Guide The Orchestral Conductor, Theory of His Art (Illustrated)

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A more standardized technique allows communication to be much more rapid. Nonetheless, conductors' techniques still show a great deal of variety, particularly with the use of the left hand, facial and eye expression, and body language. Young scored similar firsts when she became head of the Hamburg State Opera and Philharmoniker Hamburg in ; she is also the first woman conductor to record the Ring Cycle of Richard Wagner. The Guardian called conducting "one of the last glass ceilings in the music industry".

While Mexico has produced several major international conductors, Alondra de la Parra has become the first Mexican-born woman to attain distinction in the profession. Similarly, Asian origin has become unremarkable, because of the international successes of conductors from the Far East such as Seiji Ozawa , who was the Boston Symphony Orchestra 's music director from until after holding similar posts in San Francisco and Toronto, and Myung-Whun Chung , who has held major posts in Germany and France and now is bringing the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra to international attention.

There is still under-representation of artists of black origin in the conducting profession, but there have been notable exceptions, such as Henry Lewis , Dean Dixon , James DePreist , Paul Freeman , and Michael Morgan. For more information on black conductors, see Black conductors. According to a article in The Guardian , "black conductors are rare in the classical music world and even in symphony orchestras it is unusual to see more than one or two black musicians.

Conducting is a means of communicating artistic directions to performers during a performance. Although there are many formal rules on how to conduct correctly, others are subjective, and a wide variety of different conducting styles exist depending upon the training and sophistication of the conductor. The primary responsibilities of the conductor are to unify performers, set the tempo, execute clear preparations and beats, listen critically and shape the sound of the ensemble, and to control the interpretation and pacing of the music. Communication is non-verbal during a performance, however in rehearsal frequent interruptions allow directions as to how the music should be played.

During rehearsals, the conductor may stop the playing of a piece to request changes in the phrasing or request a change in the timbre of a certain section. In amateur orchestras, the rehearsals are often stopped to draw the musicians' attentions to performance errors or transposition mistakes. Conducting requires an understanding of the elements of musical expression tempo , dynamics , articulation and the ability to communicate them effectively to an ensemble. The ability to communicate nuances of phrasing and expression through gestures is also beneficial. Conducting gestures are preferably prepared beforehand by the conductor while studying the score , but may sometimes be spontaneous.

A distinction is sometimes made between orchestral conducting and choral conducting.


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Typically, orchestral conductors use a baton more often than choral conductors. The grip of the baton varies from conductor to conductor. At the beginning of a piece of music, the conductor raises his hands or hand if he only uses a single hand to indicate that the piece is about to begin. This is a signal for the orchestra members to ready their instruments to be played or for the choristers to be ready and watching.

The conductor then looks at the different sections of the orchestra winds, strings, etc. In some choral works, the conductor may signal to a pianist or organist to play a note or chord so that the choir members can determine their starting notes. Then the conductor gives one or more preparatory beats to commence the music. The preparatory beat before the orchestra or choir begins is the upbeat. The beat of the music is typically indicated with the conductor's right hand, with or without a baton.

The hand traces a shape in the air in every bar measure depending on the time signature , indicating each beat with a change from downward to upward motion. The downbeat indicates the first beat of the bar, and the upbeat indicates the beat before the first note of the piece and the last beat of the bar. In some instances, "ictus" is also used to refer to a horizontal plane in which all the ictuses are physically located, such as the top of a music stand where a baton is tapped at each ictus.

The gesture leading up to the ictus is called the "preparation", and the continuous flow of steady beats is called the " takt " the German word for bar, measure and beat. If the tempo is slow or slowing, or if the time signature is compound , a conductor will sometimes indicate "subdivisions" of the beats. The conductor can do this by adding a smaller movement in the same direction as the movement for the beat that it belongs to.

Changes to the tempo are indicated by changing the speed of the beat. To carry out and to control a rallentando slowing down the pace of the music , a conductor may introduce beat subdivisions. While some conductors use both hands to indicate the beat, with the left hand mirroring the right, formal education discourages such an approach. The second hand can be used for cueing the entrances of individual players or sections, and to aid indications of dynamics, phrasing, expression, and other elements.

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During an instrumental solo section or, in an opera orchestra during a vocalist's unaccompanied solo , some conductors stop counting out all the subdivisions and simply tap the baton down once per bar, to aid performers who are counting bars of rests. There is a difference between the "textbook" definition of where the ictus of a downbeat occurs and the actual performance practice in professional orchestras. With an abrupt, loud sforzando chord, a professional orchestra will often play slightly after the striking of the ictus point of the baton stroke.

Dynamics are indicated in various ways. The dynamic may be communicated by the size of the conducting movements, larger shapes representing louder sounds. Changes in dynamic may be signalled with the hand that is not being used to indicate the beat: an upward motion usually palm-up indicates a crescendo ; a downward motion usually palm-down indicates a diminuendo. Changing the size of conducting movements frequently results in changes in the character of the music depending upon the circumstances. Dynamics can be fine-tuned using various gestures: showing one's palm to the performers or leaning away from them may demonstrate a decrease in volume.

To adjust the overall balance of the various instruments or voices, these signals can be combined or directed toward a particular section or performer. The indication of entries, when a performer or section should begin playing perhaps after a long period of rests , is called "cueing". A cue must forecast with certainty the exact moment of the coming ictus, so that all the players or singers affected by the cue can begin playing simultaneously. Cueing is most important for cases where a performer or section has not been playing for a lengthy time.

Cueing is also helpful in the case of a pedal point with string players, when a section has been playing the pedal point for a lengthy period; a cue is important to indicate when they should change to a new note. Cueing is achieved by "engaging" the players before their entry by looking at them and executing a clear preparation gesture, often directed toward the specific players. An inhalation, which may or may not be a semi-audible "sniff" from the conductor, is a common element in the cueing technique of some conductors.

Mere eye contact or a look in the general direction of the players may be sufficient in many instances, as when more than one section of the ensemble enters at the same time. Larger musical events may warrant the use of a larger or more emphatic cue designed to encourage emotion and energy.

Your Guide On How To Follow A Conductor

Articulation may be indicated by the character of the ictus, ranging from short and sharp for staccato , to long and fluid for legato. Many conductors change the tension of the hands: strained muscles and rigid movements may correspond to marcato, while relaxed hands and soft movements may correspond to legato or espressivo. Phrasing may be indicated by wide overhead arcs or by a smooth hand motion either forwards or side-to-side. A held note is often indicated by a hand held flat with palm up. The end of a note, called a "cutoff" or "release", may be indicated by a circular motion, the closing of the palm, or the pinching of finger and thumb.

A release is usually preceded by a preparation and concluded with a complete stillness. Facial expressions may also be important to demonstrate the character of the music or to encourage the players. In some cases, such as where there has been little rehearsal time to prepare a piece, a conductor may discreetly indicate how the bars of music will be beat immediately before the start of the movement by holding up their fingers in front of their chest so only the performers can see. For example, in a 4 4 piece that the conductor will beat "in two" two ictus points or beats per bar, as if it were 2 2 , the conductor would hold up two fingers in front of his chest.

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In most cases, there is a short pause between movements of a symphony, concerto or dance suite. This brief pause gives orchestra or choir members time to turn the pages of their part and ready themselves for the start of the next movement. String players may apply rosin or wipe sweat off their hands with a handkerchief. Reed players may take this time to change to a new reed. In some cases, woodwind or brass players will use the pause to switch to a different instrument e. After training as a violinist at the Conservatoire, he formed an orchestra, which would perform in Paris and across Europe from until His sometimes shocking and eccentric actions on stage—throwing his baton, smashing his stool, walking to the edge of the stage and firing a pistol into the air—contributed to the visual excitement of his show and conveyed his passion for the music in the most flashy way possible.

Berlioz blamed Musard for contributing to the thirst for sensationalism among Parisians. And, despite performing only cheap dance tunes, Musard made at least 20, francs per year. Despite what Berlioz perceived as low-class sensationalism at his concerts, Musard was considered a true artist. He commanded a high price for his work, and his performances were very popular. His concerts drew audiences of one thousand or greater per night.

The guest list for the season inaugural concert 22 Adam Carse, The Life of Jullien, adventurer, showman-conductor and establisher of the promenade concerts in England together with a history of those concerts up to Cambridge: W. Heffer, , Mainwaring Dunstan London: Remington and Co. In the summer, the orchestra performed in gardens where people could stroll and take refreshments, and in winter it performed in lavishly furnished halls, with candles, mirrors, richly upholstered furniture, sumptuously painted walls with garden scenes.

A review in a weekly music journal describes the thrall Musard created for his viewers: This is no man, no mere musician, but a god who conducts the orchestra.

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Now he rolls his eyes like two flaming orbs, now he casts his calm gaze from right to left and back from left to right. Certainly, it would be difficult for a priest of bacchanalia to have a figure more dark and sinister. When the moment came, he bent over his desk, reached out, and a hurricane of sounds broke out suddenly in the fog of noise that hung over heads… And it seemed that the buglers of the Last Judgment were engaged to play the quadrilles and waltzes.

The dead would dance to such music. Perhaps the audience saw something they related to or fantasized about in this outcast who stood at the center of attention. Thus, as a showman and sensationalist, Musard became the first conductor to make a successful, freelance career for himself. However, he surpassed Musard in the publicity he inflamed. Indeed, he was the first conductor to truly understand the power of marketing. More than his musical ability, his masterful showmanship garnered him enormous popularity. In this sense, he was a precursor to the twentieth-century virtuoso conductors who would become the limelight-loving, autobiography- writing, marketing force of an orchestra.

As part of his self- marketing, he published piano arrangements of his repertoire for people to play in their homes he had been a student in composition at the Paris Conservatoire , and he advertised these publications nearly weekly in Parisian music journals. He was among the earliest conductors to have his name in large letters on his concert posters see Image 5. In London, he published an eleven-part biography with the The Musical World, full of sensationalism, including descriptions of his four incredibly narrow escapes from death and his childhood history of phonophobia, or fear of music, apparently caused by his overly sensitive musical ear.

Jullien had been christened with thirty-four middle names as an infant, and for the rest of his life, he aimed for grandiosity in everything he did. If it is true that Jullien reacted strongly to music, he may have had a condition now known as the rare Stendhal, or Florence, Syndrome.

This condition of physically being overcome by art was described twenty years earlier by Stendhal, who experienced dizziness, fainting, and confusion at being overwhelmed by the art he saw in Florence Mark D. David Cairns London: Cardinal, , He was primarily a visual phenomenon: his unique visuality permeated every facet of his life, and was acknowledged by contemporary commentators to contribute directly to his success as a conductor, both in terms of his musical output and the cultivation of his fame.

Disseminating stories of his delicate musical ear such as childhood phonophobia furthered this agenda. He also claimed that he defected from the French Navy because the shrieks from the battlefield were so out of tune. Such tales reinforced the profitable narrative that his relationship with music transcended that of the ordinary man.

The jeweled baton, which a servant brought out on a cushion, symbolized the power of the man who was able to conduct Beethoven and the additional effort required by the demands of his music. In both he demonstrates that he is a powerful and benevolent leader of his subjects, the audience. Indeed, all these effects 51 John Spitzer, et al. It was also possibly a satirical gesture as, in his ostentatious way, Jullien may have been mimicking those conductors who venerated Beethoven by repeated programming of his symphonies and ensured the exclusivity of this music by restricting access to the wealthiest members of society.

These were stories of adversity vanquished, body and energy sacrificed in a great pursuit, and service and reverence offered to art. Image 7: Jullien and His Chair53 The Serious Conductors Musard and Jullien are examples of the virtuosity that is focused on exhibitionism, showmanship, and personal expression.


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Habeneck and Berlioz were virtuosos who showed true mastery of their instrument, the orchestra. Berlioz wrote to Liszt about the dramatic power he saw in this role: Then, I grant you, the composer-conductor lives on a plane of existence unknown to the virtuoso.

With what ecstasy he abandons himself to the delights of playing the orchestra!

The Orchestral Conductor: Theory of His Art by Hector Berlioz

How he hugs and clasps and sways this immense and fiery instrument! Once more he is all vigilance. I will partially sanitize here. A bull has the horns in the front and the ass in the back. My all-time favorite conductor joke? This one speaks more than any other to the love-hate relationship players have with conductors as expressed in their desire to look at the conductor as little as possible.

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I can do it! Here you will find a totally bizarre collection of things Maestro Ormandy said over the years of his long tenure in Philadelphia, as lovingly documented by the members of that esteemed orchestra. Does it take a lot of chutzpah to stand in front of an assemblage of Juilliard, Curtis, Oberlin, etc. You bet it does. It also helps not to take yourself so seriously! In bar 13, lower the pitch one whole step and this will remain to the end. Thank you. Now, let us begin. Notify me of follow-up comments by email.

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