On Conducting 5

The Rise and Rise of Conducting Resources

I have been somewhat fascinated with the rise of apparent resources for aspirational conductors during COVid-19 lockdown. Why have these resources appeared when they were markedly absent before the global pandemic?

There are three resources to review today:

  1. Maestro as Professor
  2. Conductors’ Collective
  3. Conducting Artistry

The first two are American-based initiatives, and the third an Australian intitiative.

Maestro as Professor
In some respects, the website name says it all. This is an initiative created by Caroline Watson from the University of Kansas and Chaowen Ting from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The website is a starting point for those student conductors wishing to pursue a career primarily in academe. The founders pitch appropriate levels of expertise to their intended clientele. There are webinars to watch – the one by Ken Kiesler is a standout – and a useful list of places from where to purchase batons (although everyone knows you go to Tate Newland).

Other websites with similar information are available on the Internet, so start here and move your way up.

Conductors’ Collective
This is membership-based website offering some freemium services, but is essentially an enterprise to make money for its founders, Kensho Watanabe and Lina Gonzalez-Granados. Signup is required without any assurance that your private information won’t be on-sold to third parties. From their website I quote,

“Conductors’ Collective was founded out of a desire to thoughtfully contribute to the global community of musicians in a time of isolation and distance – the Conductors’ Collective fosters an environment of collective mentorship and shares leadership principles that are accessible and applicable for all.”

I find this fairly disingenuous since the website is spruiking for business in pay-for-service areas including resume/cover letter/bio reviews, rehearsal footage review, intensive score study lessons amongst other services.

My question is why would young conductors who hardly have a foothold in the professional world, and with minimal professional experience, be offering such services when they are readily available for free from established conductors who are always more than willing to offer advice to younger colleagues? Think I’d pass on this one.

Conducting Artistry
This is an initiative by Australian conductor, Ingrid Martin. Again, it’s a pay-for-service website aimed at aspirational conductors predominantly at the school aand community music level. Essentially, the idea is to offer structured conducting lessons online in a sequential series of short courses. The site also offers a podcast series which, whilst not unique, is novel.

Importantly, and unlike the above initiative, Conducting Artistry has a compliant Privacy Policy and Terms of Use section.

What appeals to me about this initiative is that it aims to cover a significant shortage in instruction at the very basic level for conductors in Australia. The cost for each module is given and the content covered within each is clearly outlined. For those starting out, especially without access to a private teacher (and there very few reputable conducting pedagogues in Australia) what Ingrid offers is both valuable and sorely needed. Big thumbs up.

More soon,

Kevin

On Conducting 4

Iván Fischer: Will the Symphony Orchestra Survive?

I thoroughly recommend this video discussion between Iván Fischer in a new talk for the Hanns Eisler Institute moderated by the articulate Kirill Gerstein. Fischer’s remarks need to be taken seriously as the future of orchestral music as a viable artform in an increasingly trivialized music industry intent on short-form experience is only going to become increasingly pervasive.

As conductors, we have a responsibility to collaborate in finding solutions to protect the human experience of performing, and being receptive to, Classical Music across all generations – and especially for the young – to whom it will be synonomous with the behaviours of “old people” (if it is not already so) and alarmingly irrelevant in, and to, their lives.

And that means change at the top of the orchestral management industry and the cartel of agent managers controlling the roster of a very limited number of reputable conductors (and also a number of charletans) associated with major orchestra managements and artistic administrators.

And yet, even more importantly, is the realization that conductors must drive the search, and championship of, contemporary composers so as to inject some lifeblood into a moribund repertoire consisting of an overly concentrated diet of Mahler and Strauss. Listen to maestro Fischer’s thoughts especially about this.

On Conducting 3

Pertinent Criticisms of Today’s Classical Music and Opera

Three recent articles have caught my attention for being lucid and openly critical of the Classical Music Recording industry and the Opera production world respectively. All three are perspicacious in their own right, but the one on Opera today by noted American Opera critic and vocal coach, Conrad L. Osborne, is fascinating for its implication in respect to the long-term health of the Opera industry – which, frankly, at present has the countenance of a recently deceased corpse.

The first two articles are from the WQXR blog by James Bennett, II. In the first, The Classical Crossing, Part One: CDs and Happy Accidents, the rise of classical cross-over music is discussed against the advent of the CD format and the means by which the latter was used to attempt to reach broader audiences at a premium price-point. It is a tale of record executive greed, stupidity and musical naivety. And, lamentably it is all true.

The follow-up article, The Classical Crossing, Part Two: Hot n’ Corny, focuses on the absurd concept of classical music’s “accessibility” and the consequent reliance on using sex to drive this agenda. This quote from the article pretty much says it all.

“In a 1995 speech Sony Classical U.S. President (and future Met Opera General Manager) Peter Gelb delivered to the Classical Radio Programmers Association, a single word was his refrain: “accessibility.” He warned against “exclusively programming dead composers,” cautioning that if radio couldn’t find new musical life it could never grow its audience. “Nobody wants to buy another recording of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony,” he surmised. The old-guard needed to take a rest. In Gelb’s opinion, programmers needed to prioritize what music listeners were listening to.”

Of course Gelb, now with The Metropolitan Opera in New York, is the subject of much iconoclastic invective by opera lovers, especially in the USA for his exceedingly poor financial management of the MET over many years. My personal opinion is that he is merely a perfect example of a professional administrator – one who would never obtain a job in any important cultural organization whose mission was actually focused on the promotion and preservation of its artform.

Clearly, my view of the MET is that it is well past its used-by-date with its current management and Board. Too many of the numerous productions I have seen exuded such a level of incompetence ranging from absurdist, uninformed directorial vision through matching scengraphic design, to the engagement of long-suffering singers cast in wrong roles that MET productions (with rare exceptions) have become somewhat an insider industry joke.

The last article on Opera makes scintillating reading. Conrad Osborne is a highly informed and thoughtful writer. Along with Joseph Horowitz, these two men are starting to look like the last bastions of musical intelligencia in the USA. In this, Osborne’s most recent blog before a self-imposed Summer sabbatical, he takes his pen to what he believes is wrong with Opera today. It is worth quoting from:

WHO OR WHAT IS KILLING OPERA?

The dearth of genuine vocal teachers with a depth of understanding of both repertoire and technique.

Almost all currently working stage directors of opera, who imagine that we care about their “ideas.”

Company managers who don’t really understand the history of operas and what makes them “work” in performance.

The fans, who mostly have failed in discriminating between the very good and the wholly inadequate.

The designers who take poor stage directors at their word and deliver what they want (though I acknowledge that they know they really have no choice).

Most of our universities, who imagine that singing can be taught by a music department in a program within a liberal arts curriculum. One credit per semester in voice will not produce a real singer.

Wealthy board members who can only imagine an opera company built on a business model.

The critics who imagine that they can help the cause by being understanding of its current limitations.

The ubiquity of amplified music in our culture, and the use of microphones to project singing, rather than its projection being the job of the singer.

Digital recording engineers.

The record companies.

The New York Times. I can’t explain this but I’m sure I’m right about it. Perhaps by invariably supporting the trendy, the arty, the au courant, and by thinking they are the “king makers.”

With the exception of his critique of ‘fans’, I couldn’t agree more.

On Conducting 2

Interview with Herbert Blomstedt by Alan Gilbert

This is a remarkable interview by both maestri, on one hand because Alan Gilbert knows how to listen and, secondly, because Herbert Blomstedt provides highly informative answers. The interview gets better as it goes on. Alan Gilbert has been doing a series of these chats on his Facebook page. I highly recommend them.