There are people who want to be conductors. I find them suspect

December 16, 2017 by norman lebrecht


A typically wry provocation from Ivan Fischer in, of all places, the Lufthansa flight magazine.

Here’s another:

‘Conducting is a very easy job. I don’t understand why people think it’s difficult. Of course, I sometimes see conductors who are totally stressed out and sweating … That amuses me. And then, yes, then I do feel some sympathy. But only a bit.’

Read the full interview here.


Comments (38)

  1. Theodore McGuiver says:

    Wonderful interview. I remember one of his tips being something like: Don’t show expression. Actually, don’t show anything. You have to love someone who isn’t obsessed with his profile and/or hairstyle.

  2. Ungeheuer says:

    I have been enjoying lately some of his Mahler recordings for Channel Classics. I hear there’s no plan to complete the series because he doesn’t take to the 8th. We shall see.

  3. John Borstlap says:

    Fischer is a great conductor and an utterly unpleasant person, known for his uncivil behavior. As for his comments upon conducting, they are ludricous…… childish and ignorant. Maybe that is the Hungarian way to get something like his admirable festival orchestra on the rails.

    1. Carl says:

      Why utterly unpleasant person ?

    2. May says:

      I’ve met him on several occasions, and would never call him an “utterly unpleasant person.” If he is interested in what you have to say, he might lend you his ear. He has a very low tolerance for bullshit, which for an outsider might come across as unpleasantness. He is a very insightful conductor and also extremely articulate. His comments are anything but ludicrous.

      1. John Borstlap says:

        I also have a very low tolerance for bullshit, but also for ignorant prejudice, which I had the ‘pleasure’ of enduring on a couple of occasions. F is a very narrow-minded musician, composing in his spare time, and spiteful of professionals who are more capable than him. And conductors who claim it’s easy what they themselves are doing, merely show-off their conceit.

        1. Sue says:

          Well, that includes Carlos Kleiber. He must have been truly conceited because he referred to himself as a mere ‘stick waver’.

        2. May says:

          Aha. Professional jealousy. As I suspected. Jedem das seine.

          1. John Borstlap says:

            It is normal and reasonable to be critical within a professional field, but one needs arguments; merely uncivil behavior without any argument or reason is just nasty.

          2. David R Osborne says:

            That is a slur utterly devoid of evidence. To imply ‘sour grapes’ is a tactic used all too often here and within the wider musical community to stifle debate.

            Like you, I disagreed with just about everything that John wrote above. But if you are somehow suggesting that personal experience should not inform reasoned argument, then that is just plain wrong. A weak, ad hominum attack. That makes you part of the problem.

          3. Alex Davies says:

            David R. Osborne, you may or may not appreciate knowing that homo, -inis is 3rd declension, so the accusative singular is hominem. Hominum would be the accusative singular of hominus, were there to be such a word.

        3. E says:

          As someone who works closely with him on regular occasions, I find your comment totally short sighted and false. He is one of the most inspired and open minded musicians – with a low tolerance of people who waste his time with ignorance. So I can only assume that is what you did.

          1. John Borstlap says:

            An assumtion lacking any substance. See David Osborne’s comment.

    3. Dave says:

      Have you considered that he wouldn’t tolerate your BS? Just a thought after reading some of your posted comments.

      1. John Borstlap says:

        He had / has not the slightest idea about what I did / do; he just behaved like you, unfounded, unargued nastiness.

        1. Dave says:

          Perhaps you need to put on your big boy pants and quit whining all the time.

          1. John Borstlap says:

            From under which forgotten rock comes such comment? I merely ventilated personal experience, that’s all. I don’t respect people who claim to be professionals but lacking the most simple basics.

    4. Ross says:

      Completely disagree.
      I think he’s a sweetheart, as well as a very special musician.

    5. Branimir says:

      John, you wrote: “I merely ventilated personal experience, that’s all.”
      Sorry, you did not:
      “Fischer is a great conductor and an utterly unpleasant person, known for his uncivil behavior.”
      At least, you should say “known to me”… then it would be merely ventilating your personal experience.

      1. John Borstlap says:

        I heard from various people having to deal with him about his occasional, unexpected and unfounded uncivil behavior. In fact, I was warned for it.

    6. The View from America says:

      I have no way of knowing if this characterization of Maestro Fischer is accurate or not.

      But if it is, he’d be following in the tradition of other Hungarian conductors — Reiner, Dorati, Solti and more.

  4. Cubs Fan says:

    Very easy job, huh? Then why are there so very few who can do it well? I’m not asking for greatness (however that is measured), just general competency.

    1. Anon says:

      Maybe because those who would be good at it are either not interested in telling other people how to make music but prefer making it themselves. Or they are not interesting for the (conducting) actor and model business. Also lets not forget that professional conducting, and doing only that, is a rather young profession. Not even 150 years old. 150 more to go?

      1. Sue says:

        Carlos Kleiber in a nutshell. He wouldn’t engage with the media or social/PR side of the music business. He avoided interviews because “I’d be talking rubbish”.

  5. David R Osborne says:

    It’s nice to read the comments about Carlos Kleiber, he is one of the very few we seem to all agree about here. I do however feel it’s worth pointing out that for at least two reasons, there would be little hope of his like being seen again under present conditions.

    The first of these would be that he was from a generation that still had some tolerance of eccentricity, individuality, and artists who had a completely natural feel for and affinity with their art. Secondly and perhaps more prosaically, like Beecham, he got there because of Dad.

    I believe however that Ivan Fischer (whose work I like very much) is wrong to say that it’s easy to be a conductor these days.

    It is a rare ability indeed to sideline all original thought, quash any impulse for change, hold only the opinions required of you by the establishment, advocate for an unflinching status-quo that by any sensible measure is an unmitigated disaster, all this while projecting the image of being a creative, uniquely talented individual. Kudos then to the current crop!

    1. Nemesis says:

      Bingo. The baffling thing is that anyone is fooled by all the posing and hype and the depressing one is that what nowadays passes for conducting is killing music. Fortunately many works of genius seem to be quite robust but one wonders how long this charade can continue.

  6. David R Osborne says:

    Oh and great article by the way. I love this quote:

    “ I consider eclecticism to be the most modern musical language of our time.”

    Nailed it, if that is to be taken literally. But eclecticism in this case must mean no restrictions, we are definitely not there yet.

  7. James MacMillan says:

    I worked with him this year. He was very professional and always friendly. A delight to be with.

    1. Una says:

      Exactly! Well said, James.

    2. Una says:

      Exactly! Well said, James.

    3. John Borstlap says:

      Most people function best within their comfort zone. But these zones may be very different from each other.

  8. tim says:

    Conducting basically is not hard,

    But to be great at it takes intelligence, technical talent (a sense of rhythm, intonation), leadership skills and a sensitive soul.

    Also, I believe Conducting is more than for playing instruments an inborn talent. I don’t think someone who is untalented can ever make up for it and become “great” by doing hours in the practice room, studying scores, baton technique ect.

    But yes, there are many joke conductors out there that make it all the way to the top and it’s annoying; especially when the get huge egos (cough, Mazel, cough). But lets not go to the other extreme and claim that anyone can conduct or that anyone who does is an asshole.

    1. Sue says:

      Kleiber was reportedly very insecure and nervous, particularly conducting opera, but undoubtedly part of the essence of conducting is leadership too. Watch the great man here dealing with a super rowdy Italian crowd at “Othello”, when he was 46 years old. What style and grace at 1:46:30 when he would have been feeling SUPER stressed:

  9. FREDDO says:

    Everything I’ve heard from Ivan Fischer has always been pretty comfy, even sedate. Am I missing something.

    1. Sue says:

      I saw him in Vienna at the Muskiverein in 2011 with the Budapest Festival Orchestra and they were on fire!!

  10. Anne says:

    Can I respectfully suggest that Ivan Fischer swaps places with me for a while?! I conduct a number of youth bands and ensembles and wouldn’t mind my role being surplus to requirements – but it isn’t.

    Working with youth and amateur adults can be fantastically rewarding but bloody hard work and it would be good to get some decent funding and pleasant working conditions. I do agree with musically staying out of the way as much as possible though – let the musicians of any level find their own voice.

    Please get in touch Mr Fischer and I’m sure a deal can be done! Oh and it would be good to have someone race home, cook, shop and do the school run as well;)

  11. Steven Honigberg says:

    Fischer is not a great conductor or motivator as any great conductor should be. He failed to win over the orchestra during his tenure in Washington, DC. His mannerisms became tedious, his conceit evident. In fact, he refused to come back to guest. I guess we hurt his feelings.

  12. BillG says:

    Our Music Director pro tem is a percussionist. It is said that he wanted to become a conductor to get closer to musicians. (Per our Principal Horn).

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