Death of an American maestro, 89

Friends are reporting the passing of Harold Farberman, founder of the Conductors’ Guild and formidable champion of the music of Charles Ives.

He was music director of the Colorado Springs Orchestra and the Oakland Symphony Orchestra in the 1960s and 1970s and recorded a London cycle of the Mahler symphonies in the 1990s.

 

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  • Jonathan Dunsby says:

    I remember Mr Farberman conducting Mahler at London Barbican with LSO no less. Have never understood why he wasn’t better known.

    • John C says:

      He was known for being a difficult person, conductor, and teacher. That is the reason why he did not have a bigger career, and ended up teaching in a small liberal arts college in the Hudson Valley.

    • JoBe says:

      Maybe he was the American Celibidache? Many of the things that are now being said about him make him appear a lot like the insufferable and great Romanian

  • Larry says:

    He started out as a percussionist and played with the Boston Symphony for many years. A great talent. RIP Harold.

    • HM says:

      Indeed, he joined the BSO under Charles Munch, as its principal percussionist in 1950, when he was just 21. There is footage of him in the mid-’50s, playing snare in Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloe”.

  • Lucas Paiva says:

    He was much more than that. He was one of the most incredible teachers and hundreds of the best conductors was students of him. His hard way of teaching may have created an army of enemies for him and some big doors may have closed, but it also changed the way many of us think music and the art of conducting. He was, in other words, one of the greatest names of consducting teaching in America and in the world!

  • Cubs Fan says:

    And just last evening I was listening to his rather potent Rachmaninoff 2nd. Tremendous musician, fine conductor, but I’ve heard students of his say he could be quite difficult and demanding.

    • Moishezmom says:

      I likened his way of teaching to that of my teacher, cellist Harvey Shapiro. Both could be tough, but from my point of view it was out of frustration from not getting through to the student what it was he was trying to convey. He was a wonderful teacher and more importantly, a wonderful human being.

  • Larry says:

    Before joining Boston, Harold played in the Radio City Music Hall orchestra where he developed quite a reputation as a clown and practical joker. The story goes that one time, as the orchestra rose up into view from below on the mechanical lift, Harold was seen by the audience lying on top of the timpani. Another time, he was running very late to a show and was seen running down the aisle of the theatre, then jumping over the rail into the pit, just in time to play.

    Legend has it that he was such a clown that he was eventually banned from the Music Hall! I’d like to think that it’s true. (LOL)

    • The View from America says:

      Farberman seems like a person who wanted attention any way he could get it — good or bad. Some of his musical interpretations are along the same lines, like his perverse reading of Gliere’s Third Symphony: 15+ minutes slower than the other uncut recordings. Musical exhibitionism at its worst.

      • JoBe says:

        I quite like that recording, to be honest. It has the same quality as the Celibidache Bruckner readings with Munich – the excessive (and narcissistic) slowness brings out details that you would never hear otherwise.

  • German says:

    Hi manner of teaching conducting could be exceedingly unpleasant and acidic. I know some students who got a lot out of working with him. It would be wrong to assume, however, that those who didn’t enjoy his approach were either untalented or too thin-skinned. He locked horns with many people. He was percussionist and assistant timpanist to Vic Firth at Boston, and claimed to have left the BSO not to conduct, but rather because he detested Erich Leinsdorf. I found Farberman to be unfortunately craven and vindictive, and often eager to stretch the truth to promote himself or one of his pupils.

    • Moishezmom says:

      If this is the German I think it is it’s too bad you didn’t take advantage of everything he could have taught you. Don’t contradict my statement, I saw you.

    • The other Germán says:

      I agree with some of the things you mentioned. As a recent student of his I very much disliked his teaching style and the way he conducted his personal relationships, but I never found him to be craven or vindictive. I always thought that he was moved by a very personal idea of what conducting and conducting technique should be, and he honestly tried to make all his students improve by doing things his way (because he was convinced that it was the ONLY way). The fact that he had no patience, not tact, did not accept other ideas regarding conducting, and a very short temper was what made working under his guidance very difficult for many people.

      He was respected and loved by many people: musicians from his summer institute orchestra, former and current students etc. All my thoughts go to his family and friends. RIP.

      • Moishezmom says:

        Germán, I apologize for assuming you were the person who posted above. I won’t say anymore because the moderator probably wouldn’t post it.

  • John G. says:

    I still appreciate his remarlable work with the Royal Philharmonic on an especially incandescent CD recording of Gliere’s Symphony #3. I had it in rotation as recently as last week!

  • Ellen Bacon says:

    In the 1970s, when Farberman conducted the Oakland Symphony, he performed the “Fables” for Narrator and Orchestra by my late husband, Ernst Bacon. I found him to be a stern but affable person and am sorry I never reconnected with him.

    • Ross Amico says:

      I once heard an archival recording of that piece on the radio with Edward Everett Horton the speaker. I would love to hear it again.

  • Maestro Paiva’s commentary on Harold Farberman is perceptive and apposite. Unhesitatingly, Farberman did not tolerate fools, and undeniably could be quick to lose his patience in frustration with a student, but it was always in the service of trying to make the student better. It is wholly inaccurate and smacks of craveness to suggest otherwise.

    Harold, in the final count, literally taught, or influenced, well over 400 conductors in a teaching career that spanned more than 25 years. He was wholly dedicated to the Art of Conducting and to his students, many of who continued a relationship with him that lasted for decades after his interactions with them. There were also many ‘professional’ conductors who also rang him to find out how to conduct problematic passages that were not working for them!

    It is my strongly held opinion, that his musical insights were profound in respect to the musical canon that he knew intimately. Certainly, his knowledge of the interpretative and conducting intricacies of the symphonies of Mahler (the LSO and other recordings themselves well worth studying, although his own interpretation on some of these symphonies changed in later years) was, in and of itself, central to understanding his way of approaching music.

    My lasting memory was the week he took me through Debussy’s La Mer (another work close to his heart). I thought I knew this work, but I walked away not only staggered by his affinity with the piece, but also by how when you look very closely at the “music” how notional ideas of conducting technique completely fail to render what the composer intended. It was this idealogy of what conducting ‘could’ be that drove his desire to find a different way of approaching conducting both in his own pedagogy and in the spirit of serving the music. Vale.

  • MTViolin74 says:

    I played violin on-and-off for 4 years in the orchestra of his summer course and in the lab ensemble of the MFA program at Bard. What I witnessed there was shameful: gratuite humiliation of the students and members of the orchestra, insults… I even overheard him asking other faculty members for a gun to shoot the ‘SOB’ student who was standing on the podium!

    He was fired from another college in CT for being difficult, and in the 70s the musicians of the OS in CA demanded the board that he wasn’t renewed as music director for that same reason.

    I read some of the comments here and I wonder if we’re even talking about the same Farberman!

    • German says:

      This is why I wrote what I wrote above. I don’t wish to speak ill of the dead, but this what I witnessed too, and I’m always astonished that people talk about him so reverently as a conducting pedagogue.

    • Moishezmom says:

      MTViolin74, who are you? I never saw any humiliation of the orchestra members. Maestro Farberman stressed the necessity of treating orchestra members with respect, something a lot of conductors could well have listened to, since so many of them blame the orchestra for their own shortcomings on the podium.

      • MTViolin74 says:

        Who are YOU? Really? Did you not? I did, several times. And to students ALL THE TIME. That was one of the reasons why I stopped going to play.

        • Moishezmom says:

          I was there the entire time. I quote another violinist from the orchestra, who posted this:

          “Rest in peace, Harold Farberman. I’ve loved reading everyone’s memories of our years working with him. A few things that stick out in my mind:
          He always had such profound respect for orchestral musicians. He never stopped reminding student conductors how many years of practice and dedication were on the stage in front of them. One of his favorite exercises was to have the orchestra play alone, then point out to the conductor, “That’s what they can do without you! If you’re not adding something positive to that, what are you doing on the podium?” “

          If his treatment was so egregious to you why did you come back “on and off for four years”? We’re you ever on the podium too?

          The orchestra loved him (except for you I suppose).

        • Moishezmom says:

          I think Lucas’ comment below was more the sentiment. The ones who complained about Maestro Farberman were the ones who showed up there thinking their excrement didn’t stink and that they would be told how wonderful they were. Which they never were. We had a name for them, Resistors. They were usually the ones for whom the orchestra ended up having no respect but we would do our job for them, playing what we saw, as well as we could. Not that those people noticed.

          • chinaconductor says:

            I took the 4 week institute one summer. I am not surprised that in a program led by such individual the orchestral musicians had such attitude towards the students. I know for a fact that the orchestra musicians had nicknames for every conductor in the program and they made jokes and edited photos of some of the students. I was astonished that such group of poorly-performing musicians, coming most of them (except one horn player and another string player) from playing in the lowest-ranked per-service orchestras in America had such an attitude. We, the students call the orchestra musicians the Oompa Loompas.

            It is incredible that people defend him like Mr Paiva and Mr Purcell. Don’t you care about the abuse? Don’t you care about paying a expensive summer program to be bullied?

            Moishezmom: weren’t there students who honestly wanted to learn and what they found was a rude man distroying any self-confidence in the students? Are you saying that the only way to learn from Farberman was just by accepting the abuse and not complaining? So, anyone who did not enjoy their time with Farberman is an arrogant who thought their excrements did not smell? I don’t see any rationality in your arguments.

            Sorry for my English mistakes.

  • Robin says:

    He gave me my first job with the Oakland Symphony in 1972. He lasted there for only eight seasons. Not the most affable person, he finally fell out of favor with the board. Some talent as a composer. Listen to his oboe concerto as recorded by Ralph Gomberg.

  • Greg says:

    I have just recently come to Mr. Farberman’s Mahler cycle. I quite enjoyed the 5th with LSO and heard a number of details I had not heard previously (and as a trumpet player I have listened to this piece hundreds of times). I just picked up his 2nd with RPO last week, coincidentally, and have not been nearly as impressed. Admittedly some of my disappointment comes from the poor recording quality and some comes from what on first hearing strikes me as rather scrappy playing. I’ll need to listen a bit more closely. Any comments on any of his other Mahler recordings? Anything to recommend?

  • John G. says:

    Well, I guess regarding Mr. Farberman — Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate.

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