This text is an unedited transcript from a question and answer session, that occured during a master class in Targoviste, Romania
Mechanic gives you a specific stability, a security, but in the same moment it limits – mechanic just repeats itself, but this kind of relation does not exist in music. I speak about the moments where e.g. your two has no relation to the one, where the second beat does not come out of the first.
“Does it help to breath together with the upbeat?”
If you want to breath, do it, in a certain stage of your development it may help you to get nearer to the way how the musicians live their upbeat. But when you did it I couldn’t see this, because the concrete connection to the music was missing. Therefore it’s mechanic, just repeating itself each time without any specific quality which expresses the given musical relations.
One thing is not knowing the piece well enough but another thing is to take a risk. This, you are not used to. I understand, but I cannot agree. Imagine! what happens when you get lost – you got already lost with all these mechanic movements anyway – but getting lost and eventually finding something NEW which is valuable, then getting lost was really worth it. Always being on the secure side? – ‘I know it’s not what I want but still I go on, I must survive…’ This is no good starting position for change, this does not open any perspective.
I am not at all talking about what we might call improvising, we are on the contrary looking for a very clear orientation, not for something that is always open; we are constantly looking for the inner coherence. Stay open however while conducting to get aware of aspects which you did not find by studying – you can catch them here and now, and the impact on you might even be stronger than on the paper…
“How can I come to a more functional gesture?”
The first step is to get aware of what you are doing, so that it disturbs you and you do not like it any more, then you will look for something else. As long as I have to tell you and you just accept ‘maybe something is wrong’, that’s not enough. You have to LIVE it, ‘yes, I do these silly things’, and then for sure you will look for to do it differently. But don’t replace one mistake by another in focussing on the idea to do it differently. As long as you refer to the ‘No’ you will never find the ‘Yes’. Becoming aware of the ‘No’s’ is necessary in order to create more favourable conditions for the arising of the ‘Yes’. But as long as you feel well with this buffoonery you will go on.
“What is the function of conducting?”
Your function as conductor is to unify all the different musical impulses of the musicians. But what I saw is to get depressive. I would not say it was bad what you did, but its not conducting – it’s more or less listening. It’s good that you listen, but so far you are not conducting. Maybe you need the time just to listen ‘oh, it’s so rich… ’, could be, but don’t live in the illusion you are conducting. The arms do something which corresponds to nothing. It does not correspond to what you live in yourself. So it would be more helpful not to go on moving the arms in this empty way, but just giving an upbeat and listen until the moment when you have something to express. That’s why I ask you to choose pieces where you have a chance, which are not too complicated.
“What do you think about practising by conducting a CD?”
There is no chance to learn conducting by listening to a CD. That’s absolutely dead – you never will find out what is the reaction to your concrete gesture. There are many wrong ways but to study with the CD is the falsest. You really have to stop this. It’s already extremely little alive to learn pieces by a technical medium – but conducting a CD that’s the most absurd I can imagine.
Nobody is alone, everybody knows someone. Ask someone to sing or to play for you. This gives you the chance to find out what the real expression of your gesture is.
“Is conducting like speaking in that sense that we have to develop our vocabulary separately?”
Excuse me! Did you learn speaking like this?
“No, but don’t we have to exercise the let’s say ‘vocabulary’?”
When I learned speaking I tried to express something and little by little I learned to express. I
did not learn the vocabulary like ‘Mama, Papa, Auto…’ and then I thought what I wanted to express.
“You tell us, we are mechanic but maybe in that moment we do not know something else to express….?”
If you did not internalise deeply enough a piece you may express just some mechanic aspects of the movement.
“No, I don’t mean, we know enough about the piece, it’s just that we do not know how to express.”
If this happens what could be the natural consequence? You will look for the means to express what you imagine. As soon as you feel a discrepancy – you want to express something and the arms do something else – this is very constructive.
Lets get to the basics – what is the arm able to transmit: articulations – everything is about articulation. If there is no articulation it will lead to nothing. The smallest articulation is the beat itself: an impact and its resolution. It’s simple and direct and in the same moment it’s fundamental. That’s why we are looking for the weight of the arm. This gives us the chance to feel in this very basic movement the consequence of the beginning in the end, or how the end is included in the beginning. And that’s exactly what we are looking for also in music – when beginning with a piece being aware of how it will end. You will find this all over; we are looking how we are able to live all these differentiations as a one. An articulation is the first possibility to live differentiations in a one. That’s the basis and then we develop little by little. That’s why I ask you to search for the weight of the arm everyday, in the morning, during day and at night – not as an obsession or an aim in itself, just as an basic condition. The whole world of expression will open then.
“Why does it happen that we sometimes slow down, even if we don’t want to do so?”
There are some reasons for this. In your case it’s mainly because of the lack of articulation in your gesture. More general: the more information we get in a unit of time, the more datas we have to perceive and to correlate, and the tendency will be to get slower. In this specific situation we loose the contact to the superordinate parameters because we are captured by the details. That’s very normal, sometimes we even have to accept it: the moment we insist on specific phrasing, we get slower and slower – it’s necessary to have more time to integrate everything. Yet we should never lose sight of what we want to achieve – the integration of all details in a One.
“What is your opinion to rehearse with a metronome?”
“No, rehearsing the orchestra”
… and you go away?
“No, to control the orchestra.”
I don’t understand, the conductor admits he is not able to give an equal pulsation? Or the orchestra does not believe that they slowed down?
“No, it was a very good conductor who used this.”
So I suppose he had a reason for this, so far I cannot imagine a situation where I could need it. For sure not to study – not ten times with a metronome and then: ‘look, now it’s better’.
“No, he said, they did the piece so many times with different conductors and where used to do it in so many different tempos.”
Maybe to make them aware or they did not believe him – but now you have to come to the point – what can this develop? A sort of memorising?
“I think his reason was to make the rehearsal more efficient.”
Again and again you have these questions about efficiency. What do you search, what is the purpose? To have the best possible result in the most little time? Or to open a perspective that enables the musicians to find themselves more and more to a rhythmical stability?
We must distinguish two different ways to proceed – a part of the work I did with the orchestra some days ago it had to be just in function of the concert, but not everything. As often as possible I tried not to obey just the outside given pressure – but to insist to open something that later on will bring them to a capacity to find themselves the orientation.
Or you want to have a most direct result or you try to open a perspective. With this perspective you don’t have always the best immediate result. The way we are working in the course I am focusing on the perspective. That’s why you so often feel lost and bad and have the feeling you don’t come to anything.
Imagine we would have a concert at the end of this course, all of us would have to accept a completely different orientation than we have now. Don’t project wrong expectations. In these two weeks it’s not possible to come to something like being able to do better, most probably not. You even will have more questions and will be more unsure after the course. But hopefully, if everything goes well, you will have some orientation to look for what makes sense – not just to look how we can do it in the most practical way. If you want to name this perspective more concretely, I would say, the direction is to get free from the successiveness of THIS and THIS and THIS in order to find out how everything can be integrated in a One. This you can name in different ways, I call it ‘transcending the sounds’. What interests me is not just this material order how the sounds appear, but the sense behind it, which is something we cannot name.
“Is it true when we think, to stick to the melody is the best way for us as a conductor?”
Isn’t it the purest way to express? When I study I follow the melody, I put my marks and then…”
Oh, why do you put marks? If you found it once, you have doubts to find it again? Because putting marks means exactly that you do not rely on your capacity to correlate, you do not believe in it. You mark something which has been alive half an hour ago. Don’t set a mark.
To answer your question about orientating yourself with the melody: Imagine the second theme of the slow movement in Beethoven’s first symphony– without integrating the harmony it would be a totally different theme. In fact it opens in a way that the a major is already integrated, and you play differently when you are aware of the harmony. There can be a limit by singing – not the singing itself is wrong, everything depends with which musical parameters we are in contact in the moment when we sing.
There are some conductor schools where you learn to sing a score from A to Z. In any moment you sing the leading voice – you are trained like that to get never lost. To look for the leading voice in any moment is not bad so far, but the danger is, that this line gets an importance which overrules all the other musical parameters. It gets so important that finally it can live alone, without the harmony, without the other aspects, without the voices who go against. Being a system this method has the natural tendency of any system, to assure us: ‘it’s like this, now I have it’.
If you sing for someone who does not know the piece the d flat major beginning of the Adagio of Bruckner’s 8th Symphony, he could think ‘what a boring piece’, but if he would be in contact with all the dimensions that are opened already in this beginning…
Lets go back to the question of marking in the score. As soon as you write something you fix something – you should be aware that this has consequences. You find something and you mark it – maybe in the next moment you find something else, each day you find new elements, the very concrete indication you marked is not hundred percent true any more. By writing down you give a wrong importance to details that later on will modify their function according to the richer perception you are developing.
“How do you learn a score?”
To learn a piece by heart means no guarantee to get in contact to a piece – that’s a wrong idea, this is not the way to study. The direction is always to get more and more into the piece, or in other words that the piece becomes more and more mine. I immerse myself in the piece; analysing never is an valuable approach, because analysing, at least the way I was taught at the conservatory, leads to know what is there, here we have a 6/8, piano, and here it changes into a 4/4. So far nothing is born because you don’t live the relation between these two meters, you are not in contact with the inner forces that make the 6/8 change into the 4/4.
You should not try to memorise a piece that does not yet speak to you, that does not yet touch you. The essential step happens in the moment when something what is written begins to sound in your inner hearing. That’s the first moment where something becomes alive.
“When I try to analyse it harmonically this already gives me an idea about expression.”
Who knows, we should try it together; if it’s like that it’s wonderful, but this is not part anymore of what we call analyse. The analyse normally stops when you can write down and explain what happens, ‘here it modulates to the motive, and here comes the 2nd theme…’.
When you have finished the analyse nothing is done so far. Why not trying already at the first step: to listen inside yourself, instead of making half an hour of analyse. Why not beginning to imagine how it sounds, trying to live the relations.
When I take a score I do not know before which parameter will be the first I am able to get in contact with. By the first reading I often don’t get anything, I just see what is written. Normally the beginning is very poor, very disappointing. Again and again, but not in the sense reading from the start to the end, little by little I can imagine some relations – imagine in the sense that I can hear something. What exactly will touch you first, this depends on the piece. In some pieces its the melody which appears first, some others start already in the beginning with the harmonic complexity or it might be a thematic cell that is repeated, a rhythmical pattern, I don’t know before. It’s something that we find out in this very moment. We have to be open to how we go on instead relying on a method (‘first I have to learn this and than go to the harmony’, this would be a static order). By giving the necessary time you will find the next step.
“After that you try to express it with the hand?”
No, only when I am in front of the orchestra. I don’t study a piece by conducting it for myself. You also should not do this. You can try a out a specific gesture but it should never be a method to study a piece. To try out does not mean to repeat it 12 times… any repeating leads to mechanic. The consequence would be that the arms execute themselves the movements you have trained them? It never can be like that!
“Usually before you are at a rehearsal you don’t play the whole movement?”
No, I don’t conduct it before. Possibly I might try out some specific moments of the piece, but never the movement in its whole.
With an instrument you cannot have this approach, at least normally. Gieseking was an exception – he just read the piece and then played it by heart… That’s a real advantage in conducting, you don’t have to practice, imagine what sort of heavy duty with an instrument – you cannot permit yourself one week not to rehearse. Of course I am speaking about a stage where the arms correspond to what needs to be expressed.
Look for the weight of the arms, every day….it might take years, it took me years, I remember how desperate I was, I wanted to express something but I could not – trying and looking and no, no, no…. I tried to find, but I did not find it – but I continued looking for this coincidence between what I wanted to express and what my arms could show… I took specific exercises, small patterns, intervals, rhythms and tried to express them.
Once more, all this work on the gesture is the most easy part, that’s the part where the access is the most direct. Don’t think ‘how difficult’ – be aware, you did not look for the weight of the arm till now – you are looking for many things, but not for the weight. This does not mean the weight is a fetish, it’s just the most natural thing – once you have it you will never think about it, you will just use it. You ask me how it is possible that so many conductors don’t use it? I don’t know, I cannot explain… but I can see the consequences. That does not mean that all of them are bad musicians, not at all, but you will always hear the difference. They have to find other dimensions, other means, other ways to communicate with the musicians. Even conductors where the technique is not very well developed are able to succeed to transmit something. Don’t think the better my gesture, the better musician I am; this is nonsense. But you will never achieve a direct, musically articulated response to your gesture without the free weight of the arm.
Do not separate your studies, don’t work two years on the gesture and then two years the music, or the other way around – like that you will not find the natural necessity to express yourself differently.
Until you come to a certain level you cannot be sure that you perceive the equivalence or the non equivalence between your gesture and the music. Therefore it’s much more useful and much more alive if you have someone who reacts on what you do – someone who sings or plays, otherwise the illusion can be endless. Also the mirror does not help at all – it’s a medium which can create a total illusion.
Therefore come together and play together, one is conducting, the other one is playing or singing…