Back in bid’nis

Well, summer is officially over, as I am officially back in rehearsals beginning tomorrow.

It’s been some weeks since I’ve been on the podium- my last major concert was Bruckner 4 on June 30, and then the OES Camp Honors Orchestra in late July. I’ve not conducted in the month of August- hooray!

I’m glad to be getting back in there, as I’m a happier person when I’m conducting, and certainly a saner one. On the other hand, I could never have believed that the summer would go by so quickly.

I’m often asked by musicians what I do when I’m not rehearsing- it’s the sort of question you expect from audience members, but I get it all the time from players. The fact is, unless I make a point of going away and leaving scores and computers at home, I always have more to do than I could possibly get done.

One of my goals this summer was to get to know the Beethoven Piano Sonatas a bit better. I’ve played or conducted so much of Beethoven’s other major works- I’ve conducted almost all the major orchestral works except for Missa Solemnis, and played all the chamber music with cello that I know of, and even coached several of the violin and piano sonatas. On the other hand, I’ve only known the Piano Sonatas as a fan. I started out in June by putting all of Andras Schif’s wonderful lecture-recital series on my iPod (with apologies to A.C. Douglas- the iPod is a wonderful thing used wisely) and listening to them during my many long commutes. I’ve tried to then get to the piano to play through them as much as possible. I’m a lousy pianist, but one of the good things about being a human being is that you can, if you want, bang through Beethoven sonatas at the piano. A real pianist is a rare thing, but anyone can use a piano as a tool, and you don’t have to work around anyone’s schedule or budget. However, summer’s over and I’ve only achieved a tiny fraction of what I’d hoped for.

Nonetheless, for me, summer projects are a bit like New Year’s resolutions for normal people- a goal you kind of know you’ll never quite live up to. Next year’s summer project is to write an orchestra piece. Yikes….

The fact is, there’s always more to do in the summer than one remembers during the year. The conducting workshop involves tons of planning and administrative duties for  me, and I have to learn all the music well enough to hopefully stay ahead of my students. Then, in the late summer it’s time to really get ready for the coming year. I don’t bow every piece I conduct- it depends on the orchestra and the piece, but I do bow quite a few, and just in the last week I’ve mailed bowings to about ten pieces, which is a huge, huge amount of time-consuming work. (I’ve been meaning to do an entire blog post on bowings, as I think that’s exactly the sort of really exciting stuff Vftp readers are looking for). Along with that, people want blurbs to put on websites and in press releases, new bios, new photos and input on part assignments and auditions. Rehearsal schedules are being set, and that is very time consuming work, as you have to work through each piece in terms of difficulty and orchestration, then factor in problems with player availability, venues, soloists and even composers.

Oh yes, I also have to learn all the music I’m conducting this year….

Well, the clock’s run out, so now I can again get in front of 100 people and wave my arms about for a few months. Tomorrow starts rehearsals for what should be a fun program- Pictures at an Exhibition, Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, Kodaly’s Dances of Galanta and Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite. All fun and challenging stuff. I’d be curious to hear from readers what you think the best piece on that program is- obviously they’re all pretty great. Of course, nobody took the bait on my question about 10 pieces you should not smile while performing. I think I’d surprise many of you with what I think is the real super-masterpiece ,though…

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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