Star conductors

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Star conductors

Post  Francis Shelton on Sun Sep 14, 2008 12:19 am

Within the space of a few days I experienced orchestral concerts directed by Dohnanyi, Abbado, Janson, Maazel and a few minutes ago by Dumamel. All this to be topped tomorrow by Gergiev with his Mariinsky Orchestra.
I found them ALL superb and totally convincing masters, with impeccable technique, helping me enormously to come nearer to savour the wit, passion and grandeur of what they were performing.
I try to recall in my memory the effect innumerable other great Maestros had on me and I fail to explain to myself what were the reasons for mentally establishing a kind of list of excellence. What makes a Maestro truly great, because some of them ARE GREAT with capital letters while some of them only great?
On present form, I would, if I had to, give my personal Nobel Prize to Abbado, Bruno Walter ( I once played under him Mahler's First and still feel it in my old bones...), Carlos Kleiber and Bernstein. Dumamel is already waiting in the isles to claim his prize for total and passionate command of the score that he so naturally shares with his orchestra and his audience.
Any ideas?
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Re: Star conductors

Post  Dominic McHugh on Sun Sep 14, 2008 2:32 pm

It's an interesting point, because the answer has something to do with a kind of magic which some conductors seem able to turn on, creating an indefineable electricity.

Although Kleiber and Bernstein were both before my time, I've certainly sensed that magic in their recordings, in fact I like both of their attempts at Rosenkavalier for that reason.

I used to be an enormous Abbado fan - his recording of Macbeth has an excitement in places that I've always found irresistible - but I was disappointed in his extremely well-received Mahler 3 at the Proms last year.

Gergiev in Shostakovich 7 and 8 with the LSO was quite an experience a few years ago - he's someone who can work the magic, but it's sometimes marred by a lack of rehearsal time, which leaves the music rough and ready. On his day and in the right repertoire, Haitink can create wonderful atmosphere too - the Transformation Music in Parsifal at Covent Garden last year had me absolutely thrilled.

And I'll always have a soft spot for Colin Davis, again in the right repertoire. Trojans at the Proms, Benvenuto Cellini, Falstaff and Symphonie Fantastique with the LSO, Figaro at Covent Garden etc were all great occasions for me.

But I agree, it's difficult to choose the all-time greatest. I think, Francis, with your nearly century-long experience, you have more right to comment than most people!

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Re: Star conductors

Post  Jngarratt on Mon Sep 22, 2008 6:45 pm

I have only experienced performances as a member of the audience and it's wierd, with some conductors like Mackerras you sometimes know you are in the presence of greatness from the very first chord, but not every performance. It's not entirely obvious why different performances of the same piece with the same orchestra and conductor should feel so different.

As a conductor Mackerras seems very definite in every movement - nothing is left to chance and this precision seems to pay off. I also find Pappano very satisfying, he seems to have great empathy with everyone (including the audience) and a very clear idea of the sound that he wants to achieve. I haven't heard orchestras conducted by Franz Welser-Möst often, but every time he has managed to produce an amazing atmosphere in the theatre and I look forward to hearing more. But would I call him great? not yet, maybe in a few years time.

Most conductors seem to know what they want, but not all conductors seem to be able to inspire their musicians to produce something which is more than just a formulaic replay of a piece. So maybe the quality to inspire other people, on a regular basis, is what makes a great conductor?

What seems to make a great difference to my enjoyment is the balance between all the performers in terms of volume. This is especially true for Opera, which is my first love. A performance where world class singers are all having to force their voices to be heard over the orchestra is a poor performance, in my opinion, regardless of who is involved. There shouldn't be a battle between the singers and the instumentalists - and the conductor should be in charge of how loud the orchestra is. Far too often, even in world class venues, the balance is wrong from the point of view of the audience and there's really no excuse for this!

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Star conductors

Post  Mike Reynolds on Tue Sep 23, 2008 3:10 pm

Francis has started something here!
How do you explain in words the effect that Klemperer achieved when that quavery baton launched 'Fidelio' at Covent Garden in the 1960s? Was the orchestra perfectly together, totally secure? Almost certainly not. But the musical experience was overwhelming. So were his Bruckner concerts at the Festival Hall.
I suppose THE conductor whom those of my vintage (1945) really took to our hearts was Reginald Goodall at Sadlers Wells - I went to Meistersinger twice in its first week and could think of nothing else for months!
And my biggest disappointment or let-down in live performance? Karajan at the Festival Hall. I have rarely walked out of a concert feeling so uninvolved.

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Re: Star conductors

Post  BigCat on Sun Sep 28, 2008 5:04 am

I've only the recordings to go by, but for me Serafin is in a league of his own.

The extraordinary sensitivity which led him to vary his tempo sometimes literally from one note to the next in crucial passages raises the hair on my neck. Never in a hurry, always elegant, but not plodding either - what skill!

I doubt he ever drowned his singers out.

Votto is another to whom these sentiments could be applied.

As stated elsewhere, Pappano has a great rapport with pit, stage and audience, a lush, sensual sound, always a pleasure to listen to as well as watch, but he needs to turn the volume down just a little.

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Re: Star conductors

Post  StephenG on Sun Sep 28, 2008 9:46 pm

Just wanted to mention some young conductors who've recently left me stunned by the nuance of their leadership- Ivan Volkov (transcendent in Mahler 9and Tapiola, amongst other things, at the Proms last year), and Ingo Metzmacher (astonishingly realised vision in Messiaen's St. Francois a few weeks ago in the RAH). I haven't witnessed Dudamel in the flesh, but I have to say his recordings (especially the Beethoven from last year) have left me a little underwhelmed.

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