The conductorless orchestra is making a comeback

The first musical consequence of the Russian Revolution was the formation of Persimfans, an orchestra of equals that functioned without a conductor. It played for a decade, from 1922 until Stalin’s first purge.

Now Persimfans has risen again.

The pianist Peter Aydou has formed the orchestra with 112 Moscow friends and put on a first concert this week in the Big Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire.

Here’s how the Parsifal overture sounds without a maestro.

And here’s Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet overture.

Slipped Disc readers are the first to see these unofficial videos. Any thoughts?

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  • A clear demonstration what a conductor is doing. Without him/her: unbalanced sound, rhythmically uneven (the Parsifal first phrases are a mess…!), expression timid (everybody is counting like mad), and the seating – the players facing each other to get the ensemble playing right – takes away the sound of the players with their back to the audience (the normal seating is acoustically determined). Not to speak of the inner flow of the music which is lacking in these fragments. The allegro in the Tchaikovsky is admirably done, given the absence of a conductor, but this music the players know by heart and can play in their sleep. All in all: it’s like getting a poodle walking on its hinterlegs, great achievement but somewhat pointless.

    • I agree that conductors are necessary to achieve fine performances of music written since around 1800 without impractical amounts of rehearsal time. The rationale behind the Soviet experiment was more class-driven, however: the corporate, hierarchical organization of orchestras today, with the conductor as a scandalously-overpaid “CEO,” is what was being questioned. The disparity between the salary of an American conductor and an equally-talented section violinist, say, can be galling. But a conductor-less orchestra is not the answer. Only when conductors are seen as primus inter pares and not demi-gods – and are paid accordingly – will this problem go away.

      • But most conductors nowadays are considered primus inter pares, the times of ‘half-gods’ have passed, fortunately. Also prima inter pares can be as good as the former ‘half-gods’.

        As for salaries: these differ widely, according to country (culture), status of the orchestra, status of the conductor. A conductor is more than a better-paid player, there is an immense responsibility in his/her hands. He/she needs to have a vision of the music, and interpretations differ widely. A score is merely a blue print of the basics, a conductor has to bring it to life with the elements which cannot be notated.

    • dear sir

      you are too quick to judge and make shit on our heads

      all the musicians you can see on the stage just answered to my message on facebook: let’s play a concert for ill children. for free. all the money we rise for tickets we send to the charity foundation which helps to paralysis cerebralis sufferers. the concert had a name from Bible: Rise up And Walk.

      we had 4 3-hours rehearsals and after we played this program. half of the people I have never seen in my life. some of them are high-class professionals, some of them are students with no orchestral experience. there were two schoolboys on oboe and clarinet.

      yes we were not absolutely perfect. but for me it was a very inspiring experience. if you say “boring” about our Tchaikovsky I would like to look at “not-boring” or “advertising” examples from you.

      • I did not say ‘boring’, as you can read. And since readers of SD had no other information than offered by mr Lebrecht, the video was treated as a professional concert. With this new information, everything changes, of course; it apparently was an admirable initiative.

  • Both the Parsifal prelude and Romeo are boringly played, calculated and counted out beat by beat. A conductor is needed if for no better reason than to take a point of view of the work being performed and leading all in presenting that point of view, not just the notes.

    • Yes, I heard you @Les Dissonances, and you are a very impressive orchestra indeed!

      But with all due respect: finally you are proving nothing else but the necessity of a conductor: You play wonderfully together, with great sound and dynamics, but: unfortunately there is really no line, no spontaneity, no reaction to the acoustic of the hall, no concept and no personality in your music-making. In fact your idea to be able to play the whole repertoire without a conductor demonstrates a much bigger hubris than ever a conductor had. Sorry.

      • Sorry for answering late, did not see your answer !
        The only thing we can say is : we respect your opinion except for one thing which needs to be clarified. We have no “hubris” in doing what we do. We respect the huge talent and necessity of conductors and only try to propose another way for practising music together. A little bit of “fresh air” for musicians who really enjoy sharing music outside the classical hierarchy. Do something different after all, a collective where everybody can share his opinion and imagine the way he would like to read into the score and perform.
        All our best !
        Les Dissonances

        • Dear Dissonances!

          You did a really great ensemble. Your videos at youtube are wonderful, we enjoy your playing very much.

          Please keep going and don’t listen to those who doesn’t care about music but only wants to judge and blame.

          We hope to listen you live and probably play together?
          Sincerely yours,
          Persimfans.

  • Yes, I heard you @Les Dissonances, and you are really a very impressive orchestra! But with all due respect: finally you are proving nothing else but the necessity of a conductor: You play really wonderfully together, with great sound and dynamics, but: unfortunately there is no line, no spontaneity, no reaction to the acoustic of the hall, no concept and no personality in your music-making. In fact your idea to be able to play the whole repertoire without a conductor demonstrates a much bigger hubris than ever a conductor had. Sorry.

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