Repertoire Report Comparisons

Well, having looked at my rep list for the last two years, one of my former students tactfully chimed in with the obvious question “gee Ken, that’s a fair number of pieces, but how many pieces does a real conductor conduct in a year?”

After I cleaned up the blood, I hired a new research assistant, who has been busy crunching the numbers for three of today’s leading conductors- Leondard Slatkin, Semyon Bychkov and Paavo Jarvi. These three were chosen on the basis of the following highly scientific criteria-

1- They’re un-deniably famous (read- “real”) conductors

2- They have fairly user friendly websites which list all their repertoire for a 12 month period

We’ve been able to do a tally of Paavo’s repertoire for all of 2008, Bychkov’s for 2008 and Leonard’s from May 2008-April 2009 (don’t ask why we chose those dates for L.S.- we have not been able to come up with a good reason).

To be honest, I was curious about the same thing, but I also thought it would be informative for young conductors, a number of whom read this blog regularly, to get a sense of what volume of repertoire they would have to be able to cope with in a typical year if they’re going to sustain a full-time conducting career. I’d love to encourage some other readers who are desperately bored to visit the websites of their favorite maestri and email me the results for posting here (or, post their rep lists on their own blogs!). It would be fascinating to compare rep lists of conductors working in different markets and price brackets, from students through university and conservatory conductors, community orchestra conductors and so on. Someone who did a lot of pops would have a much bigger list- a typical pops concert might have 20 or more charts, while a symphony concert might have 1-4. There are lots of repertoire surveys and studies by market and orchestra, but not by performer (at least to the best of my knowledge).

Back to today’s big three. There are three obvious things worth pointing out- first, I get to work with some very good groups, but these guys work only with the best orchestras in the world. Second, theirs are only conducting lists- no cello/piano/sarusophone engagements.

Third- being able to say you’ve “done” a piece only means as much as how much work you put in to preparing it, or, ultimately, whether you’ve done what you set out to do all that well or not.

Bychkov’s list is here, Leonard’s here and Paavo’s here. Mine is here.

Bychkov’s list is the shortest- attributable to the fact that he’s done a fair bit of touring this year and two huge opera projects- Otello at the Met and Tristan und Isolde at the Paris Opera, each of which eat up many weeks. Bychkov also seems to take vacations, something worth remembering the value of in light of Richard Hickox’s passing. Speaking of opera, he also did a concert performance of Lohengrin. A concert performance of an opera puts much more time pressure on a conductor for study time- it’s one week’s work that requires as much study time as would go into a piece you’d normally do for 3-5 weeks. With Shostakovich 4 and 7 also on the list, it is a year I covet. Shos 4 and Tristan are right at the top of my “wish” list. Of his 30 works, 18 are ones I’ve performed.

Paavo has one of the most gold plated careers of anyone in this business right now. He also has the advantage of strong associations with four orchestras- the Paris, the Cincinnati, Frankfurt and Bremen. This year sees him doing a lot of touring, which tends to lead to more repeats of things, but Paavo has always liked to live with pieces- he seemed to do Symphonie Fantastique all the time when he first came to the CSO.  There are 90 pieces on his list-(43 of which I’ve conducted) 15 more than mine. His is the most typical of what you would expect from an elite European maeastro- complete cycles of Brahms, and big chunks of Schubert, Bruckner and Mahler. His list also features a lot of Scandanavian and Baltic works- Tubin, Tuur, Nielsen and Sibelius. No opera for Paavo this year, but a great mix of everything else.

Leonard Slatkin’s list is simply awe-inspiring- it’s the list I think most young conductors would find the hardest to take on simply in terms of how much studying one would need to put in to preparing all those pieces (I’ve seen Leonard study, and he is mind-blowingingly quick). Impressive as Paavo’s 90 pieces are, Leonard’s tally is over 123 (his website doesn’t list the programs for his Copland retrospective at the NSO or his opera night at the Detroit Symphony, so there’s probably another 10 + pieces to be added). It’s an impressive mix of the familiar (I’ve conducted about 45 or so of the pieces on his list) with the new. Like Paavo, he balances a wide swath of the standard literature (although with a notably less Teutonic slant than Paavo) with repertoire that seems particularly close to his heart- the American masters of the mid 20th C. (Copland, Barber and Bernstein), leading American composers of today (Glass, Adams, Higdon and Rouse) and his longtime passion for British music, notably Elgar, Walton and Vaughan Williams. If you look at the pieces in the context of his programming it’s quite inspiring to see how consistently he seems to be able to bring something new to each performance. Leonard did one opera this year to Bychkov’s three- Eugene Onegin. He was also the only conductor on this list to do any of his own must- two pieces this year!

So- Bychkov has done the most opera and the most Shosty, Leonard the widest range of repertoire, the most new music and the most American and British music, Paavo the most Brahms and Mahler (although I did more Mahler in 2007 than he did in 2009!). Surprisingly, I did the most Mozart and Schumann this year. Leonard and I did the same 2 Sibelius symphonies (2 and 5), Paavo did 2, 3, 6 and 7. Paavo also wins on Bruckner.

So- how many pieces does a real conductor get through in a year (who is laughing now, eh Mr smart guy question asker?!?!?!?! I don’t see you laughing now!)? Well, this completely un-scientific sampling just tells us that there’s no telling. What is encouraging is that all four we’ve looked at so far are doing a nice mixture of new and old, widely loved favorites and personal passions and side roads and byways of the literature. Only half of us did the dreaded Beethoven 5- maybe jaded critics and embittered composers can finally stop complaining about that piece now, but all of us did Tchaik 4. None of us does enough Baroque music or enough French music. Again, I’m hoping some intrepid readers will submit lists of other conductor’s repertoire for either the current or coming year. It can be a concert season (Fall to Fall) or a calendar year, whatever…

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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 “Repertoire Report Comparisons”

  1. Kenneth Woods

    Honnegger is always on my list of things to push with orchestras, and nobody ever wants to do the symphony, just Pastoral d’Ete, Pacific 231 and Rugby, none of which gives anything like a full picture of him as a composer!

  2. ComposerBastard

    Yeah, I’m tryin to drop a gentle mean temperment hint 😉

    I listened to all his symphonies yesterday

    Michel Plasson & Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse

    #3 1st movement – like a bat out of hell….


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