Conductors Say the Darndest Things, part I

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Earlier this year I had a couple interactions with conductors (not in Arizona) that gave me pause. One conductor, on a work that was in a jazz idiom, asked several times for us to make it more “sleazy” or to play it in a more sleazy manner. What would that mean to you? Eventually I figured out that mostly meant louder.

clam_head234.jpgAnother younger conductor I spoke with had an undergraduate degree in conducting. No methods sequence was involved with this degree program at their school and the conductor was almost proud that they knew almost nothing about the horn. Their training focused on conducting. I have never seen this person conduct; they may conduct wonderfully and have great rehearsal technique. Still, it is a somewhat frightening fact that many conductors really know very little about the horn.

I thought about that as I recently read this quote from Gunther Schuller as related in his classic 1962 publication Horn Technique. Schuller addresses the topic of accuracy in this section from his chapter of notes for composers and conductors.

As for conductors, they are well advised to look the other way when a passage includes some delicately placed high notes. If the horn player ‘muffs’ a note, he is at least as sorry as the conductor: he has a lot more at stake. A look of surprise, disdain, or distemper on the conductor’s part will do very little to alleviate the situation. High notes are always a treacherous matter, and if a man misses one occasionally, the conductor should not take it as a personal affront. This is all too often the case, because some conductors have the quaint notion that the modern double-horn player need only to push down his thumb (Bb) valve, and out pop a series of perfect high notes. This actually happened to me quite a few years ago at the Metropolitan with a world-famous ‘maestro’. A few minutes of thought about the position of those notes in the harmonic series (even on the B flat horn) would have revealed to this conductor how eminently silly his remark was.

Part II continues here

University of Horn Matters