Conductors with taste, or a taste for conductors….

My Sunday afternoon was spent on an activity not listed in my job description- cooking dinner for some friends of the symphony.

This is something we’ve done for a few years as part of our annual auction- people can bid on dinner with the conductor, cooked by the conductor. Of course, long-time students of conductor biographies will know that almost all of them conclude with “when not conducting the world’s leading orchestras, Maestro ______ enjoys hiking, chess and gourmet cooking.”

I hate to reveal a trade secret, but in many cases I’ve found this to simply mean that Maestro X enjoys eating other people’s gourment cooking. I do enjoy cooking, just plain old cooking,  mostly because I enjoy eating, but I find cooking in other people’s kitchens rather stressful. Still- anything for a good cause, and once your hosts have had a cocktail or three, they stop peering over your shoulder so much.

Some conductors have more to offer than a nicely cooked bit of lamb- personality.

Pianist Peter Donohoe once told about something he and Andrew Litton used to offer. Both Peter and Andrew are well-known as raconteurs as well as musicians, so they thought it would be good to offer the patrons of the Dallas Symphony a chance to bid on an evening of stories and jokes from the two of them. Think highbrow standup comedy…. I forget the exact final bid amount from the Dallas auction, but it was in the neighborhood of $30,000. I hope the jokes were better than my lamb at that price!

At this time, Litton was also Music Director of the Bournemouth Symphony, where Peter was a regular soloist, so they made the same offer there at an auction- dinner and witty conversation with the two of them. I think it tells one a great deal about the fundamental differences between American and British culture to note than in Britain, the going rate for an evening of entertaining BS with a couple of musicians is apparently about 37 pounds and 50 pence (I like the fact that the winning bid involved an increase of 50 p!) instead of 30k.

My attention has now shifted from food to the weather channel- we had a heavy snow storm in Pendleton yesterday, but more worryingly, they are expecting several feet of snow in the mountains between here and La Grande, where a number of our musicians commute from over the next several days as our rehearsal schedule intensifies. One musician, who DOESN”T have to come over the mountains (he’s in Richland) emailed Michelle this morning to say that he was going to cancel becaues of the weather. That’s right- he can’t manage a short commute on a flat route because it will be snowing in the mountains, where he’s not driving. It’s MONDAY, the concert is on Saturday- in this region it could be 70 degrees by Saturday. How do people like this live with themselves?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? 

I ask all regular Vftp readers to wish for warm, Pacific air and a quick thaw so we can actually rehearse for this concert. KW   



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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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4 comments on “Conductors with taste, or a taste for conductors….”

  1. Jen

    Hope nice weather comes you way! Then it will be heading mine!!

    We had a really great conductor this last week. 🙂

  2. Stephen Llewellyn

    Someone should tell the musician of whom you write that being a professional means, literally, being paid for what you do, with that payment comes an obligation to behave in a professional manner. That includes not canceling an engagement for lame and wholly unbelievable reasons. I suspect he manages to ‘live with himself’ because he has become used to his own irresponsible behaviour and is no longer unsettled by it. I hope you can take some comfort in knowing that word of this kind of behaviour spreads through the community and perhaps in the future he will receive fewer offers of work. I hope he gets to hear of your post (and my comment!).

  3. Kenneth Woods

    Dear Stephen-

    I completely agree with you and I’m really glad you took the time to go on record.

    When I first came to the Northwest from Cincinnati I was rather amazed at the, shall we say, more casual attitudes to professionalism in music. To an extent you see this in places like Portland, but in the Inland Northwest, it is really a terrible problem. This is largely because the region is so sparsely populated that for years musicians were a law unto themselves- they could do as they pleased with impunity because there were only a tiny number of good musicians to serve all the orchestras in the region.

    We’ve been working to enhance collaboration and communication between regional personnel managers, so that there is a sanction when people pull this kind of stuff.

    The good news is that we’ve replaced him with a far superior player, so I don’t expect he’ll be back…..


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