Les Etoiles, 4/4/08
I had hoped to do a lot more shaping with this piece, but it was all I could do to be clear with stretching the beat. I am currently trying to rewire my brain to be thinking ahead rather than in the moment. My voice teacher always compares singing to tight-rope walking; you can’t be too tense or too lax. Conducting seems to require the same balance between listening and creating. You can’t just listen and coast along like I did, but nor can you err on the side of chasing your vision to the exclusion of reality.
In basic conducting, we were introduced to the concept of willfulness, the idea of a conductor’s charisma somehow sweeping the ensemble into his or her vision of how the piece should sound. Furtwangler was a legendary example of this; it was said that he could change the sound of the Berlin Phil. just by entering the room.
I’m not sure I care for that model of conducting, though. Authoritarian leadership generally rankles me. I prefer the idea of partnership through scaffolding –when a piece is new, the conductor must enforce their vision, but then, they can slowly let the ensemble claim more autonomy, experiment, and contribute.
Maybe I’m unrealistic here; maybe a conductor’s job is simply to force musicians to sing marcato here and accelerando here. Maybe too many cooks spoils the broth. But I’ve most enjoyed working with choral directors who can listen to their ensembles, even in the early stages of learning repertoire, and recognize and build on good musicianship.