Andris Nelsons: How I curbed my ego

The Boston music director has been talking about what he has learned in the job. He tells Boston Classical Review:

‘Years ago I conducted like, ‘I want you to play this, and I want you to play this,’ because of my ego.  That way doesn’t work, and I think it’s just an absolutely wrong way for expressing honestly and deeply what the composer wants to express. 

‘I still think the communication with music, and with the orchestra, mostly happens in the rehearsal, but actually the miracle, or the mystical part, happens in the concert.  And that happens through this kind of, you know, energy flow–what I pass through my hands and toes and through my body. And still, every individual [in the orchestra] is a great musician, and everyone has maybe a little different approach to what that means, and it all creates this great variety of sound and direction.

‘Of course, there is a lot of discipline required. Von Karajan said, ‘In two places there is no democracy: the army and music.’  I agree, in the sense that the dictatorship comes from the composer.’

nelsons nobel

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    • Ubiquity? Just following Karajan’s example again.

      Reminds me of my favorite Karajan joke: Nach der Vorstellung setzt sich Karajan in den Wagen. Der Fahrer fragt: “Wohin, Herr von Karajan?” Karajan: “Egal, ich werde überall gebraucht.” (After the performance Karajan sits down in his car. The driver asks: “Where to, Herr von Karajan?” Karajan: “Doesn’t matter, I am needed everywhere.”)

  • Seems to me he’s making the mistake of thinking that any of the musicians are paying any attention to his flailing around on the podium. Unfortunately, this is all too common a delusion for conductors.

    • It’s the instinctive ‘animal’ reaction of the players to the presence of a great musical personality. In the same way, players put their instincts in the subconscious dungeon when the late [redated] appeared in front of them, signalling them what to do in the clearest possible way and correcting any miniature intonation mishap, resulting in mediocre performances wich had been worked upon like hell.

      Also mystical short circuits sometimes do happen. When Karajan appeared with the [redacted], one of his early concerts with a London orchestra, and started the piece in his closed-eyes pose and mouth set in Germanic earnestness, moving his arms slowly downwards, there was no sound – upon which K opened his eyes in surprise and noticed the entire orchestra looking at him silently with wide-eyed astonishment. (This was the reason his ‘mystique pose’ with the closed eyes appeared so big on record sleeves, so that everybody knew.)

    • @Daniel F:

      I received your reply to my post via e-mail but it hasn’t showed up on this page, yet. Paukenschläge is a Karajan/Furtwängler memoir by Werner Thärichen, published in 1987. It’s a great read but I don’t know whether it’s available in English. I recognised your anecdote from the book.

  • They all want to be Mahler, but these great conductors come around only every so often.

    Here’s an extremely underrated conductor: Andrey Boreyko

    • Perhaps the keeper of this blog will explain, but since he is the keeper of the blog he doesn’t really have to.

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