Franz Welser-Möst has a go at the ‘blender’ conductors

The Cleveland music director, in charge of Reimann’s lear at Salzburg, was asked about Salzburg’s Aida director and took the point further to include inexperienced conductors:

We live in a time in which not everyone who has achieved success should staged the coronation of his career at a major festival. They are always look for the original. I have my doubts as to whether this is the right way. Art comes from skill. And the craftsmanship is no longer much valued. Can you imagine a violinist or a pianist who does not master his craft?

Also with conductors? You can’t lead an orchestra without craftsmanship.

Do you know how many blenders there are? With a couple of tricks you can get quite far. Part of the craft is choosing tempi that do not put singers under stress. But today many of them just look and don’t listen. A show of energy by a conductor may bring nothing to the orchestra while enthusing the audience. For music, that is far too little.

 

Was halten Sie grundsätzlich von solchen Debüts, die es ja auch bei Verdis “Aida” mit Shirin Neshat gab?

Wir leben in einer Zeit, in der nicht derjenige, der überall Erfolg hatte, zur Krönung seiner Karriere bei großen Festspielen inszeniert. Man sucht immer das Originelle. Ich habe meine Zweifel, ob das der richtige Weg ist. Kunst kommt immer noch von Können. Und das Handwerk wird heutzutage nicht mehr so geschätzt. Können Sie sich einen Geiger oder einen Pianisten vorstellen, der sein Handwerk nicht beherrscht? Bei Regisseuren oder bei Dirigenten fällt man da aber oft rein.

Auch bei Dirigenten? Da kann man doch ohne Handwerk schwer ein Orchester leiten.

Wissen Sie, wie viele Blender es gibt? Mit ein paar Tricks kann man relativ weit kommen. Unter Handwerk verstehe ich auch, dass man Tempi so wählt, dass man Sänger nicht in Bedrängnis bringt. Aber viele Menschen schauen heute nur noch zu und hören nicht mehr. Eine energiegeladene Show von einem Dirigenten kann dem Orchester nichts bringen, aber dennoch das Publikum mitreißen. Um die Musik geht es da viel zu wenig.

 

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  • The English translation of the German is awkward and in some cases wrong. “Wissen Sie, wie viele Blender es gibt?” shouldn’t be translated as “Do you know how many blenders there are?”–that makes no sense in this context. “Blenden” is to dazzle. Better would be “Do you know how many imposters [or phoneys] there are?”

    • You may be right and you do make sense, but I’m not totally convinced that German has not adopted Blender (as in Franglais) to mean the kitchen implement- here implying much arm waving- which makes equal sense in the context.

      • I happen to be a native speaker.
        German “Blender” means somebody who “blinds” other people by putting on a show that hides his lack of genuine ability and fools people into beliving he is a master.

          • Indeed and it’s not only the “blender conductors” that demonstrate why the use of Google Translate can backfire. That entire English translation is painful to read; even to me, a non-native speaker.

          • I always thought Norman could speak German. He could easily have translated this short piece. ‘blender conductors’ is indeed nonsense. Perhaps he is on holiday and one of his minions pressed the Google Translate button. Anyway, it is interesting that a still-active conductor is almost prepared to name and shame the youngish gymnasts who grace the podium today.

        • That sounds just like one H v K who was called a musical Malcolm Sargent by Sir Thomas Beecham!

          The fact is today we do not have grand conductors who put fear into their players like Toscanni, Furtwangler, Bohm, Wand etc. Part of the problem is now we have conductorless bands like FBO, CMW doing mainstream stuff like Beethoven and Brahms now. Bit like those pilotless planes we will have to all fly in soon.

    • Okay, I don’t know her, but I’ll defend her. She is certainly exuberant, but not inconsistent with the music she’s conducting. And she know the score. With a piece like this, it’s easy for musicians to get swamped by the meter changes and technical demands, and she obviously has an idea as to what she wants. And I think that she’s getting it.
      We should all listen to conductors and watch them less (at least audience members).

    • LOL. Every fucking time. I’m not going to ask if you guys ever get tired of posting this same clip over & over again, because clearly that will never happen. I guess if a point is worth making once, it’s worth making a thousand times.

        • The Jordan is, I think, better than the Levine which is rather heavy-handed and where the lyrical passages are merely played-through while Jordan gives them special attention and subtlety.

        • Kleiber’s performance is to die for, of course. Yet he conducts the Vienna State Opera orchestra, while Jordan conducts the MET orchestra. Hence my other post with Levine at the MET. Still way better than Jordan and a more appropriate comparison.

        • Kleiber is here not better than Jordan. It’s merely the Kleiber mystique that let people imagine it must be better than anything else.

          • I hear a lot more characterization and orchestral transparency in Kleiber’s phrasing.

            The Kleiber mystique can also work the other way: disappointment, due to sky high expectations. It has happened to me.

          • Yes, that’s the trouble with that old ‘mystique’ – it attaches itself to any old hack no matter how bad he/she is!!! How on earth Kleiber ever got such an excellent reputation is a complete mystery to me. Ergo; that’s the real ‘mystique’.

      • There is a section in the Kurier interview where FWM is asked about Jordan. He says, “there are not many who have experience in a big opera house. His appointment was the default choice.”

  • Franz’s career illustrates perfectly his own argument. Thrust into the limelight far too young as MD of the London Philharmonic- he’s never really totally recovered from the unfortunate ‘Frankly Worse than Most’. The orchestra made his life a misery & nearly finished him off. But all credit to his determination & obvious maturing as a conductor (now in his mid 50’s) that he’s come through it to become one of the more convincing figures on the podium today. The dangers of yet another over hyped, relatively good looking young conductor with nothing much to say musically are well alluded to.

  • And still today, I often find that FWM has little to say musically. Tempos often seem overly brisk to the detriment of the music. NY Times critics continue to note reservations albeit among some triumphs. There are plenty of younger, overhyped conductors that I’d prefer over this one, and some that are not hyped up enough. When critics write about the top conductors, his name is usually absent and, as a CO admirer, I concur.

    • How would you translate ‘blender’, Fabio? Myself, I think it’s a really good generic for a certain eclectic type of conductor.

      • The dictionaries suggest ‘fake, phoney’, but don’t you think ‘Blender’ implies an element of ‘showing off’, certainly in the field of conducting? No one could call Boult or Strauss (hand in pocket or checking his pocket-watch ) a Blender.

      • “Blender” is a rather common noun coming from the verb “blenden”, which has the same linguistic root as “blind” in both languages, german and english. A “blender” is someone who transmits so much “shine” and “light” that who is nearby is “geblendet” and can’t see what is behind. The meaning is of course not positive at all. What Franz means – in which I totally agree – is that among us conductors there are many (not only young ones, but especially young ones) who don’t have any idea about what is conducting, shaping phrases, understanding what the composers not only wrote but what he meant (which goes very often behind the written notes), brief, what it means to make music. They “blenden” (german verb) not only many in the audience, but also many critics, who very often tend to privilege the “new” and not the “true”, the “easy” and not the “right”.

        • Agreed entirely. The best conductors don’t need many movements and convey their vision in the utmost economy. It is often the young conductors who get carried away with their musical enthusiasm – which does not necessarily mean that they, conducting when young, are merely superficial: both Mahler and Strauss used a lot of matador-like gestures when young, to get what they wanted, and developed an economic style as they matured.

        • It’s an implicit, quasi natural, phenomenon, that those who are dead – the classical composers – are badly represented at the table and have sufficient advocacy and defense only by the idealists who admire their work, while the materialists look at what sells with the masses. So here we are…
          We all have to look in the mirror every morning and ask ourselves, how we balance the two forces.

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