Author Topic: Conductors  (Read 24288 times)

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Harry

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Re: Conductors
« Reply #20 on: April 17, 2007, 10:18:24 AM »
Harry, Thanks...there is more, but I think you all need a bit of a rest.

Mike

Not me though! :)

Offline knight66

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Re: Conductors
« Reply #21 on: April 17, 2007, 10:23:45 AM »
I am being cheeky here....slab four the final part now below.

Mike

I recall Julius Rudel doing a passable impersonation of Erich von Stroheim. It seemed even more like life because in the humidity of St Louis he strode angrily about in long shorts, smacking his leg with his long baton almost like a riding crop. This was in preparation for what turned out to be a very fine Mahler 8th. He was superbly nasty, but I am afraid the only people he freaked out were the children's chorus who went silent with fear. The rest of us were not up for being terrorised, we had had to put up for years being alternatively kissed or bitten by Sir Alexander Gibson who several times strode off mid rehearsal because something or other was unendurable. On one occasion it was the puny electric organ which was meant to compete with the full orchestra in Berlioz Grande Messe. Although I could see his point, it did mean that we never did rehearse the final 20 minutes, as he had not managed to reach them in the piano rehearsal either and that kept us on out toes on the night. He did one of his classics on us during the performance. During the Lacrimosa while the Tenors are flagilating themselves with some very tricky whipping music, Gibson spread-eagled himself over the podium, stiff armed, he had not collapsed....the music flowed on in approximate time and Sir Alex eventually decided to rejoin us. Although I never encountered any of the conductors who used to make the orchestra wonder if they had a job in the morning, latterly with Gibson, a number actively looked on a regular basis.

After the declining Gibson years where drink took an increasing toll, Neeme Jarvi was a breath of fresh air. Although he was a good orchestral trainer and brought standards up significantly, he disliked rehearsal. He took a lot of risks in either changing things substantially in performance, or simply not rehearsing passages and taking a flyer. It was always exciting to perform with him. He was easy to follow, to the extent he conducted the Hungarian March in the Damnation of Faust entirely with his eyebrows and shoulders, and it came off terrifically well. His was among the best Mahler 8th I have been in, though he did not do much with the opening of the second movement. Early in his tenure he did Blest Pair of Sirens. by Parry. Although he was a quick learner, he came unstuck here in that he set a grotesquely slow pace, like a run down record. It was broadcast on radio and made us laugh out loud it was such a distortion. He soon got to grips with the ‘English’ idiom. But that was one of the few performances where I kept running out of breath.

Tippet conducted us in his own work Child of Our Time. This was very exciting to us. He was engaging and knew the score expertly, vital as his sight was very poor and he could not see the score unless his nose was touching it. He picked up the odd error in the orchestral parts. The performance itself was good, but he rocked us by having a sudden memory lapse and at a critically difficulty entry simply stood stock still until he came to again and the leader once again saved the day and kept things going.


Tilson-Thomas made an appearance in Edinburgh to inevitably conduct some Bernstein. He was certainly pleasant, knew what he wanted, but seemed to be very much painting by numbers and there was no freshness, no attempt to draw us in. We were however astonished by his extensive retinue. All men in their 20s or 30s. They did not directly give the game away as to whatever their function was, but they virtually constituted an audience. I never saw a conductor bring anyone to a piano rehearsal, but to bring seven?

Ricardo Chailly was a highlight, personality plus and electrifying. He was one who knew the parts in the score inside out, he somehow embraced everyone without a lot of talking. Precise in what he wanted, he used a stick and had a clear beat. He brought out colours from well known work you had not been aware of. He was young when he came to Edinburgh, but we all knew he was one to watch.

James Conlon, he seemed like a boy, very personable, but he quickly stamped his authority on us. We were doing Nevsky at the Hollywood Bowl, we had a second generation Russian émigré in the choir, she had been coaching us. However, Conlon was not having any of it. It turned out he spoke excellent Russian and he unpicked it and put it back together again, it sounded much more authentic and of course, we ate out of his hand. After the performance, a couple of the orchestra complemented us on our Russian and asked who had coached us…..they were not altogether surprised at the answer. That coaching did us well as we subsequently recorded the piece under Jarvi….who seemed to take what he got in that respect, so it was as well it was good. 

Temirkarnov was like Russian Royalty. His gestures were almost balletic with his hands, as though he was slicing the air and dividing it into quarters. He was relaxed and friendly, but as soon as the music started he became this hieratic figure his face withdrawn. One piece we did was Nevsky, we never saw the soloist until the actual concert, the legendary Irina Arkapova. The show was stopped to allow her entrance for her aria, then she swept off….I guess you can only sit through Nevsky so many times, but I should think her fee would have been fat and I was disappointed she could not be bothered to sit the whole thing out as her movements disturbed the flow of the piece.

Everyone enjoyed Previn, he was easygoing, but totally professional. He was one of the very few who made quips to the choir in the piano rehearsal. He was among the many who really used the ears of the chorus director to sit out in the auditorium and ask about balance. We did Belshazzar’s Feast with him conducting the Chicago S.O.. He gave a lot of notes on the score and they really listened to him, then the brass in particular played as thrillingly as possible with a wonderful swagger. Twice after than he was ‘ill’ when engaged to conduct us.

Other conductors I recall are Leppard, Mackerras, not at all a pleasure, but he got excellent results, Casadasu, hopeless as was Owen Arewll-Hughes, Janowski another I was happy never to see again, he managed to drain all the drama out of Verdi’s Four Sacred Pieces, Lobos Cobos who we all rated very highly, Nick Kramer who was an early music guy, but without using early music instruments…odd. Hickox…a swine and deeply unpleasant, Dutoit who was so delighted with us he insisted his contract for the Edin Festival included concerts with us. Baremboim a Philidelphia Beethoven 9 where the players were caught out having not organized the repeats between them, boy was he annoyed about that, Willcocks and Salonon. Exciting days….long past.

« Last Edit: April 18, 2007, 02:24:52 AM by knight »
DavidW: Yeah Mike doesn't get angry, he gets even.
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karlhenning

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Re: Conductors
« Reply #22 on: April 17, 2007, 10:27:20 AM »
. . . but I think you all need a bit of a rest.

Oh, we'll be the judge of that laddie! :-)

karlhenning

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Re: Conductors
« Reply #23 on: April 17, 2007, 10:33:48 AM »
. . . He was superbly nasty . . . .

Oh, I know a choral conductor who sought to emulate that! :-)

Quote
James Conlon, he seemed like a boy, very personable, but he quickly stamped his authority on us. We were doing Nevsky at the Hollywood Bowl, we had a second generation Russian émigré in the choir, she had been coaching us. However, Conlon was not having any of it. It turned out he spoke excellent Russian and he unpicked it and put it back together again, it sounded much more authentic and of course, we ate out of his hand. After the performance, a couple of the orchestra complemented us on our Russian and asked who had coached us…..they were not altogether surprised at the answer. That coaching did us well as we subsequently recorded the piece under Jarvi….who seemed to take what he got in that respect, so it was as well it was good.

Terrific! And no, I somehow don't believe that Järvi would go out of his way to improve Russian enunciation  ;)

Greta

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Re: Conductors
« Reply #24 on: April 17, 2007, 12:02:20 PM »
Quote
Mackerras, not at all a pleasure, but he got excellent results

I'd love to hear more about this, he's a favorite of mine.

Quote
Hickox…a swine and deeply unpleasant


Must be an interesting story here!

Quote
Dutoit who was so delighted with us he insisted his contract for the Edin Festival included concerts with us.

Would like to hear more about him too, he consistently puts out high-quality recordings and seems impeccably polished.

Mike, your reminiscences are priceless! Thanks so much for sharing them. You have been a very lucky man to work with so many of these guys. Too funny about Gibson, and a shame. He's made many fine recordings.

Edit: Could you remind us Mike, what the group was you sang with? Was it the Royal Scottish National Chorus?
« Last Edit: April 17, 2007, 12:44:40 PM by Greta »

Offline MishaK

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Re: Conductors
« Reply #25 on: April 17, 2007, 12:09:22 PM »
I second the request for more info on Dutoit and would like to add a request on more about Barenboim (when was this? you said Philly? 1970s?).

BTW, my father played under Previn and Rudel on a few occasions and would second your observations about both.

Offline Maciek

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Re: Conductors
« Reply #26 on: April 17, 2007, 12:15:24 PM »
Mike, I only just got here so my praise might seem a little late but thanks for the great posts! Fascinating material! Thanks so much! :D :D :D :D

Maciek

Greta

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Re: Conductors
« Reply #27 on: April 17, 2007, 12:31:13 PM »
Quote from: springrite
BTW, Iago, what do you think of the young conductor who will take over LA Phil in a couple of years? Have you ever heard him? I assume Salonen himself highly recommend him since surely he is part of the braintrust in the decision making process.

Indeed, the praise doesn't get much better than this -

At a news conference Monday officially announcing Dudamel's appointment, Salonen said, "I was moved to tears, and so was practically everyone else," by Dudamel's performance of Mahler's Fifth Symphony at the Mahler competition. "We realized this was a rare and natural talent that happens every now and then in history, but not very often."

That impression was confirmed, Salonen said, by not only Dudamel's Bowl debut but also a performance of Kodaly, Rachmaninoff and Bartok at Walt Disney Concert Hall in January.

"Halfway through the first piece," Salonen said, "I whispered to my wife, 'Jane, this is the man. There's absolutely no question about it.'


Talk about a vote of confidence. That quote is from this great article: http://www.southbendtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070415/Ent05/704150462/-1/ENT/CAT=Ent05

I love this quote from Dudamel about future plans with the LA Phil:
"We need to have our honeymoon together to make children."  ;D

Offline Iago

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Re: Conductors
« Reply #28 on: April 17, 2007, 12:42:10 PM »
Springrite,

      I haven't seen Dudamel yet. But am looking forward to doing so.
However, despite his good reviews, I will make my own judgement when I hear/see him.

Knight,

       Which orchestras were you a member of?
You said you played in the Hollywood Bowl. When was that?
"Good", is NOT good enough, when "better" is expected

Offline MishaK

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Re: Conductors
« Reply #29 on: April 17, 2007, 12:50:12 PM »
       Which orchestras were you a member of?
You said you played in the Hollywood Bowl. When was that?

Methinks knight was a member of a chorus.  ;)

Offline knight66

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Re: Conductors
« Reply #30 on: April 17, 2007, 12:52:28 PM »
Thanks folks, let me see what I can recall on the ones you ask about.

Baremboim was in 1976. He was another of the ultra businesslike ones with no interest in small talk. I recall arguing with a couple of the choir who preferred Mehta. We had done the 9th with them both. Mehta had been charming, but again, I think that, compromised by the holiday atmosphere at the Hollywood Bowl, it simply was not anything other than an efficient performance.

The consensus was that Mehta was going to mature into a great conductor and Baremboim would not. I strongly disagreed. I sensed some interesting things, especially in the first and third movements. Years later I understood that Baremboim was influenced by Furtwangler, although it was not much like the Furtwangler performances I have heard, it was definitely an interpretation with ideas. Baremboim seemed diffident when some of the singers accidentally encountered him after rehearsal. He was concentrated, but the Orch was just not quite doing what he wanted.

Conductors are always very careful in front of the amateurs, they are usually fairly circumspect about whatever the problems were. But there were long discussions with the leader and I thought that had we not been there then he would have addressed his obvious unhappiness direct to the orchestra. I can remember Baremboim saying what repeats they were going to take, I saw some write it down, but at least two subsections got it wrong during the performance and his head whipped round while he angrily eyeballed them. I would have liked to work more for him, though he showed no understanding of what he wanted to get from the voices, basically there he took what we had and it was the orchestral detail that preoccupied him.

Mackerras had long been a hero, he was one we really looked forward to. He was doing the Delius Mass of Life and I got the impression he was not much into it. Heather Harper was the soprano and even in her twilight years she sang astonishingly well. It seemed as though only when she was singing that he blossomed. Other than that he was sour with everyone, not happy with the choir, though we thought we were doing just what he wanted. The performance was judged an all round success. I have just remembered our rehearsals were in a very odd hall with bad acoustics, that may have been the problem as I think there was a time lag that took time to overcome. He was very well prepared, but this felt like the fulfillment of a contract and I know from others that he was different to work with when he was performing music he is famous for.

Hickox came on like he was used to better, though we were well regarded. He was utterly impatient, rude, cut people off in the orchestra and used a lot of dismissive body language. It was the B Minor Mass. On the night it was fine, though he scowled at everyone apart from the audience.

Dutoit conducted us in the full Daphnis and Chloe. He was taken aback with our range of colour and accuracy without sounding drilled. He was communicative and very encouraging. It was a terrific performance. I have seen him since and not been very impressed, he did Sibelius that sounded under rehearsed and the chording of the brass was ragged, but back then, he worked in great detail with the orchestra.

One story about Gardiner. He gave us a very hard time in a Schumann piece, 'Paradise and the Peri', he also lectured us about how wonderful it was despite the feeling we had that it was drech. There was one part where the mezzos sang the same note for three pages. It was not difficult music in any way, but he was exacting and seemed unhappy.

I happened to meet him socially after the first rehersal. I guessed he would not recall my face, so innocently asked how his rehearsal had been. He said it was excellent, the singers are first rate. I then explained I was in the choir and we had the impression we could not do anything right for him and that if he liked what we were doing, he could try saying so. I have to say he looked nonplussed, but I never have been the sort to be intimidated. This was the only time I ever tried to speak to any of the conductors, but he had annoyed me so much.

He was markedly different in the following rehearsal with us, pleasant and encouraging....once we got to being with the orchestra, it was as though he was simply putting up with us. Having said this he then asked for us for Damnation of Faust and we were surprised at that. On that recording he brings out some of the most beautiful and graduated singing we ever achieved.

Mike
« Last Edit: April 18, 2007, 02:09:20 AM by knight »
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Offline knight66

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Re: Conductors
« Reply #31 on: April 17, 2007, 12:58:40 PM »


Knight,

       Which orchestras were you a member of?
You said you played in the Hollywood Bowl. When was that?


Iago, I was in choirs, not orchestras. I travelled quite a bit with both the Scottish National Orch Chorus...as it then was, also The Edinburgh Festival Chorus and in an incarnation called the Scottish Chorus where we would be rehearsed for a week or so, then sent abroad.

Mike
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Offline Brewski

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Re: Conductors
« Reply #32 on: April 17, 2007, 12:59:01 PM »
I am in awe, that you have worked with so many of the greatest.  You have enough for a small book, there!

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Offline knight66

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Re: Conductors
« Reply #33 on: April 17, 2007, 01:03:42 PM »
That document has been on my desktop for ages, the more I write the more I recall, sometime I will explain about Menuhin, but I am sure lots of you have stories and opinions.

This cannot be allowed to turn into the Mike Thread.

Mike
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Offline Maciek

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Re: Conductors
« Reply #34 on: April 17, 2007, 01:05:46 PM »
Maybe, but I for one wouldn't mind you actually starting a Mike thread. (The Great Recordings section would be appropriate, don't you think ;D?)

lukeottevanger

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Re: Conductors
« Reply #35 on: April 17, 2007, 11:25:49 PM »
Mike, I only saw those posts late last night - what a fantastic collection of memories, and thanks so much for sharing them. I'm also going to be copying them out into a single document to peruse at leisure. :)

And yes, I too feel the pressing need for a Mike thread!

Offline knight66

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Re: Conductors
« Reply #36 on: April 18, 2007, 01:39:58 AM »
Well, you have been kind. As there have been no objections I will add some new fragments.....I have not thought of this material for ages, but rereading it brought to the surface some more memories.

Menuhin was a legend to us and he had been conducting for quite a few years, for instance in the Bath Festival in the 1960s. We had read mixed accounts about his ability to conduct. He was coming for the Mozart Mass in C. At this point the chorus master was the newly returned to Edinburgh, Arthur Oldam.....quite a character. In between stints with us, he had been the chorus master simultaneously with the Paris Opera and the Concertgebouw. Arthur had tried to get a marked score out of Menuhin and meet him, however, Menuhin's diary was packed full. Eventually, a couple of days before the piano rehearsal Arthur flew over to Paris to see Menuhin and go over the score together. They sat opposite one another and started reading bar numbers out to confirm dynamics etc.

Very soon they discovered they were not working from the same score, ie not merely a different edition, but Menuhin thought he was to perform the Requiem, he had never seen the music for or heard the Mass in C. General consternation, no the choir could not learn the Requiem to standard in a few days, no, the soloists had been engaged for the Mass in C. He undertook to learn the piece.

He was utterly charming and gave no direct indication to us that he simply did not know the piece. The rehearsals were a bit fraught as he was virtually sight reading it. He was not clear on what he wanted and we got frankly confused over the markings he wanted. Arthur gave us notes to 'clarify'. It must have been a fairly scary experience for him, he was already elderly and his memory fallible. The performance was respectable, but not really Festival standard. Arthur did not tell us the story until after the performance.

The chorus master who had basically sponsored me was John Currie. He was a superb voice trainer and had aspirations to be a conductor. We did do several concerts with him, but he somehow did not reach the heights that many of our big guns did. I do recall in programmes his biog referred to his debut date at the Carnegie Hall, what it did not make clear was that this was a hall in Carnegie's native Scotland, not the one in New York. In that very hall we were singing after a performance of Les Nuits d'ete with Felicity Palmer, still at that point a soprano. I have always enjoyed her singing and the following just shows that even the very best can muck it up.

The first song started and Palmer came in three bars early. I was wide eyed wondering whether John would have to stop the piece and restart, then I saw him put three fingers to his chest and dive them down, he repeated this several times and the orchestra scrabbled to catch the singer....she had determinedly sailed on. I was pretty taken aback that the singers beside me had not been aware of any unusual sounds or that anything had gone wrong. It used to annoy me that a lot of them could not tell Ravel from Mendelssohn. I would have assumed anyone with a musical ear could tell when Berlioz suddenly sounds like Berio.

John had a good pair of ears, well used by most conductors who would be happy to take notes from him as he listened out in the hall during orchestral rehearsals and after every such rehearsal he would give very detailed notes. These we found vital and they would often be incorporated into a prematch pep talk in the green room. I only knew of one instance where he overruled the conductor and that was Simon Rattle. This was his first concert with us in the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. It has odd acoustics. Shaped like the Albert Hall, but with a box at the platform end where the choir sit. You have to project very hard to make the sound come through the invisible barrier of the proscenium. We knew the hall well, but Rattle kept telling us we were too loud...in reality, 250 people singing the Faure would be grotesque now, possibly he thought so then. We went quieter and quieter.

Just before the performance, John told us that he had explained to Rattle that the sound was not coming into the hall at all. He said that we simply could not do it like Rattle insisted, we had to sing as we knew in that hall. We did. Although I know there was trouble about it subsequently, Rattle was assiduous in using John's ears in subsequent performances, I guess he learnt.

John subsequently went over to LA to be the director of the St Paul's Orchestra. I am not sure that it went very well. Eventually he came back to Scotland and basically retired, itself an odd thing for a musician to do.

Mike

« Last Edit: April 18, 2007, 01:50:51 AM by knight »
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I wasted time: and time wasted me.

Offline Grazioso

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Re: Conductors
« Reply #37 on: April 18, 2007, 02:22:23 AM »
No Ormandy on that list of old greats?
There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact. --Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Offline knight66

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Re: Conductors
« Reply #38 on: June 24, 2007, 12:08:41 AM »
I wish others would add to this thread...I see Ormandy mentioned. I have no memories of him unfortunately. My only reminder of him is that when I performed with his old orchestra at their summer venue, it was pointed out to us that the swish mobile podium was then the only air conditioned pidium in the world, designed to Ormandy's specifications.

Mike
DavidW: Yeah Mike doesn't get angry, he gets even.
I wasted time: and time wasted me.

Greta

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Re: Conductors
« Reply #39 on: June 24, 2007, 03:34:16 AM »
Mike,

Some other British names other names came to mind that I was wondering if you had the chance to sing under or had reminiscences of. Namely Adrian Boult. :) Also Neville Marriner, Colin Davis, Vernon Handley.

I really enjoy reading these firsthand accounts, they're fascinating. Hopefully other orchestral/choral musicians will happen by with observations to share!