There’s a fascinating, kind and thoughtful comment from David Hoose on my last post- thanks David. It’s nice to hear kind words from someone I respect and like so much. Be sure to read it (you can skip the eulogistically nice things he says about me and Chris, and think extra hard about what he says about music).

 After reading his post, I wanted to follow up on his point about finding the right balance between musical discussion and technical discussion for conductors. I have to say that most of our students, if not all, were able to cheerfully listen to any musical suggestions or observations we made during the workshop. I never felt any resistance on that front, but, like David, I would have been really happy if a few more questions in the final discussion session were focused on study and analysis.

A musician’s relationship to music is a very  deeply personal thing. We each come to the life of the performer because of how closely we identify with the music. When a teacher challenges the interpretive approach of a student (or the other way round), it can feel to the student as the though the teacher is trying to come between them and the music. I can think of many times in my study where I felt that when my teacher tried to get me to, say, omit an interpolated ritard at the end of a section, they were coming between me and the music, and that they were trying to take away something in the piece that had meaning to me.

 Now, looking back, I got plenty of advice from teachers over the years that I have happily disposed of, but more often than not, they had a point, and had they not had the courage to challenge my assumptiions, I would have ceased to grow as an artist. In fact, as you live with a piece like Beethoven 3 you understand that there is always a deeper level at which you can understand it. What the teacher takes away, Beethoven gives back, and as your intellectual understanding of the music becomes more sophisticated, your personal relationship to the work becomes ever closer and closer.

One can’t make music without technique- to say you should just focus on the music wouldn’t fly on the violin and it doesn’t fly on the podium. Nevertheless, in those few moments on the final concert when things when wrong, the causes were not really technical. If a student takes and unplayably fast tempo, or grinds a slow movement to a halt, its not simply a question of not having worked with a metronome enough. I firmly believe that if you have gone deeply enough into the music that you understand what it is saying, how it is constructed, what the composer is asking of the instruments, how the textures work and where the notes go, you almost can’t take the wrong tempo. The meaning is the the tempo and the tempo is in the meaning.

 Beethoven 3 slow movement played to slowly ceased to be a funeral march and becomes and elegy. Those are two different things. An elegy consoles, a funeral march mourns. An elegy marks the moment of release, and the consolation of rememberance and eternal transfiguration. A funeral march is the last few moments before we say goodbye for ever to those we love. Each of those moments is only infinitely precious if we know that they are finite.

Likewise, if you understand why the 2nd violins come in sooner the first fugal section of the Shostakovich 8th quartet, you’ll never forget to cue them (nobody did, by the way). It’s hard to memorize details, but easy to remember things with meaning and context

More soon.



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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.

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1 comment on “More RCICW”

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

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