RCICW day 4

The last day of this year’s workshop.
On paper, it looks like the most laid-back schedule of the week- we start a little later, have only one teaching session and the concert. It wasn’t unreasonable of me to think that this would be the one day I could get a few things done….
Of course, that is forgetting all the private consultation time, answering last minute questions on breaks, and dealing with performance logistic issues all day. Now 2:02 AM, post-workshop, and the day has come and gone like a hurricane. Hardly a second’s rest.
Last things first- the concert. Frankly, I’m somewhat ambivalent about the concert. We included it in the curriculum in year one because we were keenly aware that we needed to make the workshop sufficiently attractive to enough applicants that it would be a viable project. There are any number of conductors who will come to a workshop just for the chance to get some video footage of themselves. They may not be approaching the workshop with the most positive attitude, but at least they help make possible the infrastructure that allows those who are truly coming to learn the chance to do so.
Two years in, and I’m sure I have yet to see a single student who’s come for any reason but to learn. I don’t know if doing a concert helps recruit students (we know it was not a prime factor for last year’s students),  but it does add an aspect of culmination to the weekend, in ways both good and bad. A long evening of difficult music that hasn’t been rehearsed being directed by student conductors who haven’t actually conducted the entire piece before may sound like a recipe for disaster.
In fact, we did have the odd disaster, and, fair enough, that might have been predictable. Concerts should be rehearsed. Music is important, and we ought to always allow for the pieces we love to be heard in a sympathetic environment. Nevertheless, the concert gives each conductor a chance to test themselves in the music we’ve worked on, and it adds a level of gravitas to the project. Even with a tiny audience, it’s a different kind of pressure.
Fortunately, I think there were more than enough fantastic moments to justify the risks and wrecks. More on those later. Now, at 2:30 AM, having said goodbye to students, orchestra musicians and colleagues, I’m callin’ it a day. We’ve survived two years, and, though I’m kind of heartbroken to be done for this summer, it feels like the RCICW has turned the corner that will let it really endure.

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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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2 comments on “RCICW day 4”

  1. David

    As a newbie to the RCICW, I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve done similar workshops before, though in my youth I was either unwilling to lay myself bare before the scrutinizing eyes of several teachers and the sometimes even more critical eyes of very eager young conductors, or those days were so long ago that these kinds of experiences weren’t readily available.

    The closest scene I could compare it to was my summer at Tanglewood as a conducting fellow. There were four of us and probably fifteen or more seminar students, the ones who weren’t likely to get to conduct the TMC orchestra and who were probably ticked off at those of us who did. Not just envious, though. “I could do that better. How in the world did HE get to be a fellow,” was in the air. The commeradery seemed a bit forced, and more a product of the need to stick together in adversity than of eagerness for someone else to thrive, to rise to the top, to really make the music sail.

    So, the focus, in that scene, was considerably over-focused on Conducting, and rather less on the one thing that should be the only motivation we take on this crazed activity: Music.

    By contrast, the RCICW was remarkably stress free, at least of that kind of stress. Conductors from various places in their lives, from people studying conducting at universities and colleges, to people with conducting jobs, to people with positions conducting junior high wind ensembles. They not only seemed to get along, but also really supported each other, desiring nothing but the best from their colleagues. Competition was refreshingly absent. Or very well hidden. As Ken wrote, they came to learn.

    I think I was most moved by those who were coming from positions in which conducting skills may appear to play less of a role than they might want–people leading young students, unauditioned community orchestras, and so forth. These conductors came to build and renew the very skills that can be compromised by less than ideal musical situations. In some yet unseen way, to expand their horizons. And, as Ken has also written somewhere else, doing that requires bravery.

    And trust. Trust in yourself, in your colleagues, in the program and in the teachers. The RCICW may have completed only two summers, but–largely thanks to Ken’s quiet wisdom and clear vision–it seems to get it all right.

    Concerns? That young conductors can seem more interested in conducting than in music. Of course, workshops like this can bring that distortion to the fore, since technical waving issues are the things you have to deal with, and contemplating–in a group– the significance of the C major outburst in the first movement of the Eroica either can be stultifying or create fights in the aisles. But that is the important issue. Not how can you show something, but why should you show whatever it is you’re going to show.

    Though such seminars are not generally conducive to that reflective exploration, I did yearn for the conductors to let go of that hyper-awareness of Rattle’s performance of Mahler 5th, or dump that obsession with how Temirkanov moves. I ache for them to be hysterically fascinated by how music moves, works, to feel the energy in the language of music.

    After the last session on Beethoven 3 (I’m with Ken on the frustrations of coaching music about which you have really strong opinions), there was an informal hour-long discussion session with everybody. No preordained topics. When I joined everyone toward the end, having had to miss the first part, I was a bit sad to hear the conversation centering entirely upon career–how to get a job, an agent, that new opportunity. Who could be surprised, though? So many conductors, so few positions, and the path to them mysterious and sometimes less related to musical strengths than we’d imagine.

    But, how about score study, analysis as it pertains to performance, string techniquest, managing disparate musical levels in community orchestras, rehearsing a chorus (if that’s not in one’s skill set), or performance practice issues? The list is endless, and it’s possible that some of those kinds of things were talked about before I came in. But, as one student who is clearly bringing important things to young instrumentalists said to me at the post-concert dinner, “I didn’t even know you could have a manager!” She went on to say that she would have liked to have talked about how various conductors, students and faculty alike, mark their scores.

    The assumption that the path to bringing music into people’s hearts lies with climbing the ladder (if you can find it) leaves a lot of people out. A lot of music, too.

    Enough of that little soap box. I hereby proclaim that Ken and Chris could not have been better colleagues. Though I came to the workshop not knowing Ken’s music making at all, and Chris’s not all that well–even though I prize him as a close friend–watching them teach told me a lot about how seriously connected and committed they are to making music at the highest level possible, whether it’s with the BBC Wales orchestra or with the Elyria Junior High School Orchestra. Those are people we all benefit from being around. I was a very lucky student this week.

    Thanks to all!

    David Hoose

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

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