January 12, 2017

"Thoughts while attending the first symphony in the series my wife wanted to buy."

"Don’t clap too soon, wait till they’re done, don’t clap too soon, wait till they’re done, don’t clap.... "
I know that, technically, orchestras need conductors, but I don’t really get why.

Like, if all the musicians are really good at playing their instruments, and they all have the music in front of them, couldn’t they just play it?

Sure, someone needs to tell them when to start and stop, but other than that . . .

They’re not even looking at him!

I bet it annoys them when he’s all, “Play soft, play soft, look at my stick getting very low. Now play loud look at my stick way up here!

If I were in the orchestra, I’d probably roll my eyes when he did that. Just enough so the audience could be, like, “That guy gets it.”....
ADDED: As long as we're reading New Yorker humor pieces, here's "The Life-Changing Magic of Decluttering in a Post-Apocalyptic World."

27 comments:

Scott McGlasson said...

I know that, technically, orchestras need conductors, but I don’t really get why.

It makes about as much sense as liking jazz. :)

john said...

Valery Gergiev conducts holding a toothpick. Heard he did it because the musicians weren't paying attention.

He's a funny guy but probably scares the younger musicians.

Dad said...

What's the difference between a conductor and God?


God doesn't think he's a conductor.

Unknown said...

The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, established 1972, is conductorless. They operate democratically. I'm looking forward to seeing them on tour in a few weeks.

gspencer said...

You can generally tell who in the audience is familiar with symphony pieces. Conductors could help lessen embarrassment among the unaware by turning, before the piece is started, towards the audience and saying something like this. "The orchestra will play for your enjoyment [Composer AB]'s symphony '[Give its title].' The piece consists of [x] movements. Please hold your applause until the conclusion of the [xth] movement. Thank you."

But as a general rule they don't.

Alternatively you could skip the whole pretentiousness of "going to the symphony," and not go. The internet's pretty good if you just want to hear the music.

John said...

Just finished watching Mozart in the jungle an Amazon original.

Great series about a conductor and what they do and how they make greay individual artists into a great orchestra.

How good would a football team be without a coach?

Amazon without bezos?

John Henry

traditionalguy said...

The conductor is discipline. A symphony with 50 musicians needs that like any team of individuals operating together.

But soloists on piano and violin are on their own. The conductor just leads the applause for them when they are finished.

Which reminds me, Trump is like Napoleon. I wonder how long before the new music composed will begin to reflect the Revolution? Requiem for CNN. Breitbart Spring. Victory At Twitter.

john said...

On the other hand, von Karajan, arguably the greatest conductor of our time, spent 10 minutes of Bolero fantasizing he was a plumber opening and closing faucets while his percussion section actually kept the orchestra in time.

It was obvious he was on the podium because it was in his contract.

Unknown said...

Why conductor's are important: Leopold!

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janetrae said...

When Zubin Mehta ran the LA Philharmonic, the orchestra members didn't watch him. They found him annoyingly theatrical. Indeed, while making an exaggerated swoop he fell off of the podium, and the musicians in the back row didn't even notice. They just thought he was indicating really, really pianissimo.

john said...

Young impressionable Hailey wants only to be oboist in the symphony. In the first season she learns that making herb tea for the conductor gets her alternate chair with occasional gigs. In the second season our fair musician learns how fucking the conductor gets her more play time and some great weed in South America. In the third season, she intends to get first chair by fucking the entire orchestra in a giant menage des cent personnes.

Dave D said...

Those who wonder whether a conductor is necessary have never played in an orchestra. Most of his/her work is done before the concert.

tam said...

Most of a conductor's work is done during rehearsal. That's where a conductor puts his stamp on the sound that the orchestra will produce. 90% of a conductor's performance at the concert is simply for the audience. One of my music instructors told of a time he got to see a score annotated by a famous conductor. He was surprised to see that his annotations weren't musical in nature but were mainly to highlight the exaggerated motions he was going to make on the podium. The conductor used to practice his motions in front of a mirror without an orchestra.

Fernandinande said...

“Play soft, play soft, look at my stick getting very low. Now play loud look at my stick way up here!”

It's too early for pr0n.

Unknown said...

After Arthur Fiedler died, the Boston Pops put on a tribute concert of his favorite pieces.. without a conductor.

I thought that was kind of an ambiguous tribute..

urbane legend said...

John said...
How good would a football team be without a coach?

How good is the average football team with a coach? Didn't somebody say something about the best laid plans of conductors and coaches?

Sebastian said...

"At least my wife looks happy." The things men will do for -- uh, to make sure their wives look happy.

mockturtle said...

The conductor pulls the whole team together. All the work goes on behind the scenes in the form of many grueling rehearsals. Without a conductor, you simply wouldn't have an orchestra.

ken in tx said...

It's an old high school band directors joke that the conductors score only says, "Raise stick until music starts. Wave stick until music stops. Turn around and bow."

Rocketeer said...

Just because some derp in the audience thinks the musicians aren't looking at the conductor, doesn't mean the musicians aren't looking at the conductor.

harkin said...

Anyone who doesn't understand the value of a good conductor might consider this:

"While presenting Aida in Rio de Janeiro on June 25, Leopoldo Miguez, the locally hired conductor, reached the summit of a two-month escalating conflict with the performers due to his rather poor command of the work, to the point that the singers went on strike and forced the company's general manager to seek a substitute conductor. Carlo Superti and Aristide Venturi tried unsuccessfully to finish the work. In desperation, the singers suggested the name of their assistant Chorus Master, Arturo Toscanini who knew the whole opera from memory.
Although he had no conducting experience, Toscanini was eventually persuaded by the musicians to take up the baton at 9:15 pm, and led a performance of the two-and-a-half hour opera, completely from memory. The public was taken by surprise, at first by the youth and sheer aplomb of this unknown conductor, then by his solid mastery. The result was astounding acclaim. For the rest of that season, Toscanini conducted eighteen operas, all with absolute success. Thus began his career as a conductor, at age 19."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arturo_Toscanini

Chuck said...

That piece by Kirk Rudell, who seems to have published before in the New Yorker (and whom even I, as a subscriber, have never heard of before) is one of the worst, most culturally tone-deaf bits of dreck I have ever seen in the august pages of the magazine.

Is this a move by David Remnick to attract younger, stupider readers?

Yancey Ward said...

I seriously doubt you need the conductor at the concert- string quartets do just fine without conductors, and I don't see any reason an orchestra actually needs one at the actual concert. However, the conductor does determine how the piece is played during the far more numerous rehearsals if he wants to put his own interpretation on a piece. If you listen to enough classical music, you can't help but notice that no two recording are really the same as far as tempo and what parts are emphasized at any given time.

As for clapping too early, sometimes the audience just likes to applaud a really invigorating movement, even if it is not the last one and they know it. In my experience, the two pieces most likely to be inappropriately applauded because the audience thought it was finished are Tchaikovsky's sixth symphony and Brahm's fourth. Both have thunderous finishes to dramatic 3rd movements.

Bill R said...

There is a New Yorker cartoon that shows a conductor in front of a waiting orchestra. The score reads "Wave the stick until the music stops, then turn around and bow"

harkin said...

Easy to see how many fail to understand but just think for a second.

The guy who was in charge of all the practices, who got the orchestra to play as a single unit and not a collage of unrelated voices, who explained how each section (and sometimes, a particular performer) is supposed to perform, including strength and tempo, might just be needed to convey certain reminders during the actual performance.

He/she can do this with a minimum of gestures, but he's not going to do it from a front row seat in the balcony.

HitBatsman said...

Years ago, I invented a game I called, "First Clap, Last Clap". Getting the last clap was easy. At the end of the piece, you keep clapping longer than anyone else by 3-4 claps. Getting the first clap at the end of the piece would be easy if you were a music afficianodo and knew the piece well. But I was, still am, just a casual enjoyer of classical music. So it took a lot of guts when I wasn't completely sure that the piece was over to launch the clapping. I confess I did embarrass myself (and my children) a few times. But it was fun.