Vale Harold Farberman

Harold_Farberman_2It was with the greatest sadness that I read the announcement of the passing of the American masestro and conducting teacher Harold Farberman last week on Slipped Disc.  In fact, I knew of Harold’s passing prior to the public announcement, but was very pleased that it at least received passing coverage on this Internet platform.  You can read my thoughts about Maestro Farberman’s contribution and advocacy for conductors within the comments section below

This is Harold’s own, personal, biographical summary written shortly before his passing:

Harold Farberman has conducted many of the world’s leading orchestras, among them the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, the Philharmonia, the BBC Symphony, the English Chamber Orchestra, the Stockholm Philharmonic, the Danish Radio Orchestra, the Swedish Radio Orchestra, the Hessischer Rundfunk, the RAI in Rome, the Mozarteum Orchestra, the Hong Kong Philharmonic, the KBS, the Seoul Philharmonic, and the Sydney and Melbourne Symphonies in Australia.

Upon graduating from The Julliard School of Music in New York, Mr. Farberman was invited to join the Boston Symphony Orchestra as a percussionist/timpanist. At the time he was the youngest player ever to become a full-time member of the orchestra. He resigned in 1963 to devote his energy to conducting and composing. In 1966 he was appointed principal guest conductor of the Denver Symphony Orchestra, subsequently becoming the music director and conductor of the Colorado Springs Symphony from 1967 to 1970, and the Oakland Symphony Orchestra from 1971 to 1979.

As a recording artist, Mr. Farberman has recorded more of Charles Ives’ works than any other conductor and is the only person to date to have recorded all four of that composer’s symphonies. A a result he was honored with the Ives Award from the Charles Ives Society. In 1980 he began a project to record the Mahler symphonies with the London Symphony Orchestra and the complete symphonies of Michael Haydn with the Bournemouth Sinfonietta, for MMG Records. His recording of Gliere’s Symphony No. 3 with Ilya Murometz with the Royal Philharmonic on the Unicorn label received Belgium’s highest recording award, the Saint Cecilia Award. The December 1993 issue of the American Record Guide listed Mr. Farberman’s recordings of Mahler’s Symphonies Nos. 2, 5, and 6 as among the best ever recorded. In 1995, he added to his growing list the initial recording of the Mahler Tenth Symphony (Clinton Carpenter version) with the Hungarica Philharmonie Orchestra.

A prolific composer, Mr. Farberman counts orchestral works, chamber music, concertos, ballet music, film scores, song cycles, and two operas among his compositions. His opera, The Losers, written in 1970, was commissioned by The Julliard School of Music and premiered at Lincoln Center the following year.

Mr. Farberman has been a tireless advocate on behalf of conductors. He founded the Conductors Guild in 1976 and served two terms as its first president; it now has 2,000 members. He established countrywide workshops for young conductors when he served as a member of the American Symphony Orchestra League Board in the 1970’s. He is the founder and director of the widely acclaimed Conductor’s Institute, a summer conducting program initiated at the Hartt School where he was Professor of Conducting and in later years relocated to Bard College.

Harold’s contribution to the teaching of conducting in the USA is inestimable. He was unapologetically ‘old-school’ in his teaching methods and approach to developing the talent of students who were fortunate enough to be under his tutelage.  In the time we now live, Farberman’s approach toward developing mastery in orchestral conducting is out-of-favour with many of the current generation of students never previously exposed to the realities of truthful criticism and critique.

More often that not, students with adverse reactions to this master-apprentice approach to learning through doing (often necessitating failing spectacularly, and often) are fundamentally averse to the concept that “Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work” (att. Booker T. Washington 1856-1915).  Almost invariably, these same students are the loudest and most strident in their criticism when subjected to this type of educational environment.  This is their prerogative of course.  But it is effectively libellous to concomitantly assert that this approach to learning is unsuitable for everyone as a consequence of being challenged by the realities of their personal artistic inadequacy, or worse, lack of talent.

There are many charletans standing in front of orchestras now who are self-styled paragons of conducting.  Often demonstrating a ‘personal’ approach to waving their arms and bodies about in seemingly coherent gestures unfathomable to the orchestra players in front of them (who, consequently, ignore what they see in service of the music) such conductors under Farberman’s eye and scrutiny would be unable to demonstrate how their movements articulated the music being performed.  It was this single, laser-like, focus on “being the music” that was Farberman’s sole requirement.  Not meet that requirement and it would  inevitably raise the maestro’s ire. This situation usually went hand-in-hand with students who refused to listen and learn!

Of course, Farberman was not alone in this. Some of the greatest conducting teachers of the 20th-Century have lambasted their students in the service of honing the latent talent within them, culminating in incredible musical results once mastered.  Conversely, it is not the only way of teaching but, like it or not, it is indisputable that it is one way with undeniably effective results.

Vale Maestro, you will be missed by the very many conductors you mentored and befriended over a lifetime.


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