FORTUITOUS AND REWARDING
HILARY DAVAN WETTON talks to BILL NEWMAN
<< Continued from last week
So when did you take the plunge and decide you wanted to conduct? 'Quite
early. I went back to the Royal College after Oxford and studied organ under
George Thalben Hall - a consummate musician who made music breath, who could
play at enormous speeds with never a sense that there wasn't space
inside the notes or that one beat tumbled into the next. Whilst I was there,
Harvey Phillips - a lovely man who had been a fine cellist - re-established
the conducting class. Having plans to become a cathedral organist complete
with the basic skills, I thought it would be useful to conduct as well.
I started with the Franck Symphony, thinking "This is a wonderful
way of making music, it can become a very self-regarding occupation."
I was really bitten. Unless you're completely hopeless, you feel
strongly that you are affecting what happens - undeniably a nice feeling.
After 30 years in the business, you realise that if you put two people in
front of the same orchestra in the same piece 10 minutes apart, you won't
get the same sound. You can't explain why, but some claim you can
measure exactly what the conductor does with the stick to determine the
result, but that's only partially true.' Reading the mind
of the conductor, and eye contact also comes into it. 'And power of
personality. I've seen conductors with a rudimentary technique able
to make orchestras play wonderfully, because of the physical excitement
coming out of their bodies. Furtwängler, whose technique by any standards
was not textbook, was a powerful instance. He had the power to hold players
in the palm of his hand and conjure dynamics from ppp to fff, changing from
one to the other with a lift of an eyebrow. Something happens! Returning
from Australia, feeling gloomy through jet-lag and experiencing a strange
cultural shift over 12000 miles, I suddenly plunged back into the British
way of life. My first concert of the season at Milton Keynes featured Beethoven
8, which I knew like the back of my hand. The concerto soloist, a distinguished
cellist, made an incorrect entry, and there was some untidy wind playing.
I had been with my orchestra for 20 years, and a half-dozen players came
up to me with apologies like: "I'm sorry, I just don't
know what's the matter. I'm not playing at all well."
I knew exactly what was wrong - I was radiating a sort of pessimism and
gloom that was clearly undermining their confidence. A cine film wouldn't
have shown it, but players know when a conductor communicates something
below the conscious level. I felt very guilty, and it taught me a lot. The
rostrum, every fibre of concentration and your subconscious mind should
focus on what you have to do.'
Wetton and the Milton Keynes Orchestra are enjoying their marvellous
new auditorium. He is also Director of Music at Tonbridge School in Kent.
'It's been a great school for 400 years, although I spend much
time away with their blessing (as he did previously at St. Paul's
Girls School). Milton Keynes has about 30 plus concerts a year and I conduct
about half, spending a lot of time thinking it's a very exciting
place with an absolutely marvellous orchestra'. In the main it consists
of London players with one-third residing within a 25 mile radius of Milton
Keynes, and at its formation the Guildford Philharmonic was its model. Whilst
living in Guildford, he played harpsichord continuo for Handley and his
orchestra, realising the advantages of doing away with the old concept of
the one-night stand, replacing it by a permanent body with a real, continuing
relationship. 'Against Guildford's 70-strong band, Milton Keynes
has a smaller combine of some 34-35 players much more likely to be arriving
every time and feeling far more significant in their 20 or so years existence.
We have a renewal of personnel when some retire and new people join up,
and audiences are very loyal and supportive.' Unicorn-Kanchana records
feature their 5 Mendelssohn Symphonies and rarely performed British music
by Wesley, Crotch, Sterndale Bennett and Potter, and there is Holst, Vaughan
Williams and Raff on Hyperion.
Copyright © 8 August 2000
Bill Newman, Edgware, UK
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