Conductor goes berserk, but the strings ain’t watching

Conductor goes berserk, but the strings ain’t watching


norman lebrecht

February 09, 2021

Check this video from 14:45.

Yuri Simonov pulls out every maestro trick in his locker and not one of the Hungarian strings looks up.

A lesson to us all.



  • EdBeck says:

    Well, they know how it goes.

  • The Ghost of Karlos Cleiber says:

    That has to be generally some of the messiest, splashiest conducting I’ve seen – and for absolutely no effect. The ending is ridiculous. To be fair the bit around 14.45 does actually involve a reasonably clear beat so I suspect the strings can see what they need without having to raise their eyes.

  • Rogerio says:

    Maestros rank high on the list of most overpaid human beings.

  • Gustavo says:

    Kristjan Järvi

  • Herbert von Kampervan says:

    To take such an angle on a performance which was clearly electrifying for all present is bizarre and if you think this is every trick of such a great master you are sadly misinformed. This is a man of extraordinary capability who has made an incredible career from great talent, incredible insight, a superhuman capacity for sheer hard work and astonishing generosity of spirit, desiring to share the joys of music as widely as possible. Thank goodness he has been able to do in a country where is has been possible without the need for syncophatic reviews from people with no real understanding. That has meant that over his long career, countless people all around the world have been able experience concerts as profoundly moving experiences as opposed to the dull misery which is nowadays presented as art on most of the once great stages of the world.

    • V.Lind says:

      I find his conducting style a little theatrical, shall we say, but having started where recommended, I saw one violinist looking at him attentively before shouldering her instrument, and the others appeared to be using peripheral vision. But his focus at this point in the score, naturally enough, was on the brass and the timpani, and we could not see their responses.

      Sounded okay, given that it was, after all, the 1812. To quote Niles Crane, “Was I ever that young?” But I’m not that cynical. I find it a jolly listen occasionally, and will watch the rest of this later.

  • Sasha says:

    Great stuff from maestro Simonov! He knows what the orchestra needs, and he also knows what the audience likes. The musicians have the music before them, they don’t need to stare at the conductor. The conductors who demand it probably never heard of peripheral vision…

  • Jean says:

    Now, think what you may, but one thing is certain: here is a man who truly enjoys the job he is being paid for.

    I like the parts where he stabs with the baton (I hope the baton he uses is not too sharp…)

    • Peteresq says:

      Sharon Stone could of taken lessons from him in Basic Instinct. Also makes Lenny look like Shirley Temple

      • BruceB says:

        “Also makes Lenny look like Shirley Temple”

        I don’t know if I’d go that far. The best imitation of Lenny I ever saw was barely an exaggeration:

        • Spread feet wide & do a pelvic thrust, upper body leaning backward as far as you can manage to maintain that position. (If the piece is by Mahler this could take a while, so pace yourself.)
        • Start with baton in right hand at crotch position, pointing straight ahead (or up a little, depending on your imagination).
        • Bring baton up slowly with great intensity, but not too far; with an increasingly agonized pre-orgasmic expression on your face, return baton to starting position and repeat the movement as many times as necessary, adjusting speed as needed for maximum effect.
        • Meanwhile, left arm should be extended at shoulder level, palm up, with left hand performing a “gradually crushing an imaginary grapefruit” movement.

        Repeat as many times as necessary until climax is complete. (Again: if the piece is by Mahler this could take a while, so pace yourself.)

        Last but not least: for greatest effect, perform in front of at least 100 orchestra musicians, 1,500 audience members, and not fewer than 5 television cameras.

  • J Barcelo says:

    Most musicians use peripheral vision and while it may appear they aren’t looking at the conductor, they see all they need. Plus they use their ears and listen to the whole ensemble. Simonov hamming it up to the audience – and it worked; he got the Bravo and vigorous applause he wanted.

    • BruceB says:

      “Most musicians use peripheral vision and while it may appear they aren’t looking at the conductor, they see all they need. Plus they use their ears and listen to the whole ensemble.”


      30 years’ experience here. I learned in my first few weeks on the job that I must use my peripheral vision to follow a conductor; if I look too closely, the beat pattern dissolves into vague “waving around at all this noise” gestures that look like they’re drawing infinity symbols. It’s like standing too close to a pointillist painting. No conductor has ever complained, as far as I know. (I have a trick where I can look directly at them over the top of my glasses, so it looks like I’m making eye contact; but my unaided vision is very bad, so I can’t be sure the conductor is even looking at me — which is fine.)

      To illustrate what I’m talking about: I was at dinner with a bunch of friends from the orchestra several years ago, and the conversation turned to the funny faces the conductor-at-the-time made during concerts that he didn’t make in rehearsals. I didn’t know what they were talking about. “But you’re always right with him, following everything he does,” came the response. Well, glad to hear it; but it’s only peripheral vision. That conductor was with us a good 5 more years; I never did see know what they were talking about.

      (Another time — different music director — he threw his baton in the middle of a performance. From what I heard afterward, it landed somewhere in that demilitarized zone between the trombones and the violas. I didn’t notice until the end of the piece, when I looked up — at last — for the final fermata, and thought: “wasn’t he using a baton before? Oh well, whatever.”)

  • Christopher Clift says:

    I worked with Yuri Simonov back in the 1980s playing a week’s performances of Aida in the (then) National Indoor Arena in Birmingham. He knew the score intimately, was great to work for, and (if memory serves, bearing in mind it was a freelance orchestra) never lost it with us being unaccustomed to playing as an ensemble.
    Added to the ‘pick-up’ orchestra we had a multi-choice group of soloists, each of whom had their own ‘foibles’ which Simonov dealt with sympathetically but in a musically justifiable way. All in all it was a great week, enjoyed by very large audiences and cast alike.

  • Christopher Clift says:

    And as Sacha and J Barcelo both observe, experienced musicians NEVER stare at the conductor, but invariably use their peripheral vision (and their ears) for keeping their place in the music.

    • Violinist says:

      Actually, we do look up, but not because we need help from the conductor. In my long career, I stared down many a so-called maestro. I did it for one of two reasons: to intimidate the conductor or to stroke his ego.

      • Roboeman says:

        You certainly wouldn’t have got any help here.

      • BruceB says:

        If staring at a conductor accomplishes either purpose, then s/he’s not really a conductor yet. (On the other hand, it can perform a useful educational service for said conductor, namely that some orchestral musicians are just “that way” and you can’t let it get to you.)

        • Violinist says:

          On the contrary, BruceB. The people to which I referred are or were considered real conductors. Major ones like Jansons and Muti. And I was never just “that way” unless the conductor started it by trying to glare at the back of a section, as if it were comprised purely of riff-raff, even though the section rotated seating every week.

      • Don Pasquale says:

        After a bizarre stick waggling exercise by one guest conductor I turned to my 3d horn colleague and said “what was all that about?” “ Don’t know “ he replied “ I wasn’t looking’.

        • BruceB says:

          Reminds me of an old joke:

          The conductor has a sudden heart attack backstage right as the concert is about to start. A back-bench second violinist is pulled offstage and told he’s going to conduct the concert. He does so, and miraculously it’s a great success. He ends up conducting the whole week of concerts, to great acclaim.

          The following week he comes back to his old chair. His stand partner asks, “Where were you last week?”

  • Larry W says:

    Best not to look at a conductor. It only encourages them.

  • sam says:

    I was struck by how often he had to keep checking his score. It’s the 1812, there are no surprises.

  • Rob says:

    Going in for the kill. Apparently this is how Tchaikovsky might have died.

  • Roboeman says:

    What an unholy mess he is. I’m not surprised that the band aren’t watching, I certainly wouldn’t bother as the man is a charlatan and is being of no use to the players at all.

    • Herbert von Kampervan says:

      Calling Yuri Simonov a charlatan is akin to suggesting that Einstein was a moron.You may not like his conducting but to dismiss his extraordinary knowledge and manual virtuosity in such a way merely shows you to be a fool. And better to be a charlatan than a fool.

  • Kman says:

    Still not as bad as this (Mahler winner)…

  • Couperin says:

    A lesson to us all. Don’t always look to the leader for real leadership. Kinda like Trump’s followers: a majority of the Capitol insurgents were nothing more than uneducated, underemployed losers with tax liens, debt, and looming foreclosures. But hey, that would all change once Trump won, right? Right??

  • Marfisa says:

    For theatrical conducting, baroque style:
    (Pieter Jan Leusink, and fine singing from Syste Buwalda – and yes, twosetviolin led me here).

  • sabrinensis says:

    Simonov has a claim but no one can top this.

    • BruceB says:

      That reminds me: we haven’t seen that Alondra de la Perra clip in some time. Hmmm. I don’t remember who kept posting it, but I hope they are OK.

  • Edward Murphy says:

    Dog’s Breakfast.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Are the orchestra and hall identied anywhere?

  • Andrew Condon says:

    I don’t think the principal 2nd violin was that impressed: just after the very end he seems to turn to his partner shaking his head and then perhaps looks at his watch! When Simonov gestures his thanks towards the seconds he doesn’t seem to budge an inch. Loved the bit at 15.34.

  • JussiB says:

    as any conductor will tell you, real work is done during rehearsals, in the actual performance it’s all for show! the players really don’t need to look at the conductor.

  • Jim says:

    I wonder what the first trumpet player would have done if he hadn’t pointed the right direction to go at 14:55?

  • Craig Hawkins says:

    I saw nothing to say the strings (or any section for the at matter) were ever not with him. The “ice pick” conducting technique was a bit bizarre but I’ve performed under much worse conductors with much less legible beats.

  • henry williams says:

    lucky for him if he is near 80 and can jump around.
    iam younger than him and it takes me 20 minutes to put
    my shoes on.

  • Phil says:

    That conductors rostrum rail looks in need of a cost of paint.

  • Don Pasquale says:

    It is a lot of fun though AND he brings the orchestra up before his bow. They band seem to like him as well.

    • Violinist says:

      A conductor will always bring the orchestra up before “his” bow, or at least they’re supposed to follow that tradition. After all, most conductors realize they can’t do anything without those who make the sound.

  • Matt C. says:

    This conductor should be watched only when absolutely necessary. Listen to the orchestra around you and ignore the emoting stick which doesn’t show the beat.

  • JussiB says:

    More berzerky conductors. Enjoy!

    Sinopoli: (jump to 2:30)

  • David K. Nelson says:

    As Yogi Berra once said, “you can observe a lot just by watching.”
    And you can watch a lot without even moving your head so I don’t conclude from this vid that the strings are not watching.
    Not looking up, yes, but I am sure they saw what matters.