How to mishandle Renee Fleming in Strauss

A young conductor, Jesper Nordin, prepared the Copenhagen Philharmonic for a performance of Grieg’s Peer Gynt suite, followed by Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs with Renee Fleming. Krystian Järvi then arrived to take over the general rehearsal and the concert.

The young conductor (below) watched closely…. and did not like what he saw. Not one little bit. Here‘s how he describes it on a new blog.

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Here’s a sample quote:

I was surprised to find Mrs. Fleming unfocused, the orchestra too loud and Järvi extremely nonchalant.
By some, his casual body language when conducting – when it looks the best, it’s somewhat akin to a Bernstein or Charles Munch – is interpreted as ‘charming’ and as being extremely ‘on top of everything’.
As in: “Oh look, his beats are so random he must not care how it looks – simply because he’s so good it doesn’t matter!!” I didn’t quite mean that as sarcastic as it may seem, but to those who believe it doesn’t matter how a conductor beats or ‘carries himself on the podium’, I can’t begin to tell you how wrong you are.

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  • A conductor like Bernstein or Munch could obviously get away with that kind of technical ‘freedom’ on the podium only because of what they DID IN REHEARSAL. But if you just waltz in after someone else does all the preparatory work with the orchestra in rehearsal, that kind of style is totally unacceptable.

    Again, some musicians (are not really musicians) are in it for fame and fortune and nothing else.

    Besides, I’ve never heard of a guest conductor coming in to do the dress rehearsal like a soloist. What kind of stupid artistic administrator allows that sort of thing? Only a complete incompetent!

  • I find this sort of blog by the “young conductor” both unwise and unprofessional. But putting that aside, he seems confused and distraught that newspaper critics disagreed with his assessment. Perhaps he should examine his assessment?

  • Mr. Lebrecht,

    I’ve just looked at Renee Fleming’s schedule. This conductor is missing some facts. Fleming and Jarvi were not in Copenhagen for rehearsal because they were in Gstaad doing the same program. He and Fleming did the program on Aug. 12, according to her website and then on Aug 15 in Copenhagen.

    One final thing regarding Ms. Fleming’s “eyes darting to the conductor.” If you look at videos of her, she does that very often. It’s always bothered me, and I’ve wondered why she does it. I saw a wonderful interview with Thielemann who said she “goes off” on her own and seems to get lost in the phrases (which he saw as a positive for Strauss) and it’s his job to know when to “pull her back in.” Still, it hasn’t impacted her performance, so who I am to complain really?

    I suspect the issue here was miscommunication between the two conductors, unfortunately, assuming anything was really wrong. On the Renee Fleming site where I found her schedule, there is a tweet about “the wonderful Kristjan Jarvi” so who knows?

  • @ “Janey”:

    To be fair, I did enjoy several parts of the concert. I fear that doesn’t shine through Norman’s slighty sensationalist heading here. Those that take offense to my critique of the “Vier Letzte Lieder” have every right to, but need to acknowledge that the blog is definetely not some sort of onesided attack on either Järvi or Fleming.

    Just to return your nitpick: I do have the facts correct. You can email me if you want the details.

    I was very shocked that the one review was so oblivious to what I percieved was going on (other reveiwers agreed with me completely I should stress – it’s not as if I’m just making things up…), because critics are supposed to be sharp and cognizant and pick up on these things. Otherwise, why should they be critics and not every other Tom, Dick and Harry?

    As an afterthought, I’ll definitely think twice before doing this type of “review” in the future – of a project that I was involved with. It will too easily be percieved as being only an aggressive act of jealousy, and not as that which it was meant to be: a personal perspective on something essential to the industry of which I am a part.

    Anyone who needs to discuss this further can email me, I’ll be happy to reply.

    Sincerely
    Jesper Nordin

  • Mr. Nordin,

    First, thank you for your reply.

    I want to assure you, though, that I did not perceive your review as an act of jealousy or of malice of any kind. It does not read that way to me. I’m sorry if I gave that impression. But, writing the thoughts down regarding a project you are involved in, this was my question.

    I also appreciate your point that you praised other parts of the performance. This is true, and I should have acknowledged that.

    I will email with the rest of my response. Again, thank you for your comment.

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