The conductor who gets a bit too Candide

The conductor who gets a bit too Candide


norman lebrecht

February 16, 2012

We’ve seen enough conductors who can hardly be bothered to yawn at work.

Here’s one who really loves his job. Introducing Joseph R. Olefirowicz playing to the orchestra camera in a Vienna Volksoper performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide.

Book that man.

UPDATE: here


  • Brian says:

    Norman: I fully agree about the “yawners.” I see all too many of them at one of our industry’s biggest events, the Midwest (International) Clinic, held every December in Chicago. For all too long, my colleagues and I almost beg to see a decent conductor (and I won’t mention some of the guests on the podium at the CSO). That being said, is this guy a bit over the top? I have to wonder how much of his obvious hamming is helping the ensemble. If I was a member of the orchestra I know that I would have difficulty focusing on the job at hand.

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for expressive conducting (and hope that I am one myself). But it seems that it can be taken too far.

    • Over the Top?
      Well, I have played with 2 excellent Russian conductors who were creative in this way. Gennady Rozhdestvensky and Yuri Temirkanov.

      Danny Kaye is hamming, this fellow is expressing something, actually communicating something that I find both helpful and coherent.

      difficulty focusing?
      Modern orchestral musicians are incredibly well trained and fully able to to play most if not all of the standard literature without beat patterns, cues, or even a conductor at all, in some cases. This guy shows a tremendous level of trust, not only of his musicians but of his own deep understanding of the music and his ability to communicate that understanding.

      “But it seems that can be taken too far”
      in this day and age of the conducting degree, the fact that is forgotten, is that in the old days, the most musical person in the room ended up being the conductor. Not someone with a degree in conducting. Studying conducting is utterly pointless without musical conviction. I’ve played with thousands of conductors and I’d rather play for someone like this than some time beating cue machine who doesn’t have a clue as to what is going on in the music.

      • Bennett L says:

        Check this out for musicianship and conviction… It will bring a tear to your eye and tug at your heart because of the sheer beauty of the performance.!

      • Brandude says:

        THE GUY DIDN’T EVEN CONDUCT. HE DANCED!!! There are definitely more ways to be creative conducting than by dancing and not doing your job. Have you even looked up Saito conducing? I bet not if you think he was creative. It’s a way to express musically THROUGH conducting. I am a euphonium player and would absolutely refuse to play for a conductor that chose to dance like an idiot instead of doing his job, which is to help keep the music together and help shape phrases. A little here and there is showmanship. What he did is ridiculous.

  • Michael Scott says:

    Personally, I’d have enjoyed seeing what this guy looked like from the AUDIENCE’S perspective.

  • Thomas P says:

    Holy moly. This clip made my day. Two things are clear: he knows the music, and the orchestra is very responsive to his direction. I can see why he seems to be favoured for operettas, but I’d like to see how his expressiveness carries over to, say, Ein Deutches Requiem, or Lulu.

  • Harold Braun says:

    I think he`s a fantastic conductor,one who really knows his job and achieves results with minimalistic but telling gestures,Reminds me a bit of Gennady Rozhdestvensky.

  • Steve Fentress says:

    I suspect that if Bernstein had had this physical build he might have done it exactly this way, at least once in a while. I don’t think you can knock the musical result – it’s all there. The relentlessness of repeated theater performances can be mind-numbing. If someone can add something special to wake everyone up without sacrificing precision, why not?

  • Duncan Reed says:

    If only Carlos were still around, we could send him to this guy for some lessons…

  • Duncan Reed says:

    Give him a Parsifal, then we’ll see what he could do. Grailhouse Rock, anyone?

  • Frank says:

    Over the top and very funny, but to a large extent his gestures are surprisingly relevant!
    I don’t know whether it would inspire or distract the orchestra.

  • As a conductor, I just think this is F – A – N – T – A – S – T – I – C !

    I aspire to one day be even half as cool as this guy.

    I wonder if he has ever seen what he actually looks like when he conducts?

  • Bennett L says:

    As a conductor, and one who spent many years as a teacher of conducting, he embodies the first principle of conducting – look like the music. My students had to conduct a piece without beating time and only making gestures that “were the music.” BRAVO, MAESTRO Olefirowicz!!!

    I agree with Brian (above). Most of the so-called conductors at Mid-West might as well be directing the telephone book. The same applies to most of the people who lead school and university orchestras and wind bands. No wonder there is no glory in the performances of their ensembles – little more than readings of the local phone book.

    I am sure the performers under Maestro Olefirowicz love every musical gesture – as does the audience. His performances of Mozart, Bach, Brahms, Mahler and even Wagner must be true musical experiences.

    • Tod Trimble says:

      As a choral conductor trained in the Midwest (doctorate from the U of Illinois, etc), I want to say that the comments reflect two different philosophies of conducting. Many exceptional musicians feel differently than those who think this type of conducting is ideal. my teacher, Richard Hoffland of Millikin University, felt that every ounce of musical expressivity should come from the ensemble. If he had his way, he said once, he would conduct with a small black screen to his back, so that the audience wouldn’t be “distracted” by his gestures to the choir.
      Similarly, one of my piano teachers, Nancy Bohl Hanle (Oberlin grad, studied at Salzburg’s Mozarteum, etc.) didn’t actively discourage her students from extra-musical gestures at the keyboard, but said it always makes her worry about what artistic nuances were failing to get to the audience “through the keyboard” because they were getting out through head nods, shoulder gestures, etc. I believe she was also the one who shared with me her doubts about audience members who get seats on the side of the hall where they can be sure to see the pianists hands: “Aren’t they there to LISTEN?”
      Obviously this conductors knows the music well and embodies it beautifully. But there are other conductors who do so no less, but see as part of the role to not invite the audience’s eyes to stray from the stage, who do not confuse conducting with interpretive dance, and who want all of the musicality to be expressed in what the audience hears, not in what anyone sees. .

  • Tamara Meinecke says:

    I’m an orchestral violinist, and I loved it! It sounded great! Obviously they’ve rehearsed well. If that was *all* I ever saw from the podium, it might get old, I suppose, but I doubt very much that all his conducting looks like that. I’ve seen plenty of hams on the podium who aren’t getting the results because they are too confusing and too into how they look; but this guy is getting the results. I hope the orchestra was having fun, too.

  • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    Agreed with most of what was said above. Max Rudolf said that a conductor is a musician who through the force of his personality and musical knowledge can inspire a great performace. Technique is not always the issue. But this guy’s technique is amazing. I saw shades of Celibidache and Bernstein among other greats. When he picked up the stick he knew how to use it. James Levine has conducted for at least the last 10 years using only facial gestures and a minimum of “technique.” Even though this is Candide, he appears to have both buttocks amply in place. What did the audience see? Watch, they are glued to the stage. Thanks ror sharing this, Norman.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      Exactly. Colin Davis once said to a famous orchestra: “Ladies and Gentlemen, if you don’t play together how can I possibly follow you?” A great conducting musician and a great orchestra function at a level which is a mixture of complicity, symbiosis, and telepathy. No one can explain it, but we all know it when we experience it.

  • Sixtus says:

    Speaking as a one-time orchestral violinist in my college days, and as one who’s seen nearly every major conductor to perform in NYC during the intervening years, I find this guy to be conscientiously giving all the necessary cues to his musicians and a great many hints as to the mood he wants. And don’t forget the chorus (he rightly picks up his baton for their benefit), whose vocal contributions were undoubtedly influenced by the show he put on, possibly mainly for them. I find all this far more sincere than the actual non-conducting (baton down, no gestures) that occasionally occurs during the Vienna Philharmonic New Years concert. What are they paying those guys for, anyway?

  • Steve says:

    As a former horn player, I say ‘Bravo’; I always knew where he was going – even if the ‘nipping from the bottle’ was a bit over the top. I found his direction at least timely, and I should think for professionals he’d be a refreshing ‘tick-tock’.

  • as we are into Bernstein with this….I think that Joseph isn’t very far from Bernstein here….they both knew and trusted their orchestra and knew EXACTLY when to help and when to let go…

    • Tod Trimble says:

      Couldn’t agree more. And what did the audience see? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The were given the wonderful gift of being able to attend fully to a wonderful sonic experience. Their eyes were not seduced by overly-romanticized gesticulating that would have done the orchestra not one whit of good. The audience was treated to great music without distraction.