Conductors, teachers and students, come to learn

Tomorrow morning begins the Rose City International Conductor’s Workshop. This is our third year, and I’ve been so busy dealing with the day-to-day administration of the program and putting out various fires that the actual workshop seems to have snuck up on me a bit. It only occurred to me the day before yesterday that now was the time to be looking forward to the workshop, as opposed to dealing with the latest logistical headache.

Therefore, I just want to take a minute to focus on what I love about the workshop and what I’m looking forward to, as opposed to the many problems we have to solve and the countless challenges we have to face.

I remember when I was a student at Aspen that the orchestra we all worked with and in told an important tale. The conductor’s orchestra was made up of about 90% conductors with the rest of the players on some kind of fellowship support. What was interesting was that there was often, but not always, quite a fall off in that 10% of non-conductor instrumentalists. Conductor’s take a lot of shit because we wave sticks in the air for a living, but most conducting students are sophisticated and accomplished performers long before they try to stand up and conduct. The fact that many can seem to play Brahms’ Violin Concerto without being able to conduct a stead 3 pattern with an orchestra playing should tell us that it’s not actually as easy as it looks to conduct.

So, I’m looking forward to a busy week of working with a group of brilliant and accomplished musical persons. We’ve got students who are stellar instrumentalists, composers, musicologists and vocalists, all of whom are coming to us having studied with other distinguished teachers. I’ve seen some great DVDs and read some awe-inspiring recommendation letters, and am really excited to meet the people behind the resumes.

Still, one of the best things about this workshop is that we all get to be humbled in the end. All of us will come away with insights into how we might have studied better or moved more helpfully. All of us will learn about all of the pieces.

I’m excited about the repertoire. Playing music is cool, but talking about it is also cool, and part of the fun of a workshop is that we the faculty and they the students get to dialogue about the music we’re working on. Conducting is a lonely life, and we often have to accept that a rehearsal is, sadly, not the time to try to explain to an orchestra what you believe about Beethoven 7. A workshop is a place not only to absorb ideas but to share them, in and out of the teaching sessions.

Tomorrow starts with discussions about posture and string bowing followed by masterclasses on Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale the Shostakovich First Piano Concerto, culminating in a welcome party. Shosty and Strav were very different men whose musical lives took them on very different journeys. These two pieces might be, in some ways, as close as they ever got to each other. Both are full of irony and references to vernacular music. Mixed meters, tracking a soloist (or two), sorting out technical challenges for the players….. should be a busy day.

c. 2007 Kenneth Woods

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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

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3 comments on “Conductors, teachers and students, come to learn”

  1. Reid

    “Somewhere, twixt Rock, Hill, and Road.” When we were in college, a group of us went on a trip to Bjorklunden in Door County to a cabin where we watched the ring over a weekend whilst the paraplegic schenkerian theory/comp professor shouted out leitmotivs and things like, “the Sword, Wotan, the Sword!”

    I was way to straight for that bender.

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

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