Day two at the RCICW, and a magical day at that.
If day one was a day of intriguing disappointments, where conductors tip-toed up to doing something great only to not quite make it, day two was a day of wonderful surprises.
We began the day with a unison conducting class. We had all the conductors stand in a circle. Each conductor used their left arm to hold the right elbow of the conductor next to them. Isolating the elbow focuses everyone’s motion into a limited number of joints, and the physical connection helps everyone to feel each others physical sense of pulse. Together, we all went through singing the bass part and melody of some of the nastier bits of L’histoire du Soldat. It was fascinating and hopefully helped everyone feel more connected and collaborative.
Next was a score study class led by David Hoose. It was truly inspirational for everyone with ears to hear. After talking in broad terms about his philosophy, we looked in some detail at the first movement of Haydn 92. Interestingly, David spoke about it for 90 minutes without even getting to pedestrian questions of “in three” or “in six.” Even more interesting, in his 90 minutes he didn’t bring up any of the points I made in my recent essays on the piece or in my rehearsals for the LCO performance of it in June.
Conducting is always likely to be a somewhat disappointing activity (except when your colleagues carry you upward to the impossible and inexplicable)- you never get quite what you hope for, there’s never enough time, and you’re never quite able to perhaps take the work on the piece into as much depth as you’d like. Studying, on the other hand, works best when you take away all the limitations and pressures- there are no limits on what you can put into it or the rewards you get back from it. Forget making decisions, and forget timelines. Don’t worry about “in three,” or how to cue the violins. Just learn the music. Live with the music
A few good points from David’s session1- Always sit on your hands when you study. Don’t let your evolving aural picture of the work be hamstrung by physicality.
2- Treat listening to recordings as a separate activity from learning and studying music
3- Study is observation
4- Analysis only looks forward in time- don’t assume knowledge of events in the score the audience hasn’t heard so far. Try to understand the rhetoric of the music in terms of what they’ve heard and the expectations that have been developed so far.
We’d been a bit nervous about the Varese Octandre- it’s very difficult for players and conductors, but it went very well, and some of the students really seemed to be in their element with it. It’s such forceful, energized music- the notes themselves seem to move with a sort of hyper-intense vibrancy. Bracing harmonies, wonderfully backward and static rhythms and hyper-bold colors. Fantastic.
Finally, our first chance to see students in the junior program (Discovery) conduct- in their case, the same Haydn 92 David spoke so poetically about this morning. It is the most glorious music- you could sense the joy and wonder of the instrumentalists as they worked on it tirelessly for hours. Also, there were many wonderful surprises in the communicativity and creativity of the conductors tonight- even a few moments of genuine magic. I think there were a couple of moments tonight none of us will miss when a sort of infectious joy in communicating the wonder of the music really took flight. How nice to be reminded of the all-conquering power of the human smile.
The sort of day that makes you remember why you’re a musician, why you study and what conducting really is.