Glenn Gould hires a conductor – and rehearses himself

Glenn Gould hires a conductor – and rehearses himself

Daily Comfort Zone

norman lebrecht

December 31, 2021

The last of Daniel Poulin’s fascinating contributions for 2021.

More, we hope, next year.

Daniel writes:

In great secrecy Gould and the Hamilton Philarmonic met to run through Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto. A young Juillard student, Jon Klibonoff was hired by Gould to stand for himself. Gould took a slow tempo for the first movement and even a much slower one for the second movement, always a favourite of his “the magnificent, glowing Adagio” he would often say. He told the orchestra he wanted… “to treat it almost like a Wesleyan hymn” and to conduct it not with three slow beats to the bar, but with twelve moderate beats. The experience was not successful; Gould lacked the technique to convey his idiosyncratic intentions clearly and to maintain ensemble and continuity. Finally, Gould was not happy with the session.


UPDATE from Mark Childs:
I was principal viola for these sessions with the Hamilton Philharmonic.

The problem with the second movement was that Glenn was subdividing the quarter notes into THREE beats, effectively making it 9/8 time rather than 3/4 time. This was causing great confusion in the orchestra, where most of the subdivisions were 16th or 32nd notes.

At a pause in the rehearsal I approached him to advise him of this. It didn’t seem to help.

You can hear Mark at 6:45 trying to reason with Gould.


  • Harold Clarkson says:

    This is amazing.. and its Mendelssohn not Beethoven. I was on this session in the Cello section, someone must have secretly recorded it. I remember that Glenn was extremely kind to everyone, and of course came in his coat and gloves even though it was sunny and about 27 degrees! The idea was that he would get us to play at his very difficult tempi with Jon playing and then he would cut himself in playing the solo part himself. It was very difficult to understand what he wanted but it was an amazing day. The recording is only a small part of the session of course.

    • Kenny says:

      I believe you mean 27C, that is 80F? Story makes better sense that way.

    • Alphonse says:

      Is it true- as I’ve read- that Gould (uncharacteristically) shook each player’s hand at the conclusion of the session? If so, was it a firm shake? Perhaps at this point in his life he had finally shed that particular neurosis- not entirely surprising given that, had he lived, his plan was to retire from playing altogether and dedicate himself to conducting.

  • E says:

    Thanks for this, and for the earlier posts as well. They really brightened the year!

  • Titurel says:

    “Gould was not happy with the session.” This is what happens when a non-conductor thinks s/he can conduct. Love to hear from folks who were playing this rehearsal. THEY were probably not happy with the session either.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    This must have been an interesting but frustrating experience for Jon Klibonoff, who as gone on to have a very nice career, including recordings with the excellent violinist Maria Bachmann. It would be instructive to learn what he has to say about this experiment.

    • Herb says:

      That would indeed be interesting. Perhaps he reads SD? I am willing to bet that he was sitting there feeling just a little bit awed, and very lucky to be making a few moments of music with such a legend and seeing him in the flesh.

  • Jason says:

    It’s a good thing Gould didn’t become a conductor.

    • Larry Toman says:

      Hi Jason. He actually did, albeit for a very brief time. He was embarking on a career as a conductor (1982) when he conducted and recorded Seigfried Idyll for 13 solo players, in its original version. I was his Principal Violist on that recording. 3 more pieces were already lined up for later, but it wasn’t meant to be, I guess, as Glenn passed a few months later.

  • jansumi says:

    What fun! And how lovely to hear from people who were there. Even frustrating it must’ve been fascinating & what a great reminiscence. Treasures..

  • River says:

    In those days, I’m pretty sure musicians were familiar with Gould’s highly individualistic interpretations. It’s strange to me that anyone would sign on to work with him if they thought it would be anything remotely conventional. I would have loved to have had the opportunity to be exposed to how a mind like that works.
    As far as the handshaking goes: 1) his reluctance to be touched has become more exaggerated as time goes on, and 2) it is perfectly reasonable for a pianist to fear overly-exuberant, bone-crushing handshakes.

  • Hazel says:

    My sons middle school orchestra treating their teacher/conductor with more respect than this group is showing. Completely unprofessional. I am embarrassed for them. Thank goodness Gould tried conducting again with a different group.