Before you is something of a duality: firstly, it is one of the greatest chamber orchestras in existence; secondly, it is a group of twenty-odd people with centuries of musical experience, megatons of knowledge, and infinite willingness… all with the ability to help you achieve greatness. Trust them, respect them, communicate with them – kiss their feet, if necessary: because only rarely in your career will you be handed such wonders – and work with them. Involve them; ask them for their thoughts – and take them seriously; put their ideas into action. Let them see your shared belief in the ability to turn all those dots and lines into something capable of ripping open souls (if not vortices in the space-time continuum). Listen and learn – for if you do not, bad things will come to pass (which they did – by my standards, anyway).
Arrive on your mighty steed of arrogance, and tell them what to do… – well, being professionals of the highest calibre, that is exactly what they will do. Nothing more, nothing less. However – to them… – stupid or ridiculous, or just plain wrong, they will obey your instructions to a T. But you might – because you thought you knew best: that conductors must lay down the law, as well as the beat… rather than be an equal and collaborate… – as well have programmed a bunch of robots. You will not have access to their hearts and brains; nor will you be able to share in their bountiful wonders.
Of course, treat them like a musical instrument, with fixed gradations of volume, and lashed to a metronome… – yes, you will make music; but it will in no way be musical. (Yes, it was technically brilliant, but….) Love them as a living organism; treat them as such – not as some starved dancing bear with mange – but as human beings with emotions and flaws (just like you) – if you open yourself up to them: and only then will you be rewarded.
Earlier in the week, your predecessor did all that good, humane, positive, collegiate stuff (that I guess you find all too ‘touchy-feely’) – and produced performances that shook the Earth’s foundations with their greatness – because, like the members of Orchestra of the Swan, he is a musician and a friend of this ensemble of friends. It’s instinctual; it’s how he rolls. No airs or graces; just a desire to muck in, and share what needs to be done. Thus were not only the audience, but the players, on the edges of their seats – smiles and effort and freedom the result; as well as mastery. But it belonged to every single one of them. No hierarchy; just a democracy of happy talent.
You, I’m afraid, must have used your baton as a whip: such was the body language – as if you had beaten all joy and insight out of each and every one of them. Thus we were rewarded (not really the right word) with run-of-the-mill interpretations (also not the right word) with as much passion as a piece of roadkill. Thank goodness for Emma – although she comes across as someone probably too nice to complain – obviously willing to do her own remarkable, passionate thing; and let you scrabble at her coat-tails.
You didn’t even have to know that the cheese served up earlier in the week was something utterly astonishing to realize that this was only crumbly, pale chalk. We weren’t sobbing into our handkerchiefs. All the test you need, really, that.
Of course, had you been there on Tuesday, the comparison would just have made things so very much worse. Anyone can wave their arms around and get notes played (I did it for years). It takes real honesty and humility to open up your heart. But that is what it takes to ensure that all around are opening theirs as well. Simple, really.
What I’m getting at here, is that not everything is as black and white as “all those dots and lines” – and that those are just the beginning. It’s the intangible stuff between those lines that’s important. And, if you can’t feel that, smell it and taste it – in fact, breathe it in and out like air (as that “group of twenty-odd people” do naturally) – well, you’ve no right being there. (And, no, they’re not really that fragile: but they do need to know that you are – and that you’re proud of the fact. They have a pride in their work – which you didn’t really allow them to demonstrate.)
Thank god I went on Tuesday!
Of course, baring your soul takes guts – and that’s assuming you have one in the first place – and not everyone has the humanity to be a Lloyd Webber or a Curtis. This isn’t Karajan and the Berlin Phil, you know. It’s a bunch of talented friends and soulmates who just happen to be in a team at the top of their league. They don’t need a captain, though; they need someone who they could envisage being friends with: someone who takes them as they are, and discovers their strengths and then uses them. That’s all. Just someone to share in their values; value them; and not impose their own.
Weren’t Nick and Diane fabulous? There’s not enough solo woodwind music in the world. Luckily, it’s hard to cock-up Haydn having a laugh at some hurdy-gurdy with pipes. And Emma: just a star; and easy with it. I thought the orchestra were too quiet, though – it smacked of showing-off; of control freakery. Funny how the team couldn’t be equally loud… – er, like earlier in the week… – but you need enthusiasm for that; and they looked like they’d been told not to get too involved. Someone could get hurt, you know. That’s what the hankies are for. It’s what we all want: not symphonies you could run bullet trains by.
Three words. Trust. Respect. Soul. Show them; earn them; live by them. And throw in some proper (two-way) communication. Dead easy. Well, if they come naturally. Curtis does it without breaking a sweat. In fact I could swear he conducts with his smile. Lloyd Webber? Just a nice guy: with as much expertise as love. Watch them and learn. But check your ego in at the front door, please.
Thanks for listening.
PS: Sorry to say, but if this had been an audition – the players having the final say (as, undoubtedly, they should) – you’d still be waiting for the phone call. Some of the audience weren’t that keen, either.
PPS: Me? Just someone who cares. That’s all. Sorry. It’s a weakness, I know. But mess with ‘my’ orchestra, and you mess with me: because if I don’t get a healthy dose of catharsis from my music, I get just a little bit tetchy.