RCICW day 1

Very intense, but exciting, first day of the RCICW.
For those of you who aren’t conductors, here is basically how most workshops like this work….
The main challenge for any young conductor is finding an instrument (orchestra) to practice on. In order to provide an orchestra for the student conductors, we have work on a very tight time table, so in each 2 ½  hour service we have 10 conductors who actually get up for fourteen minutes each. In the best of all possible worlds, a student would use the first 5 or so minutes of their time to read through a good chunk of whatever piece we’re working on, then the three clinicians will coach them for the remaining 9 minutes or so. Sometimes, if the piece has a particularly gnarly technical problem for the conductor, we may take 10 minutes to coach them through the first 3 bars and then let them read once the critical issue is resolved.
For all of the teachers, I think the time pressures are as quite intense as they are for the students. Of course, conductors are always agonizingly aware of time pressure- we never feel that we have enough rehearsal time for our own concerts. Having to share these tiny bits of teaching time amongst the three of us is even trickier. We have to strike a balance between getting our points in and letting the student conduct enough, and we also have to take care that we don’t completely overwhelm them.
When one is conducting, it sometimes feels like nobody is actually paying much attention to you (how often does one hear conductors admonishing the orchestra to “watch!”). This can lull you into forgetting just how on show you are up there. They may not be watching your conducting (especially if they’re sight-readying) but you can bet they are watching you! When today, as a teacher, I saw 20 conductors, almost all of whom I’m seeing for the first time, in such a short time frame, it really, really hit home to me just how much of you comes through so clearly in such a short time. The moment a conductor steps before the ensemble it’s as if they’ve been put on a 50 foot movie screen and plugged into a PA system. Their personalities, body language, demeanor, quirks, gifts and weaknesses are instantly and powerfully on show. In this environment it’s a lot for the players and the teachers to take in- you’re not just evaluating their conducting, you are getting to know a great deal about a human being in a very short time.
Other highlights of the day- a very good pastrami sandwich at Bridgeport brewery (a pleasure denied to me in Wales!), listening to David and Chris talk about music, seeing friends in the orchestra, reconnecting with the alumni from last year who are back, and getting to hear some of the wonderful touches in the Stravinsky Octet in fascinating detail. What he can do orchestrating an E major chord! Other big dramatic moment of the day was firing a pianist! If only it was always that easy every time a group needed to part company from an individual who’s unable to show their interest in music through preparation….
By the way, here’s a shout out to Mary Rowell, who’s put together a great band this week, organized all the music and is leading the orchestra- hey Mary!

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

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1 comment on “RCICW day 1”

  1. Pingback: Kenneth Woods- a view from the podium » Rose City International Conductor’s Workshop- digest of journal entries

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