Day one of the RCICW is complete. This year Betsy, one of the cellists in the orchestra, kindly and generously organized a welcome party where players, teachers and conducting students could get a chance to meet and socialize. It’s always a challenge to make a workshop like this feel inclusive and not competitive, and getting to know each other early should help to create more of an atmosphere of trust.
One of the great bonuses of this event for me is the time to talk with my colleagues and the soloists between rehearsals. Learning scores is such a lonely business, and it’s great to have a chance to talk about what we’ve learned and how we’ve learned it in the context of this repertoire and the repertoire that’s currently in our lives.
Mastering the art of accompanying is perhaps the most difficult part of a conductor’s work, so we’ve made concerto repertoire and opera a part of the workshop from day one. We’re very lucky this year that our piano soloist, Rick Rowley, is a real piano soloist, not just a pianist. He’s sufficiently in command of his own work that he can effortlessly adapt to the different conductors and the orchestra, which almost makes their lives too easy. In theory, it should be the conductor who is effortlessly able to adapt to anything the soloist wants to do. The Shostakovich 1st Pno Concerto has a lot of tricky corners to navigate, but I think tonight’s session bore out my theory, which is that creating the right sound world and phrase structure in the second movement is the most challenging thing in the piece. Everyone got close, but I’m not sure anyone’s quite made that opening happen- it’s not an easy mood to find or show.
We’ve included more time to chat this year, and tomorrow David will lead the first of several sessions about score study. It’s easy to blur the line between score study and practicing conducting- both are important, but it’s also important to engage in those activities in the right order. If you haven’t developed a real understanding of the piece, what is it you’d be practicing showing?
We’ve got a brilliant bunch of students this year, and everyone seems to be bringing a great attitude. Part of what a week like this shows us is just how big the mountain is. We all tend to look pretty small next to the music we conduct. I hope the students don’t ever get the feeling that the faculty are looking down on them this week- we’re frankly in awe of their courage and their passion and their readiness to learn. No, we don’t look down, we simply try to show them what we’re looking up at- to lift and widen the gaze. Our job is to get them to see the whole mountain, to look up and take in the whole challenge. Being a musician is not about reaching the summit, but revealing the summit. The big breakthroughs are all about coming over a rise and getting to see how far there is to go.