After the lockdown ends (5), what price conductors?

The fifth in a short series.

 

This weekend’s attempts by the Berlin Philharmonic and the Düsseldorf Symphony orchestras to put on video concerts from their main stage in reduced groups and without an audience have exposed the bankruptcy of that idea.

Yes, it was important to get out again and demonstrate the will to perform.

But the performances themselves were flaccid, dispiriting and ultimately unnecessary. I doubt we shall see any successes in that genre.

When each piece ended, the conductor dropped his arms and – nothing happened. No applause. No relief. No catharsis.

The players looked a bit stunned, disappointed, unsure of themselves.

Most unsure were the conductors.

For concerts of this small scale, they were not needed. Their presence was purely gestural.

All evidence from western governments suggests we will not see large orchestral performances again for a year or two.

So what are we to do about conductors?

Put them on furlough?

Previous posts in this series herehere, here and here.

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    • Peaple buy better tickets when Conductor name on the poster
      Also conductor helps to organize rehearsal process faster than without

      • this Is correct when Karajan and Bernstein gave U.K. concerts the queue for
        Returns would start 2pm.
        They were legends.

        • They were household names. When Abbado took over the Berlin Phil
          Tickets were easily available in London. He was a much nicer guy.

    • Shani play’s concertos with the orchestra. And he has respect for his other orchestra the Rotterdam philharmonic.
      Unlike some conductors who are conceited he seems to have a pleasant
      Personality

  • Thank you for pointing out that conductors are not needed for chamber works. If this is where we’re going, they’ll have a difficult time justifying their presence onstage with small ensembles.

  • Conductors will be available after the lockdown. However, how will the absence of common practice affect the orchestras?

  • The further apart the players are positioned, the more necessary the conductor. When they aren’t close enough to hear each other and respond as a group (which is the case in a socially-distanced performance), a visual signal is the most effective way to make ensemble possible.

    The conductor is not *only* there to create interpretations, take applause, and generate gossip. Like it or not, they serve a practical function. Come on, this is is pretty basic stuff.

    • C Porumbescu, are you a musician? I’m curious where you got the idea that the instrumentalists in the videos are relying on the conductor, as opposed to what they hear. They’re not that far apart.

      • I should add that in addition to playing while listening, the musicians on stage are watching each other, breathing together, and responding in real time to the acoustics and the sounds that are created. That’s what makes such great performances possible, regardless of the conductor.

        Have any of you who disagree with that concept performed pieces like L’Histoire, Kammersinfonie, Mendelssohn Octet–or any piece, for that matter–without a conductor? It might save time to have one person making all the decisions, but the end result is not necessarily better. It all depends on the players involved.

        • I agree.
          Most of the time, conductors are timekeepers.
          If the orchestra sounds good, it’s because the musicians are good.
          Why audiences and critics over-glorify conductors is beyond me.

          • Ormandy was not the greatest conductor in the world
            But his orchestra was one of the best. It is the musicians

          • But it is the conductor who is getting all the different parts of a score together in an organic whole, and sorts-out the right balance between single voices and groups. It is an art in itself, and the symphony orchestra developed together with the development of conducting, they are mutually dependent. I can’t understand that there exist music lovers who have not the faintest idea about something that is so obvious. The musicians become good because of the conductor. Give a contract to a weak or shabby conductor for working with a good orchestra and after a couple of months at the latest, the orchestra is rambling, out of balance, bland sound, bored players, etc. etc.

            What audiences see, is a disciplined orchestra and a conductor waving his arms. But it is the result of hard work at rehearsels.

            Have a look at an orchestral score, or attend a rehearsel, then you know what is actually going-on in an orchestra.

          • I’m quite sure both of us (that you’re responding to) have spent a lifetime playing in an orchestra.
            I can’t understand that there exist music lovers who over-glorify conductors and give them so much credit for a great performance, when it is the players creating the great performance.

          • Who ever conducts the vienna phil or berlin phil the performance will
            Always be good it is the musicians.

      • As one of the musicians in one of those videos, i can confirm that the conductor is necessary, and remained at our request, not his own insistence. At those distances, we are all playing significantly ahead of what we hear, and without a clear downbeat, chaos is never far away. A quartet, spaced far apart is one thing, but multiple people performing the same voice, much more difficult.

  • You seem to enjoy this pessimism and defeatism. Perhaps concerts will be a bit strange for one year, but that’s a small price to pay for everyone’s safety. Then, when a vaccine is widely available, or treatments are found that reduce COVID’s severity to that of a typical flu, people will come flooding back to live entertainment. The presence of hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people watching these streams from their homes means that there is a craving for live music. As soon as it is safe, live music will have a boom of popularity.

    • This is utter TOSH.
      In France they just retested cases of Pneumonia from DECEMBER for presence of COVID-19.

      Suprise suprise, one case out of 40 was discovered, proving the fact uncontrovertibly the virus was already all over Europe christmas 2019.

      China only lied about it, then claimed no human-human infection was happening with the corrupt world death organisation congratulating them about this discovery until a full MONTH after infections all over northern Italy were well under way – resulting in the manifest stupidity of letting China continue to fly COVID all over the world, and infect Milan fashion week with all it attendees.

      What shows, how ridiculous and unneccessary the lockdown has been, is the FACT on the Diamond Princess**, only 13 died, all with known health conditions and over 70.
      70% had no symptoms.

      We are looking closely into a case within the family where even the local school was locked down for quarantine in FEBRUARY (all over our region).

      It turns out we had this thing mostly asymtomatic in FEBRUARY, and 80% of cases remained so**. This is almost certain now.

      The only thing you now have to fear is the SHEEPLE finally finding out the entire panic was caused by the MM, and realising they have been conned all the way, being put under house arrest while the powers that be, manifestly FAILED 100% to protect the most vulnerable.

      Cancelling entire seasons of music is the most stupid and futile virtue signalling of any government..
      WELL DONE Sweden for showing the way!
      (apart from even them not protecting old people’s homes from infection by their own staff!)

      • These kind of weird extreme comments do not help the very good arguments for starting to relax the lockdown.

        The Chinese government did not really know what was going on until January. While there was the odd isolated case in Europe at that time, nobody really realised what was happening in Europe until much later.

        Entering the lockdown was a reasonable decision in Italy, France, Spain and Britain. Nobody really knew how dangerous the virus was, or how fast it was spreading. The health system in parts of Italy and Spain became overwhelmed, and people were legitimately concerned the same would happen in Britain.

        Now we are starting to see more clearly some of the facts about the virus. It is much less dangerous than feared (a bit ore dangerous than the regular flu), and the health system is clearly not going to get overwhelmed, at least in Britain or other western European countries. This means we can begin to relax the lockdown.

        It is likely that perhaps 20 percent or more of the population in the worst hit regions have already had the virus. This suggests that herd immunity will happen much faster than a vaccine, and is likely to happen by the autumn. But we need to have widespread antibody testing to establish how many people have had the virus before we can be sure of this 20 percent figure.

  • I hope the standard of orchestras do not drop through all these months of inactivity. It never occured to me we would ever go through a crisis of this sort in my life time. It all comes down to the fact that no country in the world has a health care sector that could cope with an emergency of this sort. The medicine (i.e. lock downs) is almost as bad as the virus itself. Yet if I was in charge, I would probably make similar decisions as most responsible political leaders in the world.

      • It most definitely is, unless you are member of the loony greenie radical left who are overjoyed to see a cull of the population, cos they are maintaining it’s the only way to control the other FAKE EMERGENCY – “climate change”.

        When you see the suicide rate of 30 million young men exposed to a total destruction of their employment prospects for the next decade, the destruction of whole sections of the airline industry, the mass exodus of such industrial activities as car manufacture and the wholesale wanton destruction of the entertainment and catering industries, then YES.

        The so called “cure”, is like shouting “FIRE” in a crowded theatre.

        The whole massively overblown Mass media engineered panic was designed to nationalise the economy, and take control of your lives – amazingly in under 3 weeks without a shot being fired.

        Even Bojo, the wanton liar is going around being believed talking utter BS,= (hey remember the golden age of the UK arriving with Brexit, the GE, and the electric planes…YEA right!).

        Just ask where your freedom to live and die have gone with choice of everything you considered of value inc your wealth and well being.

        GONE straight down the toilet, and now surveyed by Mr Plod who won’t hesitate to FINE you or even arrest you for non compliance.
        It’s truly dystopia out of George Orwell on steroids!

          • NO!
            You need help! You need to use that God given brain of yours, and stop believing the same mass media, that accepted invading Iraq on the basis of fake WMD.

            The lying Bojo, who claimed EU contributions of the UK could be easily redirected to the NHS (hey they couldn’t even provide them PPE!)

            Do you realise all this was predicted as long ago as OCTOBER 2014.
            You are doing exactly as your government bids you without questioning for one single second why!

            Fact:-
            It’s the first time in recorded human history all the perfectly FIT PEOPLE were locked into house arrest, then let the really vulnerable both get infected, then never figure in the death stats.

            Confined? Not confined?
            No statistical difference.

            Look at Sweden or Estonia. NO CONFINEMENT.

            Look at France or Norway. Draconian new laws, CONFINEMENT.
            Be shocked.
            France has much higher death rates as does the UK.

            Watch this report and be scared, VERY scared. It’s all come true.
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wuOxG-rnj30

            Dr Henriksen’s clear video showing Lockdowns don’t work has been CENSORED “This video has been removed for violating YouTube’s Community Guidelines.” So it must have been correct then.

            Here is a doctor’s reaction “I am a Doctor and I can assure you that Dr Erickson’s analysis is spot on.
            We are being misled by Tony Fauci and we are by no means in a crisis. The seasonal flu of 2017 killed over 80,000 here in the US why was there no lockdown for the anticipation of 2018?”

            Michael Moore’s new film on the totally corrupt green alternative energy scam is visible here for now
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zk11vI-7czE

            If you are artistic use your brains and refuse the propaganda,

            Get help, – YEA it’s called refusing the brainswashing and THINKING,

            (esp if you had the Wuflu back in February, when according to you it’s impossible).

        • You lost me at ‘FAKE EMERGENCY – “climate change”.’ Then I knew it wasn’t worth continuing to read. Get help.

          • The climate change scam is based in FAKE science.
            CO2 is not a deadly poison it is vital plant food.

            All attempts to predict the climate and even the weather have 100% failed. Remember the met office BBQ summer – a washout.

            They can’t even predict the weather next month yet they claim to predict the climate,- but can’t even notice the falling solar activity manifested by record lows of sunspot activity resembling Dalton’s minimum in front of their noses.

            Go learn some real science.
            To add context, the climate was a full 2C WARMER in the Roman period (they were growing wine grapes on the Scottish border).

            The climate was considerably warmer than today in the medieval warm period again by about 2C.
            Again wiped from the record by people like the lying MANN and his ilk.

            Margaret Thatcher warned us of them in her memoires, stating clearly it was a gigantic scam.

            There was no “mass extinction event” media hype, no Attenborough BBC propaganda and the Vikings farmed in Greenland because it WAS GREEN.
            Prehistoric times had CO2 levels up to 4x what they are today with no signs of the seas boiling away, which is why there are so many

            These are FACTS, not Harrabin and his BBC BS.

            Most of the natural changes in the earth’s climate are owing to variations in eccentricity, axial tilt, and precession resulted in cyclical variation in the solar radiation reaching the Earth, increased volcanism and other natural phenomena.

            Do you know the percentage of Co2 in the atmosphere?
            Go tell me…

            0.04%, yet St Greta who breathes the stuff out claims she can SEE IT.
            0.04% trace gas is totally incapable of heating up the climate, but without it all or even with HALF of it, we will all die of famine.

            Einstein was right.
            The only infinite thing you can be 100% sure of is human stupidity.

          • I did.
            Cancelling entire seasons of music is the most stupid and futile virtue signalling of any government..

            SWEDEN did NOT lockdown.
            Of the whole EU it’s likely only Germany and Scandinavia may recover.

            ALL governments throughout Europe knew perfectly well the main casualties of this insane strategy were always going to be:-

            SPORT. (especially contact sports with big crowds)

            TOURISM (especially involving trains, buses, planes)

            CULTURE. (audiovisual arts including music, theatre, cinema.)

            so:-
            SPORT,-
            If they had thought just ONCE (even thought at all) they would have realised shutting down the ski resorts in the 2nd week of March would immediately put 40 000 out of work with no backup.

            TOURISM,- it’s on its knees and the travel industry is bust.

            CULTURE,- will follow the same curve as tourism, multiple bankrupcies of organisations which were already in crisis.

            You want to be a member of the next orchestra closing?
            Join the dole queue, idem theatres, idem the film industry.

          • You are a real piece of work. This is a music forum. Take your trash somewhere where people might care. I feel sorry for you.

          • EXACTLY a music forum discusses what exactly.
            WORKING FOR YOUR LIVING.

            Getting paid to work as a musician depends on what?
            MONEY.

            Where does MONEY come from?
            The sky?

            Money come from creating wealth which musicians (apart from a few rare rock & pop stars) DO NOT DO.
            They spend vast amounts of it, sometimes with no useful value at all.

            If your stupid comment wants to be taken seriously, look at the connection between creating wealth & patronage-sponsorship of those money sinks = MUSIC.

            From Bach to Haydn was no different.

            Ie. NO WEALTH, NO BUSINESS, NO ECONOMIC ACTIVITY = NO MUSIC.
            Got it now?

            The government have more on their minds than paying a tiny minority to produce some vague luxury thing called culture.

            If the economy does not recover, then forget your career in music.
            Not gonna happen, END OF.

          • Finally something lively and angry here! All these old fogeys with their niceties, and then fortunately a bit of truth! I say this all the time but nobody listens. You must be a long-suffering woman like me, under the boot of patriarchal domination, it’s about time we blow up the place and get some air in. Classical music has been under the boot far too long!

            Sally

      • No, it crossed my radar at the end of February. Fascinating that it has got no comment or coverage anywhere – literally the emperor’s new clothes syndrome one suspects. I think the problem is that it would career suicide for anyone with any reputation to promote and will just be classed as sour grapes if embraced by unknowns. Would dearly love to know who wrote it.

        • The problem with that text is that in the reality of music life, there are so many exceptions. But that does not mean that the general trend the text exposes, is not true. But it has to be read carefully.

    • Young musician right here, recently got a job as solo cellist – I can’t help but agree with this well-written article – particularly on the aspect of conductors working on the true sound quality of an orchestra. I have seen too little real – REAL – work with my orchestra. This leads inevitably to frustration and boredom within the musicians (but leads to fantastic, compelling, thoughtful chamber music concerts, I must admit)

      Two exceptions however, we recently played with Michel Plasson for an opera – he really worked on the sound. Quite a horrendous caracter, but he got results ! Loved it.

      Same thing but sadly only for one concert, Michelangelo Mazza – young italian violonist/conductor – he also really worked on our sound. Still young, but i’m looking forward to seeing him rise high (very high I imagine!)

  • Finally all the conductors (99% of them) will have time to study Conducting technic , harmony, solfège and the important stuff for being a conductor. So not only the looks with beautiful curly hair.. not to talk about charisma!!! A thing you can’t really learn….
    so hopefully after this two years we will get to see again quality maestros and no puppets !!!

    • And some of them will hopefully find time to study scores and libretti, and practice their instruments. And play chamber music, hopefully also with musicians from orchestras they lead.

    • During a low season in the depression of 1928, Sir Thomas Beecham dedicated his free days to try-out different types of batons, ordering them from France and Germany, weighing them in his hand, exercising them in front of a life-size mirror, and in the end acquiring a collection of 234 batons of different sizes, with different hand grips, made of different wood and cork types (including one early-modern plastic one), and had them catalogued by his assistant. The collection is now in the V&A museum in London.

      • Do we know to what extent this elaborate exercise affected Beecham’s effectiveness as a conductor?

        • It can be assumed that his exercises before the mirror greatly enhanced his interpretative results. He was very popular, and not only because of his wits.

  • Once the virus is beaten or there is a vaccine there will be no problem. Audiences will come back, as will the musicians, with renewed enthusiasm.

    Unfortunately, until then there is a major problem for concert halls, orchestras (and conductors). Social distancing is not workable, audiences will be fearful and will not attend.

    • And a major problem for experienced orchestra administrators currently in between/without jobs who just get overlooked and forgotten when they start hiring.

      • I take your point but I was using “beaten” in the broad sense.

        That includes “under control” but also that viruses sometimes go dormant or disappear (e.g. SARS and several others through the ages).

  • I’m letting the phrase “evidence from western governments” run through my head. It’s a bit of a semantical impossibility. Governments do not give evidence. They are evident. And – best case – communicate evidence. But usually they communicate guidance. That’s not evidence, far from it, a “noble lie” is what the governments believe is necessary to control the masses. I can’t blame them. It’s all a question of who is ultimately responsible for what.
    Certainly the current situation is one of lack of evidence. Science is not to blame for it, it’s just the nature of the beast.
    Intelligence is always, to adapt to new realities and evidence, as soon as they become evident, though. We always can improve in that department.

    • Pathetically callous and dimwitted to boot….you fail to realise that the longer Covid-19 stays, the lower the demand for air travel, the lower the need for pilots, the lower the likelihood of Harding working as a pilot, the higher your chance of seeing more of him conducting.

  • I respectfully disagree with your sentence: “But the performances themselves were flaccid, dispiriting and ultimately unnecessary.”
    I heard just the BelinPhil and they were a source of inspiration, a group of people who does not depend on the circumstances but going for the music and not for perfection.
    I thought about the conductors, and it was also a good example, that competent people can make music like collagues, times for Barenboim and other old school machos are over. No need to be a poser anymore, good and honest music is the new era.

    • Unfortunately the times of Barenboim and “old school” conductors are over! The “new school” of conductors (if you can call them even a conductor..) has nothing to do with conducting! Sad days..

      • The new conductor of the Israel philharmonic.plays piano concertos
        With the orchestra. He seems a nice guy and he does not wear the
        Penguin suit. And he is young.. he also has respect for his other orchestra
        The Rotterdam philharmonic . Let us hope conductors of the future will
        Be like him

  • I had a very different take, at least from the Berlin show. Yes, it’s certainly better to have an audience and this is just – hopefully – a stopgap, not a future business model. But full credit to the BPO to try to make something work in this situation. The players want to play, their leader wants to do something. And I have no idea what you mean by “flaccid.” I love watching the Berlin Phil not only because they’re a great orchestra, but their programming and staging instincts are usually exactly right; you’re not going to look back on their concert films in 10-20 years and ask “what were they thinking?”

    People still want to hear live music being made; they had musicians, a conductor, a hall, cameras, and internet access. Yes, it’s weird to finish a piece, no applause, etc.. But I thought they did great. Hope to see more.

  • Norman, you provide such valuable services to the art. If you’re depressed, join the world, but please don’t take it out on your readers. The concerts were not “flaccid and dispiriting and unnecessary.” Where are your ears? They were full of vitality and the sheer joy of playing again. Berlin’s chamber version Mahler 4 was a revelation. I am (or was) a full time orchestra player now out of work indefinitely. HOW DARE YOU call any concert unnecessary? The exact opposite – these orchestras – and their conductors! – are showing us the first steps of the way back. Norman, with your deep experience and love for the art, I’m astonished that you can’t see this.

  • This is the end of the jet setting conductor (or opera singer, soloist, etc)

    1) Countries have 14 day self-quarantine rules for people entering/returning to their territory, can you imagine the scheduling nightmare?
    2) Conductors themselves wouldn’t want to risk infection from travelling
    3) Orchestras don’t want the risk of infection from travelling conductors

    • 1/ “Countries have 14 day self-quarantine rules for people entering/returning to their territory,”
      RUBBISH! read what is happening in SCHENGEN.
      There is NO control even entering LHR right now.

      It has been decided, coming from the UK or into another schengen country will NOT result in obligatory quarantine. READ about it, cut out the speculation.

      2/ Conductors themselves wouldn’t want to risk infection from travelling.
      More rubbish. What risk? Prove there is a risk, not speculate.

      3/ Orchestras don’t want the risk of infection from travelling conductors.

      WHAT RISK?
      WHO SAYS?
      You do? Are you a doctor?

      Cut out the speculation and panic, it’s getting beyond paranoid.

      • It is well-known, already for a very long time, in the music world, that conductors can be quite infective.

      • Calm down. Lots of countries are thinking about quarantining travellers. And being confined on an aeroplane does mean everyone on the plane sharing their germs. It will take a while for people to get comfortable again with travelling.

    • No, but if you do those 3 things you describe without music, life is really not a lot of fun.

      Even in the middle of the “little ice age” making Amati violins, freezing on the frozen Thames markets, marching people into gulags, sieging Leningrad, or even in Auschwitz the state put on a good show for them.

      • Correct life without music is hard. Thank goodness we have the mp3
        I was 5 months in hospital that kept me alive. The best occupational
        Therapy was returning home and listening to my cd collection.

    • Music is addictive I would rather stay at home listening to my hi fi
      Than a holiday in the sun.
      Don’t tell my good lady.
      I had a friend who flew to Chicago to buy records for a few days
      He was not interested in sightseeing or swimming in the hotel pool
      Us music fanatics are different from other people.

      • Haha, yes — my fondest memory of visiting a friend in New York as a student was when he took me to Tower Records in Greenwich Village. Tower isn’t around anymore, and neither is the friend, but I still treasure that memory.

        • Tower was a good company I used to go to the Piccadilly store in London
          I would spend hours there and money. Classical music. Jazz. Rock .
          I was really upset when they closed down .
          Good old days

        • I used to shop at tower records in London. I spent a good few hours
          Every week and a lot of money. What a stock they had. Classical.
          Jazz. Rock. I was devastated when they closed down.
          That is life

    • But that is not true. Darwin already demonstrated the crucial role music plays in survival, reproduction and raising offspring, beginning with the birds and ending with the human being. And nowadays, even the dinosaurs are supposed to have made sounds necessary for these three requirements. The bonono apes in central Africa organise their social mating rituals with choral sing-alongs.

    • I was hit by a mad driver at a crossing 5 months in hospital inc intensive care
      I have ptsd and have psychotherapy my therapist said music is therapeutic
      It has helped me not just classic music jazz also.

    • Very unlikely because our country was sensible enough NOT to follow the stupid confinement policy of most of the others and already has erased the virus altogether.

      Some of us may well be immune?

      Speak for yourself not for others you don’t know about.

      • Eliminating the virus in a single country is pointless: the virus is out in the world and not going away. You will either have to ban people entering your country; or accept that the virus will re-enter your country and start spreading again.

        Only those places in which there is widespread immunity will be able to return to some kind of normality. That will only happen when a large proportion of the population has been infected, or there is a vaccine.

  • I do think it is proper to ask whether small groups, chamber orchestras really need a conductor. The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra doesn’t have one and it is a great group; same is true for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and many other groups.

  • As for the Berlin performance I have to admit to a profound sense of disappointment. I happen to know the Erwin Stein 1921 arrangement of the Mahler Fourth Symphony very well, as I actually made the first commissioned reconstruction of it from the sketch material — in the early 1990s, when I was a grad student at Cambridge, for Dr. Stein’s daughter, Marion Thorpe, and the Britten Estate; published by Josef Weinberger, it went on to enjoy several fine commercial recordings (Trevor Pinnock, etc.). The “chamber version” of Mahler 4 is a work of real intimacy and charm, bringing to the fore the chamber-music qualities of the original to the point where it is now fully a repertoire-piece in its own right. The problem here was not at all the setting, the circumstances, nor the musicians involved, but rather the utterly nondescript stick-waving of the conductor in question. If this is the level of talent that secures one the storied podium of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, then the profession of conducting, which has never in history had more aspirants, is in a Bronze Age indeed. I can only think of how many other European musicians, both young and old, would have made a better job of this unique experience, at a time when we needed it most.

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