lebrecht, in September 2011 (worth tracking down if it is still available on the BBC) wherein the maestro laments the prediliction in the USA toward training aspiring conductors how to ‘conduct the music’ as opposed to how to ‘study the music’.  I’m paraphrasing, but in essence this is the point he makes.

I am reminded of this as I have just finished reading several recently published new books on conducting by American conductors.  One was largely a memoir which I found mostly disingenuous; far too preoccupied with lauding the virtues of a much better known American conductor, and the other, offering an alternative approach to technical aspects of conducting distilled through the concept of ‘beauty’ in music.  The latter book has one or two genuine insights in what otherwise is a slim volume with little to offer.  Worse however than its over concision, is that some of what is espoused in respect to the physics pertaining to gestural motion in orchestral conducting technique is plain wrong.

Which brings me back to why don’t conducting pedagogues and/or conductors in general ever talk about their passion for the music they conduct?  Why do they seem incapable of expressing those things in the music that would aid in assisting everyone else to be able to get excited about what so excites them?  Really, it’s weird.  Leonard Bernstein, of course, understood this only too well.  Howard Goodall, the British composer and media presenter has similar qualities in his insightful and entertaining television and radio work.  But who else?  Why are the conductors of the major orchestras and Opera houses not the greatest public advocate for their own work?

There is a recurring thread in some of my musings that I think marketing departments for orchestras are by and large ineffectual and lazy in their efforts to develop and expand Brand reach.  So, I am similarly reminded in this discussion of a recent article by American classical music commentator, Greg Sandow, who suggested that the marketing and promotion for the New York Philharmonic’s new Music Director, Japp van Zweden. was pretty much wide of the mark.  Similarly, I thought it was just tacky, lacked any sense of ‘knowing’ and worst of all, made me care not one iota about wanting to discover more.  What a shame, because Maestro van Zweden might just be the best thing for the NYPhil. in a really long time.  And, here is a musician whose passion for music and for being able to express it – when asked to – is absorbing and captivating to hear.

So, why when conductors and so-called conducting pedagogues decide we need yet another book on conducting, why is their passion absent for the music they so clinically talk about?  I must be missing something I guess.

More soon,


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